Stephen James Smith: On My Culture Radar
The poet and playwright on ‘The Young Offenders’, Ruth Negga and Galway
Stephen James Smith: I’ve fallen in love with The Young Offenders. It’s perfect in so many ways
Current favourite book?
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker. It’s about an old man whose father passes away, and then he takes care of a younger boy. The overriding themes are identity, looking for place and looking for purpose, and it really connected to me. I could only read a chapter at a time, because it’s emotionally taxing. I met Gerbrand, and we exchange a few messages on Facebook. He posts photos of things like hotel corridors, which makes me more fascinated about the way his brain works.
I love the way Bill Hicks talks about life being a ride. I had a difficult 2015, and one of the things that got me through was the way he talks about how we have our ups and downs. That’s something to remind ourselves of. In an Irish context, I love Tommy Tiernan. His show is one of the best things on RTÉ at the moment: you have sincere moments, and then moments of hysteria.
It’s a fella called Steve Simpson. I released a poem last year, My Ireland, and Steve took the refrain and designed it into a screen print. I’m dyslexic and so is Steve, so neither of us noticed that he misspelled the River Nore as Noir – we printed and I signed 110 copies of it before we realised. He also designed the book cover for my debut collection of works, Fear Not, which will be coming out on June 14th.
Umi Falafel on Dame Street in Dublin. The staff are nice, I f**king love halloumi, their wedges are nice and crispy, the falafel is gorgeous. I tend to be vegetarian, so it’s a good option that’s quick, tasty and healthy.
Loving, with Ruth Negga
Ani DiFranco: Self Evident
The Young Offenders
I love Dublin to bits, but Galway is my favourite place in Ireland. Walking through, I release all the tension I have. I love the Róisín Dubh and McDonagh’s Fish & Chip Bar, on Quay Street – it’s my first point of call, for fresh cod, mushy peas, chips, a pint of milk and onion rings. I’ve written poems sitting by the Spanish Arch, watching the River Corrib go by. So many people speak Irish, too, I find myself following them just to hear it. It sounds stalkerish, but I want to hear it being spoken on the streets. I love Bangkok, in Thailand, too: it’s a sensory overload.
I loved Ruth Negga in Loving, though she first came to my attention in Love/Hate. I got to meet her in LA last year, at the Oscar Wilde Awards, for the Irish in the film industry. I hung out with her briefly, and she was so lovely. I’m excited to see where she goes.
Pat Ingoldsby is my favourite poet in so many ways, but I’m also a fan of Ani DiFranco. In my early days of poetry I heard a piece by her called Self Evident, which is about 9/11. It’s a nine-minute-long performance piece, which you can find on YouTube, and it blows my mind. There’s a line in it where she says “Us people are just poems”, and that’s how I view the world, too. Even if my poems are about a place, it’s the people that make the narrative.
A film that stood out was The Drummer & the Keeper. It’s a film by Nick Kelly where the drummer is a musician who has bipolar, and the keeper is a fella with Asperger’s. They form a friendship, and the story goes on. It’s incredibly funny, and there are moments of proper sadness. It has the range you want from a piece of art, and provokes you to be empathic to people’s circumstances.
I’ve fallen in love with The Young Offenders, which is on RTÉ and the BBC. It’s perfect in so many ways. I work with young kids around the country, and it’s lovely to see people from that background represented in a way that shows character development. I remember there’s a moment where Conor is picking his nose, and you think it’s a picking-your-nose joke. But then Jock asks what’s wrong with him, and it turns out it’s the anniversary of his dad’s death. You’re not expecting that juxtaposition, and it works perfectly. Sure there’s divilment, but there’s divilment in us all.