A class act and an accidental poet
Colm Keegan is a straight talker, but he is still having a bit of trouble with the idea of being a poet, writes DAVIN O'DWYER
IT TOOK A long time before Colm Keegan became used to being called a poet. “I still don’t think of myself as a poet,” he says, a chuckle bubbling under his words. “When I started performing, I kept expecting somebody to stand up, point at me and say ‘He’s not a poet.’ The word comes with so much baggage.”
It’s a description Keegan has had to adjust to, particularly with the publication of his debut collection, Don’t Go There. He might not fit the cliched image of the poet, but the fresh-faced 36-year-old has been a prominent figure in Dublin’s live cultural scene for the past few years, impressing audiences with taut, frank poems that give powerful voice to the all-too-often ignored experiences of Dublin’s working class.
“There was plenty of material, a lot of stuff to draw on,” he says of his childhood. “I lived in Ballymun until I was five, then I moved to Tallaght, then Clondalkin, and my da lived in Crumlin, so I stayed with him a lot, and I also lived in the city centre for a while. I’ve been everywhere. You look at the city, out to the edge, it’s like the rings on a tree, with different histories and demographics. I’ve lived in them all.”
It was only in recent years, however, that Keegan channelled those experiences in poetry. “When I had the urge to be creative, I was a bit waylaid in my own life; I felt unfulfilled in my late 20s. I never went to college, never had a formal cultural education, and so I decided at that stage to be creative.”
He joined writers’ groups and at one creative-writing workshop he became friends with another writer, Stephen Kennedy, who invited Keegan to help him organise a monthly arts salon, Nighthawks. Amid the musicians and comedians, Keegan took the opportunity to regularly perform some of his poetry – the reaction was enthusiastic. Keegan cites his involvement in Nighthawks, and all the creative people he has befriended through it, as a key part of his development as a writer.
“I didn’t know the difference between working class and other classes until I was in this scene, and all of a sudden I was like a ‘raw talent’, and ‘gritty’, and ‘urban’,” he says, laughing again. “You mean I’m poor? That’s really what that’s all about. And ‘raw talent’ means uneducated. If I’d got an education, I’d be a ‘polished talent’.”