Spoken word has become very popular in the last few years in Ireland, and, in the west of Ireland, poets have come to the fore to discuss the value of this oral art for society and the local arts community. It is an art that takes many different forms; it includes any poetry that is recited aloud, and it encompasses many variations of poetry, such as poetry slams, prose monologues, comedy routines, hip-hop, and jazz poetry.
Organizations such as Poetry Ireland, the Lingo Festival and Over the Edge are striving to increase awareness of the benefits of this craft for the arts communities in Ireland. The spoken word performer can make his or her literature jump off the page, and come to life. These live literature pieces allow the performer and audience to be transported to the world created in the performer’s piece, reminding people of the important legacy of our oral tradition, and re-inventing it as a new cosmopolitan model of oral art in the present day.
With this in mind, An Áit Eile is delighted to present emerging poets and spoken word performers from (or in association with) the west of Ireland, in the first of a series of three articles. These poets and spoken word performers are interested in doing performances in Galway City in the future, and we look forward to collaborating with them on future projects. We linked up with the performers and poets to ask them about their motivations, aspirations, influences, favourite orators and poets from history, recent changes in poetry and spoken word performances, favourite aspects of audience participation, improvisation, and future projects.
Anne is a poet from Co. Clare, and her debut poetry collection was published by Salmon Poetry.
Anne’s first poetry performance was about a year ago in Sydney as part of a Slam. The audience scored the 25 contestants on performance and various poetry techniques used – eg alliteration, imagery, metaphor, lyricism etc. Anne came second and got a lot of positive feedback afterwards. She says that while she’s not a natural-born performer her involvement was driven really by a desire to get her poetry ‘out there’.
Anne believes that poetry – like all art – should leave people changed by the experience. She considers it a success if she manages to move someone. At the slam, she read her poem ‘In memoriam II: The draper’ which had received a huge response on social media after it was first published in The Irish Times in January 2016. It is a pivotal poem in her debut collection, ‘where the lost things go’ published by Salmon Poetry. She says that the poem deals with her guilt as an emigrant and her grief at the loss of her mother: ‘I find it very hard to read this poem without my voice cracking – it is very emotional for me. After my performance at the slam, there were people of all ages coming up to tell me how they were in tears after hearing it. I think that’s what it’s all about really – breaking through the semi-conscious fog we seem to wander round in an making a real human connection. That’s why I write. And I suppose that’s what forces me out of my shell to perform my poetry.’
Feedback Anne has received from her audiences: ‘I recently did a reading at Swinburne University in Melbourne and there was such a friendly audience – they just really wanted everyone to do well and enjoy the experience. I was reading from my ‘Stitched Up’ collection – highlighted recently in The Irish Times and published by Swinburne University. The collection is part of a larger art project commemorating 150 years since the opening of Newcastle Industrial School for Girls in Australia. During my research for this project, I discovered that quite a number of the girls were children of Irish immigrants either transported or fleeing the Irish famine. I fought through nerves to try and do justice to these girls by having their stories recognised. I had people coming up to me afterwards saying what a ‘powerful’ reading it was. The same word was used over and over. I walked away from that event really moved – I felt I had somehow helped to bring justice to these forgotten children by having their stories acknowledged after all this time.’
Anne’s influences: ‘My favourite piece is Maya Angelou reciting her poem ‘And Still I Rise’. It is sassy and poignant, passionate, inspiring and stunningly beautiful. In complete contrast, I also love Vincent Price’s reading of ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe. It is a perfectly measured performance and his gravelly tones add such a sinister edge to already dark material.’
Anne’s observations on recent trends in spoken word: ‘I think there is a new wave of passionate resistance coming through – using spoken word poetry as a political soapbox. I think this brings great drama and meaning to the performances. Having said that, I have seen and enjoyed performances tending towards the purely lyrical also.’
Projects: ‘For my own part, I’ve recently been involved in a huge project combining recordings of my poetry with art – the ‘Stitched up’ project mentioned above. My poetry has been used as a voiceover and in visual art for an art exhibition in Australia. (There are plans to bring it to Ireland too.) That’s been quite thrilling. I think there are increasing trends toward combining poetry with other media and art forms – art, music, film, photography, even dance. I think this can bring poetry and spoken word to new and exciting places – also opening it up to more diverse audiences.’
Three poems from Anne’s debut collection were shortlisted for the Cúirt New Writing Poetry Prize 2017. Readers can find links to her work below:
– Link to Anne’s ‘Stitched Up’ suite, which includes an audio recording of Anne and various others reading her poems: Backstoryjournal
– Website: anne-casey.com
-Twitter Handle: @1annecasey
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Liz is a Galway-based poet, and has previously published poetry on An Áit Eile.
Liz: ‘I started writing poetry seriously (drafting and redrafting) around 2011/2012. I had written poetry steadily as a teenager and all through college – the usual dark, heartbroken, making sense of the world stuff – wound up in a career that bored me to tears – and all inspiration abandoned me. It wasn’t until I’d moved career and country a few times and forgot that I used to write that the urge threatened again. I picked up a pen, started writing for self -expression and it went from there. I wasn’t aware that literary journals and live platforms for poetry existed until after I did the MA in Literature and Publishing in 2010/11 and even then enjoyed it on a reader/audience member level. In terms of readings, my first ever was at a competition prize giving in 2012 and I nearly threw up with nerves. I’ve become less nauseous in the last few years, which is good news for me and any audience I may face.’
Benefits Liz experiences from poetry events: ‘It helps to know that when you publish work that it might not be consigned to a vacuum once it goes to sit on a shelf somewhere, that there’s a life after publication for some poems. It’s always good to read poetry aloud anyway to hear where a change of pace might be made or to learn what resonates. Reading in front of an audience forces me to confront a poem and let it stand up for itself in the silence of an attentive audience. Personally, I like meeting other poetry heads, poets, readers, anyone who has an interest in stretching language, so live events are cool in that respect. And if there’s a varied line-up, readings are good opportunities to learn who is out there doing something new and pushing some boundaries.’
Liz’s influences: ‘My early influences came from music; Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, any angst-ridden guitar dudes lamenting lost love, that kind of thing. Lyrics that stood up for themselves on a page. Poetry, much like music at the time, was all about making discoveries. The first book of poetry I bought was Death of a Naturalist when I was around thirteen or fourteen; more than likely I didn’t have the faculty to understand most of it but I fell in love with the movement of language. Growing up pre-internet left live poetry performance off my radar until later.
The benefits of YouTube: ‘YouTube has given me much though (I’m 30-odd and have two small children so live performances aren’t something I catch often). I remember seeing Hollie McNish’s video of Mathematics when it went viral and being blown away. Finding a reading by Mary Dorcey accompanied by Italian translation knocked my socks off. The few clips of the likes of Ocean Vuong, Jericho Brown and Liz Berry that I’ve found are absolute treasures. It was YouTube and the Next Generation Poets playlist that introduced me to Rebecca Goss and Melissa Lee Houghton for the first time, and hearing their work without seeing it as page poetry brought me into their poetry at a different entry point. There is something about hearing poetry in the poet’s own voice that is quite authoritative and special.’
Liz’s favourite aspects of audience participation: ‘I’ve grown to like the strange silence of people listening. In that moment, for better or worse, the only thing talking is the poem and if it can survive that, it’s doing well. Chatting to people afterwards can be really lovely too.’
Liz’s warm-up exercises before going on stage: ‘I read the whole list of poems to my wife from start to finish and she tells me where I could do with more emphasis or a change or pace. She’s rescue remedy personified.’
Liz’s motivations: ‘My only objective when I write is to bring a poem as far as I can. A lot of poems will never see the light of day but once they’re finished and the ideas are pushed as far as I’m able, then I’m happy. With the collection I’m working on at the moment, I want it to be a true reflection of the moments that inspired it. If one or two people can relate to a single phrase that would be very cool. I suppose it’s strange for me at the moment because I’m writing poems on topics I would have loved to have read growing up. They’re not very rock and roll or political in any respect, neither am I, but they’re true and frank reflections of a life I didn’t know I’d get to lead. (I write a lot about my wife and our life with our two daughters.) Growing up, I thought lesbian literature was either 1970s American women writing or novels where everyone dies unhappy. So contemporary rural Irish domestic lesbian poems would have been very welcome reading!’
Events Liz has attended: ‘In the last few years, I’ve been lucky to read a few bits at events during Cúirt, Writers’ Week and the Cork Spring Poetry Festival. That’s mostly either been magazine showcases or competition readings. I’ll have my first proper “Emerging poet” festival reading at Bray Literary Festival in September, which will be class.’
Liz’s favourite events in Galway: ‘I’ve been lucky enough to have been given a few slots to read at events in Galway. Kevin and Susan at Over The Edge have included me a few times in their line-ups, Aoibheann McCann was more or less my unofficial agent for a few months; and the events at Oranmore Library, Utter Word and Far From Literature We Were Reared were really cool to read at. I think my favourite this year was the Herstory Recital at Mick Lally Theatre in January because it told a variety of women’s stories in a beautiful space.’
Future projects: ‘The big project to flag is my debut poetry collection The Biology of Mothering which Salmon Poetry will publish in Spring 2018. Other than that, my wife (artist Yvonne Hennessy) is responding to the themes of the collection through visual art, and a selection of those pieces will feature at Dromineer Literary Festival this October. As I’ve said above, I’ll be reading at Bray Literary Festival on September 24th.’
Link to Liz’s work: Audio section on Liz’s website www.lizquirke.com
Image Credit: Galway Illustrator Saffron Lily, of Saffron Lily Designs
Daniel Mulcahy is a Galway-based poet.
Daniel: ‘I began subjecting people to my performances through Poetry Aloud and the Cúirt Transition Year Poetry Slam around 2012. The former was very formal, the latter more free-form; one taught me rigor, while the other taught me to enjoy myself.’
Benefits Daniel experiences from poetry events: ‘Performing a poem is like pulling an endless string of handkerchiefs out of your mouth. The more you practise the greater the flourish, the brighter the colours. You begin to break into your skin and out of your thinking mind. Your ears become tuned to the balance of words. If you do it right you can feel truly heard, at once vulnerable and understood.’
Daniel’s influences: ‘I could make a list, from the lyrics of James Maynard Keynan and Tim Minchin to the poetry of Saul Williams and Buddy Wakefield to the narration of A Series of Unfortunate Events and Darkest Dungeon. I could name-drop Steven Fry and ZeFrank; Bill Hicks and Robin Williams; Watsky and Kurzgesagt. Popular culture shapes me as it shapes us all. But inspiration comes from everywhere, and it might be as well for you to listen to the rain or the rhythm of your lungs.’
Daniel’s observations on recent trends in spoken word: ‘I’m ignorant, but it seems there is a trend towards an American style of performance, especially among young slam poets. In an ideal world, every poet would find an original and authentic voice, but I suspect that there will always be conventions.’
Favourite aspects of audience participation: ‘I love drawing out a chuckle; it connects me to the crowd, and hopefully indicates that I haven’t yet tripped the collective bullshit detector. My speech is still unpolished, but when the opportunity arises I greatly enjoy improvised movement.’
Warm-up exercises before going on stage: ‘I lean back in a chair, breathe deep, manspread and crinkle my eyes into self-deprecation. It keeps the butterflies nestled warm against my diaphragm.’
Daniel’s motivations: ‘Being heard is a real human need. Performance is a gentle exorcism of the past, an ‘up yours!’ to nihilism. I want to make a sacrificial offering of self-consciousness. For the audience, first and foremost I hope they’re not bored. Next, I wish them a moment of inner space, of insight, even a smile.’
Events Daniel has attended: ‘Recently, I had the privilege of developing a set of poems with the eminent and eloquent Sarah Clancy, to be performed at the Cúirt Anne Kennedy Writers’ Salon. This was my first high profile event, and it brought me great pleasure to share our work with such a warm and supportive audience. Also, it is my monthly aspiration to attend the Over the Edge Readings.’
Future projects: ‘Everyone knows about the Galway International Arts Festival and already has their tickets booked; Macnas events are eagerly awaited the world over. Under the radar, the Galway Arts Centre’s Youth Collective Red Bird is currently recruiting for exciting projects (Red Bird Youth Collective), and the Theatre Room continues to put on short plays every month for free (The Theatre Room Galway). These groups have changed my life; they can and should change yours too.’
Link to Daniel’s work: The Galway Review – Daniel’s Three Poems
We look forward to curating future poetry readings and spoken word events in Galway for these poets, and raising awareness of their upcoming projects on our website. Watch this space for our next two features on poets and spoken word performers making waves in the west!