It’s kind of weird, but the older I get, the more ‘look at me’ I’m game for. Where on earth did that come from? Aren’t I the shy, retiring type? Well apparently, no I’m not!
When one of my poems was shortlisted for the Boyle Arts Festival Poetry Competition back in July 2013, I was too cowardly to read it to an audience and the judge, poet Geraldine Mills, did the deed. It was an ambitious pantoum, ‘Blackout’, which needed careful delivery. Geraldine did a wonderful job, but I was left kicking myself for not getting up there to read it myself; poets have a hard enough time finding an audience, and right there had been a large one on a plate.
Fast forward to the New Roscommon Writing Awards in November 2014 when poet Jane Clarke (bless her!) chose two of my poems for the shortlist, and I was expected to read them out loud. I remember thinking that I just had to keep reading to the end and then sit down, which is exactly what I did. No-one died and no-one jeered, and I rather liked the rousing applause which followed.
My late father was a college lecturer, well used to an audience, and in his later life he used to give talks about beekeeping, Austin 7s and other wondrous things. He advised me to speak up and then shut up, which was sound advice for when I used to give talks myself. (Healing crystals and their uses was one of my specialities, just in case you’re wondering.)
But talking about something you know about is a million miles away from sharing something you’ve written, something personal and intimate like a poem.
So I set about curing myself of the nerves involved in reciting self-penned poetry.
I turned up to the Word Corner Café in the Dock Arts Centre in Carrick-on-Shannon and mumbled my way through a poem about my mother, and again, no-one died or jeered. So I did it again, and then again. Eighteen months later, I’m now one of the stalwarts, attending every second Tuesday of the month to regale whoever turns up with some of my words, and often those of other writers, too.
We get through an eclectic mix of opinion, poetry, stories and songs and I’ve found it to be wonderfully liberating. Sometimes the gathering is quite small, but no matter. We’re there again on December 13th 2016, from 6pm until 7.30pm, when anyone interested in words can come along and listen or take part. I intend airing another poem about my mother and paying tribute to Leonard Cohen.
The Hermit Collective, a band of writers, artists and musicians who put on pop-up shows in the west of Ireland, gave me a break too. They’re well used to my poems about my mother (‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’, which is now in the latest Crannóg Magazine, got its first public airing with the Hermits).
We’re out again next week, on Thursday, December 8th at 7pm in Tricky McGarrigles, O’Connel Street, Sligo. Its free – and a great evening’s entertainment is more than likely, both for the performers and the audience.
And I might even read a poem that’s not about my mother.