Sights and Sounds: poetry at the UCD Festival

Poetry jukebox features 10 poets reading a poem of their own and one by a precursor

It’s that time of year again. We may still be waiting for the heat wave but, if you’re a college student, you know all too well that exam season is here. And even if calculus, rather than Chaucer, is your thing, you might still have noticed something new outside UCD Library – something like a big blue loudspeaker, with a person or two pausing in front of it.

This is a poetry jukebox, a sound installation that brings poetry into public spaces, allowing us to encounter poems in a totally new way. The idea started in the Czech Republic in 2015, and there are now poetry jukeboxes in nearly 20 cities around the world, including Berlin, Brussels, New York and Prague. In 2017 Maria McManus and Deirdre Cartmill brought the concept to Northern Ireland – now the Belfast jukebox is an icon of the streetscape, installed at the Crescent Arts Centre with many fans and a Twitter account of its own.

As well as giving space to poetry amid the bustle of the city, Belfast’s poetry jukebox has the specific aim of changing public discourse by addressing contemporary issues. Poems prompt us to think again about the political events of these times, freeing us from the limitations of the tabloid headline, or the media sound bite. One jukebox curation marked the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and another celebrated LGBTQ poetry from around the world – poetry helps us to understand more completely the challenges of the past and the possibilities of the future.

It was this opportunity to bring powerful creative work together that first caught our eye at UCD, where poetry features strongly on our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in English literature and creative writing. The Irish Poetry Reading Archive is based at UCD Library – it includes readings by nearly 100 poets, spanning a variety of modes in both the English and the Irish language, and our repository of lectures and interviews is growing. We share the poetry jukebox’s philosophy of making Irish poetry accessible to everyone and our collaboration is another way of bringing people to poetry – and poetry to people – as they come and go on campus.


With the support of the UCD Festival committee and the help of UCD Estates, we brought a jukebox to Dublin where, for the next six weeks or so, we can hear 20 poems, all written and read by Irish women. Ten contemporary poets read a poem of their own and one by a precursor: The poems chosen by Maureen Boyle, Kimberley Campanello, Siobhan Campbell, Celia de Fréine, Ailbhe Darcy, Moyra Donaldson, Bernadette Gallagher, Maria McManus, Christine Murray, Alex Pryce and Anne Tannam not only give us an insight into their own varied, stimulating and memorable work, but also introduce us to forgotten voices – Irish women of earlier generations whose work has been unfairly neglected.

The jukebox is just one of a number of poetry-related events at UCD Festival this year. These include a celebration of poetry and music in the James Joyce Library, featuring an exciting line-up of poets, including Emmet Kirwan, Annemarie Ní Churreáin, Stephen Sexton, Liz Quirke and many more, all introduced by MC Elaine Feeney. Students from UCD’s undergraduate and postgraduate Creative Writing programmes will also read.

This year it will also be Raining Poetry at the UCD Festival. Raining Poetry is an outdoor art installation at UCD, created by the Irish Poetry Reading Archive in collaboration with three of Ireland’s well-known haiku poets, and student winners of the 2019 UCD haiku competition.

Using stencils and water-resistant spray paint we have created hidden haiku poems that will only become visible on rainy days. The biodegradable paint is designed to fade within six to eight weeks but, until then, anyone walking around the campus might be lucky enough to be surprised by a poem. Keep an eye out near the James Joyce Library where, thanks to UCD Library staff and their student assistants, some of these poems will appear.

We’re delighted to present work by Irish-language writer Gabriel Rosenstock, award-winning poet and children’s author, Amanda Bell, and founder of Haiku Ireland, Maeve O’Sullivan. Poems from the recent UCD Haiku Competition, run by Dr Lucy Collins from the UCD School of English, Drama and Film, will also feature: see work by joint winners Nidhi Zakaria Eipe and Liz Houchin as well as two of the shortlisted entries by Darcey Dugan and Lianne Zwanenberg.

“These ‘rainworks’ are a great way to bring poetry out of the classroom, the library, and the bookshop, making it accessible and visible to everyone,” says Ursula Byrne, head of development at UCD Library, who is working on this installation. “The idea first came to us from Paula Meehan, when she was Ireland Professor of Poetry. We’re excited that UCD is the first in Ireland to bring ‘Raining Poetry’ to its pavements.”

Come along to UCD’s largest public engagement event – the UCD Festival – on Saturday, June, 8th, noon-6pm, and all will be revealed. Everyone is welcome, and the 130 events taking place that day are free.