Lingo is Ireland’s first spoken word festival and we were thrilled to send Charlotte Ryan to report on the final day of the Lingo Spoken Word Festival.
In my sentimental and hopelessly idealistic way, I had hoped that the morning I go to review my first spoken word festival interaction and setting would align in perfect poetry. I had imagined choosing an appropriately cool outfit, strolling into the city centre and arriving at Roasted Brown for the poetry brunch where I would sip specialty coffee to the performances of Milk and Cookie Stories. I’d nod my head knowingly. I’d wear loads of rings. I’d look so chic.
This, of course, didn’t happen. Instead I overslept and missed the brunch, chased down three taxis only to find out they were full and had far too loud a dispute with the taxi man I eventually found about where exactly the Workman’s Club is. Admitting defeat and leaving the obvious merriment at Roasted Brown to our sincerely cool photographer, I headed off to the second free event of the day – the Lingo Bingo: Open Mic event.
Lingo Bingo: Open Mic – 1-3.30pm, the Workman’s Club
Although taking place in the charmingly retro No. 11 Room, this exciting and inventive open mic set the tone for the unpredictable and potent evening ahead. Entering the wallpapered room we were met with our MC, Carl Plover, forcibly performing at us – all eye contact, spitting words through gritted teeth and pacing the room like a caged lion – before explaining the concept of the event. We were invited to write down themes and topics to be pulled from a gigantic beer mug and offered as starting points for poets.
The themes offered up were both weird, wonderful and weirdly wonderful, from a “sex” poem about the carnal delights of a pagan woman in springtime to a “tea and coffee” anti-ode to the steady invasion of tea in a coffee lover’s world. One of the most moving poems came from artistic director Erin Fornoff, who spun a seedy casting-couch tale of an older, well-connected man taking attempting to take advantage of a young ingénue, the rawness of which was no doubt augmented by it being a true story.
With poets hopping up to deliver quality pieces of work in rapid-fire succession, the event could have come across as one only for poets if not for Plover’s constant reminder that anyone with a poem could perform and become part of Lingo – an appetising offer. Indeed, as the afternoon progressed I started to feel as though I was missing out on being part of something extraordinary, and promptly convinced myself of my poetic potential. That could have been the Long Island iced tea talking, actually.
Lyrical Miracles – 3-6.30pm, the Workman’s Club Main Stage
We were speedily ushered to the Main Stage, located a floor down and nestled away in a dark and atmospheric back room. This, the first priced event of the night, was a celebration of the some of the many shining poetry and spoken word collectives currently in the city including Pettycash, Weekly General Meeting and Where I Come From and was the proverbial roller-coaster ride of face-melting awesomeness.
Pettycash performed first, introduced by Erin as “being so cool they probably have a new word for ‘cool’”. They told us it was ‘looc’ – ‘cool’ spelled backwards. Niamh Beirne was up first, nymph-like with lilac hair and winner of the award for best closing line of the day with “I wish you and your ill-advised dick piercing the very best”. Hunt and Gather comrade Andy Apples followed soon after, resplendent in fluorescent orange sneakers and infectiously energetic as he delivered a widely relatable poem on the crises, big and small, experienced by a man reluctantly waiting tables. Dylan Coburn Gray takes the stage then, bringing us from an architecture walk through the rambling New York streets, back to our own Talbot St. and Blanchardstown, demonstrating the tendency of spoken word to transport its listeners to locations both distant and local. The whole set is tight, skilful and inspiring, and greatly deserving of Erin’s comment “How ‘looc’ was that?!”
Weekly General Meeting own the stage after Pettycash, Shane Langan mixing things up by reading an excerpt from a novel he’s working on. He was followed by Stefanie Preissner, celebrated playwright of ‘Solpadeine is My Boyfriend’ who in reading a scene from that play moves us from contemplating home to contemplating the pressure to emigrate, told through wonderfully realistic dialogue. Megan Nolan steps up next to deliver her “love story in reverse”, short vignettes reflecting on love and the connections we make and yet again takes us all across the city. I don’t want to say the obvious thing and call it Joycean … but it was Joycean. The set wound up with a short chat between Shane and Delorentos’ guitarist and vocalist, Kieran McGuinness and performance by the musician before the audience were coerced into a joint power pose (standing with your feet apart, hands up in the air, imbibing the creative spirits of the universe. Apparently).
The final collective, Where I Come From, offered three poets with a distinct sense of place in their pieces. Elaine Feeney, imported into our fair city from Athenry and named by Erin as “one of the most provocative poets in Ireland”, dominated the room with her poems on country life, Irish heritage and female sexuality in what was one of the most startling and refreshing acts of the day. Definitely one to watch. Paul Curran opened his set by mentioning his roots in Coolock, and indeed has garnered a reputation as one of Dublin’s most authentic and relatable voices. I’ve seen him perform so many times at this stage, and always to such great response, that I hear finger clicking when he speaks and this set was no different.
The event closed with a set by Paula Meehan, current Poetry Chair of Ireland and member of Aos Dána, which Erin compares to the High Council of Wizards in Harry Potter. Bringing a more classical style of spoken word to the night, Paula ran through numerous examples of her fine work and showed off her experimental tendency with her nine line, nine syllable poems, affectionately called the Niners. The esteemed poet left what was an exhilarating gallop over the nation and beyond through some of Ireland’s most interesting voices with the sincere wish that Lingo becomes the establishment of excellence in Irish spoken word that it deserves to be and yet again we feel just how welcome and needed this weekend of festivities was.
All throughout the day, through the quaint brunch and thrilling open mic and rich collective event, anticipation was mounting for the grand finale of the weekend – the Lingo poetry slam. Eighteen poets who signed up on the night joined the six competitors, chosen through a slam heat at the end of September, to compete for a chance at winning a paid gig opening for Damien Dempsey, prime slots in upcoming literary events and the Lingo Slam Poetry trophy, carved from 2000 year old bog wood. The event, emceed by Laurel and Hardy-type comedy due The Gombeens, would be split into two rounds, two semis and a final with the winner being chosen by a team of judges. Group A turned out Cormas Fitz, David Brasil and Clara Rose Thornton, the latter’s bluesy tones and languid body swaying winked at the beatnik roots of slam poetry and made her arguably the stand out performer of the round. Group B finalists were Paul Curran, Lewis Kenny and Abby Oliveira, a Derry-based poet notable for her passionate, almost violent performance style which garnered her the most enthusiastic audience response of the night. During the semis, the chosen six contestants were brought into the mix with one stand out being Paul Timoney, looking like a warped mix of Heisenberg, Hunter S. Thompson and Bill Nye the Science Guy and possessing of some of the most surreal and hilarious poetry I’ve ever heard. Absolutely brilliant.
With the day entering its twelfth hour, the crowd was growing somewhat restless as the final approached. For this reason, the brief interlude by the Gombeens was well received. Dressed as Catholic bishops and attempting choral harmonies between witty one-liners and gags, they reminded us of the heritage behind spoken word, noting no doubt with great authority that “the Bible was really the first slam poem”. The finalists took to the stage one last time, flying through their best pieces: Cormac Fitz with his love poem, Paul Timoney with another surreal take on courtship, Stephen Clare with a satirical piece on slam poetry itself and Abby Oliveira closing with a sombre look at the casualties of war. I doubt anyone envied the judges their job as the bar was set so high but it was Abby who was crowned winner, with Cormac placed second and Stephen and Paul placed third.
The clock inching towards half eleven, I rushed off to catch the last bus but not before watching as Abby attempted to perform a final poem, “Tree hugging”, while the Gombeens rather rudely danced around her, effectively making what should have been her proud moment just another opportunity to get a cheap laugh but she seemed delighted none the less. And who wouldn’t be? Watching a passion project like Lingo go from conception to tentative organisation and finally to completion is enough to make you want to buy yourself a Moleskine and scribble down some metred words. But for now I’ll be thankful just to have been there, in that room, for an event that will certainly change the Dublin spoken word scene for the better.
Words: Charlotte Ryan
Pictures: Azzy O’Connor