The pSoken Wrod: an open mic night in Clonakilty that is a hub for local writers

Brendan McCormack swapped the rat race in Dublin for the literary life in west Cork

 

At the top of Joyce’s tower, a large, rotund man intoned, ‘Introibo ad altare Dei’. My twin daughters, aged 8, stared at me. The opening lines of Joyce’s Ullysses was not their bag. It would have been different if he had sung, ‘Let it go!’ the way they did on the car journey home. Like Buck Mulligan, they had no interest in God’s altar. So much for Bloomsday. But things were afoot. Back then in 2014 we were all a little apprehensive about our own, intended Odyssey.

We had sold our house and left the nightmare of the property market. DoneDeal had taken care of our furniture. Flurries of phone calls were followed by streams of strangers carting away our worldly goods. We were leaving our native Dublin and heading south to Clonakilty, west Cork. The snot-green Irish Sea would be swapped for the Wild Atlantic Way. We had no idea how our new world would be. Dublin had become more like Monopoly: only the greedy won, and we wanted out.

I packed my boxes of books, unfinished poems, half-scribbled novels and short stories and dreamed of finishing the great novel. My fellow Dubliners had other thoughts.

“You will go mad,” they prophesied. “The winters will be bleak and lonely. The wild countryside will spit you out.” The word ‘mad’ was often repeated. But some voices betrayed more than a hint of envy. Not everyone thought we were nuts. And then, one fine July morning, we were gone.

A few kilometres from Clonakilty, we rented a house on Inchydoney Island from someone who knew someone we knew. Ireland is Ireland after all. The longest, hottest summer in memory softened the move. Our daughters turned to surfing waves instead of the net and the outdoors replaced the glowing screen. I was a poet in search of a new literary circle with little to go on but a misspelled poster for an Open Mic night, “The pSoken Wrod” at De Barra’s Folk Club.

I had seen Noel Redding play there years before. According to Ray Blackwell, the manager of De Barra’s, before Redding, Clonakilty had been a black and white town. After he arrived, it turned Technicolor. But literature? I was not holding my breath as I crossed the threshold but inside I was greeted with a warm welcome by award-wining local writer Nick Smith and, contrary to my expectations, the night turned out to be a blast. I had arrived and found more than a circle. I had found a new home and a stage.

Nick founded the group in August 2013. As a member of the Clonakilty Library Writers’ Group, he knew how much talent lived in the area and had noticed the lack of an open mic event where local writers could perform their work. That October, the first trial evening exceeded their expectations. Since then, De Barra’s has committed the first Tuesday of every month to The pSoken Wrod. Nick asked for and received recognition from Cork County Council Arts’ Office in 2014 and they made a nominal grant, which was more than doubled for 2015. And the spelling? A couple of typographical errors, which they decided to keep to publicise the group’s comfort with inherent mistakes and to set it apart from other similarly named organisations.

From the outset, despite being inspired by others, it had its own identity. As one visitor recently said, “The pSoken Wrod has its own charisma, is very democratic and has just a lovely feeling about it.” Put more succinctly by another, “I love the lack of ego and the ambience of trust and openness; just adore it.” Others like the freedom of letting rip on stage. With an enthusiastic and encouraging audience it has proved to be a safe haven for writers new to the scene. For those who find themselves, for the first time, standing on a stage in front of a mic, trembling with their work, these things make a huge difference.

From that first night, this group of poets, writers, and musicians took me in as one of their own. I am proud now to be one of the back-room team of committed individuals who, with dynamism and imagination are contributing to the development of The pSoken Wrod.

There is a strong line-up of award-winning guest poets for 2015. The ‘Wrod’ will be taking part in the Clonakilty Organic Arts Festival, June 18th-21st, preceded on the 16th by Clonakilty’s Bloomsday with a celebration of everything Joycean, including boaters and breakfast in De Barra’s. My daughters can’t wait. On Tuesday, July 7th there will be a live Skype link-up with The Mad Swirl Poets in Austin, Texas for an intercontinental literary fest. Our own, award-winning Afric McGlinchey is poet-in-residence at the new Uillinn Arts Centre in Skibbereen from March 24th to May 18th and will be offering a variety of poetry workshops and one-to-one editing clinics.

Performance is only part of what takes place at The pSoken Wrod. There are workshops on poetry presentation, writing poetry and improvisation with and without musical accompaniment. Skills in writing and performing before a live audience are developed through live impromptu creative exercises that take place at the start of each meeting, the winner of which may claim a free drink. A high profile is maintained in the community and with our partners through Twitter, @pSokenWrod, Psoken Wrod on Facebook, blog psokenwrod.blogspot.com and all the local newspapers.

As for the blow-ins? You’ll find us in the markets around west Cork, in Liss Ard estate, Skibbereen, wandering gardens or kayaking under the moon. There is actually too much going on down here. The locals are like one big family who all know each other and that makes life so easy. So do call in, first Tuesday of every month. The pSoken Word, De Barra’s, Clonakilty. That’s Co Cork.

As for my daughters? They had it right the first time. “Let it go, let it gooooo.........”

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