I make my way down the darkly lit stairs of Filmbase, where below, in the basement, I will be one of the guest judges at Slam Sunday, a monthly poetry slam in the city that’s been going on for a few years now, one of the many literary events the 21st-century writer can end up at find themself at in Dublin.
Organisers Aidan Murphy and Edel Doran meet and greet me, all smiles and good service, Murphy, a tall, slim, genteel musician who has worked tirelessly for years now to bring live poetry to audiences around the city. The host for the night is fellow poet Brian McMahon Gallagher.
Chairs are laid out in front of a small stage. Free cakes, biscuits, cookies, and tea and coffee are on offer for participants and punters alike. I partake of a berry herbal tea and a small chocolate cake and chat and mingle with the crowd of mostly young people who come into the room: hip, smart, cool, transy, funky poet children, the sons, daughters and othered of Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg and Patti Smith.
Host Brian is thin, funny, blonde-haired, Jarvis-Cocker-like in stance, full of theatrical energy. Poets take the stage one by one, round by round, marks are given, totals are added up, and finally we have a winner. The prize is €50, a princely sum to a young poet, no doubt to be squandered later on beer, cigs, and chips, rightly so for the fledgling poet should be all up in the now of things, tomorrow is never for her.
The poems are, in the main, confessional, first person, delivered with lots of heart, passion and much movement and declaiming. The audience members will click their fingers if a line of a poem resonates, or brings a feeling, or laugh, or a “Yeah I get that, me too” vibe reaches out from the singer’s soul to the hearer’s soul.
Slam Sunday comes out of the spoken-word, performance, do-it-yourself, punk, hip-hop, zine, open-mic culture from which I made my way into the Irish poetry world. I am looking upon the blooming of a third wave of it now. The Lewis Kenny, Hazel Hogan era.
I converse with both of these poets, I know them from sharing stages together, and workshops of mine that they have attended. We talk about books, clothes, work ‘n’ money, gigs coming up. I am 20 years older than most of the people in the room. But still I connect, for the heart knows no age.
I meet my fellow working-class novelist Frankie Gaffney down on Newmarket Square. He greets me at the corner, look at him, the rapscallion gait on ‘im, the smile of a charming bulldog, and the enthusiasm of a newly found puppy. We walk on into town, chatting shit, on into Hodges Figgis bookshop, where the launch of Alan McMonagle’s debut novel Ithaca will happen.
As we reach the front door of the famous shop, we bump into one June Caldwell, short-story writer. The Dublin literary gang will be out tonight. We climb the stairs, pass the wall with the quoted paragraph from Joyce’s masterpiece of literature and mind map of Dublin in the 20th century, Ulysses. I give aul Jimmy a wee wink o’ the eye.
Upstairs, the crowd is gathered amongst the rows of books on shelves, tables, chairs, free wine: light and dark, and the helpful staff. The occasion floods the floor with its eventfulness. Many friendly faces, much greeting and how-ya-doing. And when’s yer book out? And how’s yer new book doing? And great to see you. And buying and signing of books.
Author Donal Ryan gives the introductory speech, and lets us know of a secret club that Alan and he are part of, one which was born on a drink-filled night at Dromineer Literary Festival a number of years ago. Alan takes his place at the podium and we’re given an intimate, unrushed reading, in his lulling, water-lapping toned way.
Frankie and me duck out early, saying our seeyas and goodbyes. We sail on back to the inner city, two working-class novelists with a novel under our arms, and another night of the life done, wandering home to safety and warmed again.
Dún Laoghaire. The sun has come out over all Ireland. It’s the last day of the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival. I am reading and taking part in the last of the poetry events of the weekend, a reading and panel discussion with eight poets who have work in a new anthology from Dedalus Press, The Deep Heart’s Core: Irish Poets Revisit a Touchstone Poem, edited by Eugene O’Connell and Pat Boran.
Get off the Dart, walk to the dlr Lexicon, meet fellow poet Jessica Traynor, familiar face, meet and chat with other poets, green room, joint photo for the festival photographer, check look in the mirror, enter auditorium, take seat before the crowd, listen to host Niall McMonagle’s eloquent and informed introduction to the book, poets and poems. Watch and listen to the other poets read their poem. Learn something from the tune’s melody as it plays.
I read my own poem, A Love Letter to Renaldo Arenas, bring a bit of my performance skills to the room. After the readings, we, the poets, talk of muses, editing, inspiration, the life of the poet, and how my poem could not have been published in the Ireland of 50 years ago, with its direct description and praise of a gay man. I am one of the youngest poets reading here. Younger by 20 years to some. But the heart knows no age. Back on the Dart, Jessica and me review the reading, and talk about work, money, art exhibitions, books, and poetry.
We part at Connolly Station. She goes one way, I the other. Once more to wind my way through the wine darkness of the city, to home, to write, to sleep, to attend the event of my dreaming self in the night.