Pushing spoken word in slamming's spiritual home

 

New York’s Nuyorican Poets Cafe will open its doors to six Irish poets tonight as Dublin’s Glor Sessions brings its poetry slam Stateside

WE ARE justifiably proud of our literary heritage in this country, but it’s a pride that tends to manifest itself in statues, plaques and museums. However, that heritage comes alive at the weekly Glór Sessions, a freewheeling spoken word and performance poetry event that takes place every Monday evening in the basement of the International Bar in Dublin city centre. Under the command of gregarious Dubliner Stephen James Smith, Glór has become a hub of poetry in action.

And tonight, Smith has the opportunity to bring his show to New York, with six regular Glór performers bringing their material to the legendary Nuyorican Poets Cafe as part of the Imagine Ireland series of US Irish cultural events, sponsored by Culture Ireland.

For Smith, there’s a great sense of achievement in bringing his DIY poetry event to a venue many consider the spiritual home of performance poetry. “A lot of my American friends have told me that that’s where they discovered poetry,” says Smith.

“They used to queue in the rain to get in and experience a night in there, so I’m excited to experience it for myself. And with the people we have on the bill, I think it’s going to be hard not to recreate the magic of Glór — there are so many talented people coming with us.”

Glor has always thrived on its reputation as a kind of cultural underdog, resolutely independent and under the radar – this is wordplay for the common listener, with no room for pretension or posturing. It exists as part of an informal network of creative nights in the city, along with BrownBread Mixtape, Nighthawks and others, and also a loose kinship with spoken-word nights across the country, from Derry to Galway to the newly created Mutant Cabaret in Cork. Kalle Ryan, the creator and MC of the monthly BrownBread Mixtape, an eclectic evening of music, comedy and, yes, poetry, is also travelling to New York as part of the Glór show, and for him it’s an unusual kind of homecoming.

“I worked in New York for seven years, and I got in with lots of writers and poets and musicians – you don’t have to go far to find creative types, it’s a wildly creative place,” says Ryan. “That’s why I’m so excited to go back now.” The other poets travelling to New York range from experienced voices to fresh young writers. Cork-native Dave Lordan is a Kavanagh Award-winning poet who has published collections to critical acclaim – “he’s a dynamo, a ferocious tornado,” says Ryan.

Galway-based Dubliner Sarah Maria Griffin recently published her first collection, Follies, with Lapwing Press, while Dubliners Karl Parkinson and John Cummins each have distinctive takes on urban, hip-hop-flavoured wordplay. It’s an impressive cross-section of the Irish spoken word scene, which belies its small size with a wide range of styles.

“Glór is less than two years’ old,” says Smith, “but the scene has developed so much in that time. The quintessential thing all our nights have is that connection between performer and audience, a consciousness that we’re all in this together, let’s have fun and let’s share the energy.”

“Poetry is a hard sell,” explains Ryan. “But once somebody is sold, once the blinkers are off, they’re fans,” confirms Smith, finishing Ryan’s sentence.

“The most common thing I hear is people saying ‘Jeez, I had no idea poetry is so much fun,’” continues Ryan, articulating his natural enthusiasm for the arts. “Well, anything is fun if the people who are doing it are decent . . . At Glór, with every audience member, you’ve earned them. That feeling of camaraderie, that process of people coming along for the whole journey, is so valuable.”

Indeed, selling the idea of poetry to unsuspecting audiences is a challenge that Smith obviously relishes. “I enjoy going to a place where they’re not expecting me, not expecting to be engaged,” he says.

“I’ve done gigs in many hard-nosed Dublin boozers, and you’ve got to deliver or you’ll get a clip around the ear. I remember doing a gig in a pub on Amiens Street, it was a tough crowd, a half-hour gig and I thought I was going to die, but I didn’t, I managed it. Then when I went to the toilet afterwards, I opened the door square into the face of this big guy, and I thought ‘Oh no, he’s going to kick my ass here.’ And he turns around and he goes ‘You know, just cause I saw how bleeding crazy you were up on stage, you’re all right.’ And I could imagine him saying to his mates ‘I was going to knock his block off, but I heard him recite a few poems, and I liked his stuff.’ Poetry works in all sorts of environments.”

Winning over an uninterested crowd in a tough Amiens Street pub might be unlikely training for a performance at the famed Nuyorican, but it proves that Smith has a real gift for spreading the word about spoken word. For the poets making noise in Ireland’s burgeoning performance poetry scene, it feels like this is all just the beginning.

GLOR SESSIONS

Links to Youtube videos of performances from the International Bar.

stephenjamessmith.com/Glor.html

COLM KEEGAN

Dublin poet and co-organiser of the monthly Nighthawks event at the Cobalt Café on North Great George’s Street.

theblogsthejob.blogspot.com

BROWNBREAD MIXTAPE

Kalle Ryan and Enda Roche’s monthly night at the Stag’s Head, with poets fitting in alongside songs and comedy sketches. Catch clips at brownbreadmixtape.wordpress.com

MUTANT CABARET

The newest addition to the scene is this monthly event at the Roundy Bar in Cork, organised by arts co-operative Mutant Space. See mutantspace.ie/mutant-cabaret

POETRY AT THE WHITE HOUSE BAR, LIMERICK

Follow the long-running poetry night at Limerick’s White House Bar on O’Connell Street at twitter.com/whitehousebar