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SLAM in Kilkenny – The All Ireland Poetry Slam in Irelands Quirkiest Pub

The Hole in the Wall pub in Kilkenny has to be one of – if not the – quirkiest pub in Kilkenny. I was there in support of Cormac Lally of the Tullamore Rhymers Club (and host of the heretofor monthly “Scene of the Rhyme” events) for the finals of the All Ireland Poetry Slam.

"The Hole in the Wall" in Kilkenny
“The Hole in the Wall” in Kilkenny

In what I would see as a boost for the rhyming poetry scene, both he – who came second – and Stephen Murphy who won – are practitioners of rhyming poetry of a rhythm and style I as a rhyme writer myself am in awe of, and a verbal delivery and stage presence that was second to none.

Slam poetry started in Chicago – I link to an article from Clara Rose Thornton about it below – and the All Ireland series started some 8 years ago to bring the scene to Ireland. The show was started by John Cummins, a distinctive looking chap from Dublin who is a really nice guy and the devil himself to beat at pool. I know – I played him before… and lost! He was last years champion, and of what we would call the traditional slam poetry style, as opposed to the newer – which uses rhyming verse! – characteristic by Murphy and Lally.

Murphys set that won started off with “Email from Dog to Man”, a comedic reflection both on the relationship between man and dog, and how others who care about us see us. It was followed up by the writers worries about current health problems, which I hope resolve themselves for him, which was a new piece, and finished up with his piece about how the war of the sexes (which I satirised in “I Blame it all on TESCO” among other poems) can be taken too far, and couples, and womankind and mankind in general, should work in a spirit of equality for the future as opposed to being bitter about how past generations of men mistreated women. Id love to see Kevin Higgins review that one!

Cormacs contribution was Baby Ninja Moves, a personal favorite of his I like, but he opened with a new piece Id not heard before, and missed most of being in the jacks catering to natures needs! Id assumed he’d start with one Id heard before! His verse “Bull”, a short title, but a great message, showed how the country was ruined by the greedy powers that be.

Cormac Lally and I with Cormacs girlfriend Maura (who filmed the event for SETV) in the quirky bar downstairs before the event.
Cormac Lally and I with Cormacs girlfriend Maura (who filmed the event for SETV) in the quirky bar downstairs before the event.

That was a theme explored too by the Julie Goo (love the name!) a girl from Cork who didnt make it through the first round, as didnt Clara Rose Thornton, the girl from Chicago. Her piece was of particular not for me…

You say to get a through reflection of yourself, you should see yourself through the eyes of a friend, and if there are none honest enough, through the yes of a stranger. Well, for Ireland, Clara is both, and her piece evoking Ireland in the traditional, if stereotypical by now, image as “land of bards and sages” welcomed her in Temple Bar as she wandered in search of the usual fiddledy diddledy Irish things, she passed a heroin addict in a doorway with a needle stuck in his arm. As his eyes met hers, his girlfriend screamed – or the girl that was with him anyway – and he died as she watched him, and walked on by.

What a Céad Míle Fáilte to get, and the poem went on to explore how with Dublin this way, Ireland has lost its way. Of course, as I said to others after, that could well be Tullamore, with the amount of homeless squatting in derelict buildings and our current problems with heroin.

Cynics would say the poem was written not from experience but for effect. But I doubt that, Clara seems genuine as a character, but either way, she didn’t make it through the first round.

Another who didnt, but whose verse spoke to me for want of a better way of putting it, was a chap David Brasil I think, who wrote of being a teenager, terrified on the edge of a dancefloor, looking at the girl – then a stranger to him – he desired. The verse went on to him in adulthood, being chided staying on the edge of the dancefloor, but he said he was where he was happiest, again looking at the girl, who was now his wife. It seems sometimes the nice guys do win!

Another David – David Burke this time, who did make it through with a set about haveing a good time. His last one, about being hammered and in a stupified condition asked this girl to be his girlfiend as only a chap when hammered can, and being stunned when she said yes was entertaining. He had good stage presence too, and Id say has a strong background in acting.

Alvy Carraghers pieces focused on womens issues – no I’m wrong – societies issues. Touching on the subject of date rape, she drove home the message that No Means NO! The piece was written from the perspective of the victim, and I’m hoping she didn’t have to go through that. Its ending, saying she kissed him as she “wanted it to be something more” than what it was was heartbreaking, and serves to drive home the message that in an ideal world, one night stands are not the way to go, and when a couple get intimate, they at least should be together, and ideally sober-(ish!!!) though drink and the old excuse of “Wine in, wit out” is no excuse, as NO means NO!

Fergus Costellos piece on “Boucebackability” was a joy to hear again, and we expect him to bounce back and be a threat again at next years slam.

All Ireland Poetry Slam finalists for 2014
All Ireland Poetry Slam finalists for 2014.
Back l-r: Clara Rose Thornton, Cormac Lally, Julie Goo, Stephen Murphy, David Braziel
Front l-r: Johnny Keenan (MC) Kevin Desmond (organizer All Ireland Poetry Slam), John Cummins (2014 Slam Champ) . Missing – David Burke and Alvy Carragher

What is Slam Poetry some ask? Its a reading of poetry from memory, with visual presentation as important a factor as the verse itself. Some would know it from 8 Mile, the eminem film, but its more – at least in its Irish form – sedate than that as what was in 8 Mile was rap slams, not poetry slams.

But the poetry slam is similar, in that its from memory, though not off the cuff as in rap slams. And dissing the other performers is not encouraged, though it sometimes might have the potential to provide a bit of extra entertainment!

Basically, its a cross between the old bardic form of poetry – reading from memory and memory alone, and a touch or dramatics thrown in for those like David Bourke who use them. And I’m glad to assure folk he is NOT the chap from Crystal Swing!

As I said above, its normally the non rhyming sort of poetry that features at slams, and to see not one but two finalists being of the rhyming sort of poetry was a boon for the latter in these days when to rhyme is seen by some as too old fashioned.

Rhyme n Reason, a new poetry night for Kilkenny, is starting on December 27th, and is open mic. Possibly similar to the Scene of the Rhyme in Tullamore, which ironically is finishing this month in its current form as Cormac Lally is moving to West Cork, or the Glór Sessions in the International Bar in Dublin, all I know about it is that there is an open mic session (which I hope to gatecrash!) and keep an eye on the Facebook page.

Resources:
LINGO – A journey through Spoken Word by Clara Rose Thornton

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