Back in the summer of 2018, Orla Ní Dhúill and Jess Bernard were feeling like some of the poetry nights in the city had gotten a bit repetitive.
They hoped that “pushing themes forward, encouraging unfinished work, could let us change that”, says Ní Dhúill.
During Heritage Week last year, they organised a one-off event for the Irish Wildlife Trust, under the tagline “Nature poems for the new age”.
“The atmosphere that night though, the sense of it being this creative space that was at once homey and electric made me absolutely sure we should do it again,” says Ní Dhúill.
So they formed a group of poets, The New Romantics, hoping to inspire others to move beyond tired tropes by suggesting themes to encourage experimentation, and then getting them to share their new work.
They meet monthly in The Fourth Corner pub on Patrick Street in Dublin 8.
At each of these meet-ups, a new theme is chosen for people to craft poems around. Like “rebellion”, “queer romantics”, “wasted youth” or “heathens and infidels”.
From the Old Romantics
Ní Dhúill and Bernard met at Trinity College Dublin.
Bernard studied English and philosophy. Ní Dhúill did Jewish and Islamic studies. They both joined the literary society, says Bernard.
Today, Ní Dhúíll is a PhD student, studying science communications and Bernard works as an operations manager in a tech company. But they still find time for the poetry.
The name of their group, The New Romantics, comes from a night out, Bernard says. “We were out on the town and I vanished,” she says.
She and her friends joked that it had been like when Lord Byron, the Romantic poet, had vanished after a drunken escapade.
The story goes that a fellow poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley eventually found Byron and asked the rest of their friends what he should do with him. His friends said Shelley should just leave Byron where he found him.
“It became an in-joke that at the time that I was Byron and one of my roommates was Shelley,” says Bernard.
The Poetry Night
The event is for both experienced poets and first-time performers, says Bernard.
“In general it’s about just getting up on stage for people who have never had a chance to do a 12-minute slot, just by themselves and be that featured speaker,” she says.
Guest poets are invited to the nights to recite their work. Others then get the chance to share their verses, too.
“We have six featured slots and then after that, we have an open mic where anybody can sign up and do pretty much what they want,” says Bernard.
An upcoming night will centre on “chosen families”. It’s an opportunity for people to express gratitude to people they call their family, says Bernard.
Those who want to perform can email their poems ahead of time.
That’s not to judge the quality of the content, says Bernard says. It’s just to check that it’s suitable for the public.
Keeping It Free
Bernard says it’s been a bit tricky finding a venue for the nights.
Some spaces were too loud or wanted to charge – and that’s not something they want to do. “We don’t charge in and we are never going to,” says Bernard.
Poetry is particularly at risk of being priced out of the city, she says. “Things like poetry and theatre are the first ones to go because we can’t afford to pay for anything at all.”
“People are used to paying into a music gig. It’s hard to get people to pay in for a poetry gig and also ideologically I don’t want to,” she says.
Despite those challenges, the New Romantics have plans to expand in the future, Bernard says. “There are a few larger-scale events that I want to put on.”
She plans to make more immersive poetry by combining it with visual effects. Something “not just performance art but visually, essentially like an art-club night but only if we can find the funds and space,” she says.
Also, Bernard wants The New Romantics to publish a collection of poems, of pieces read at previous sessions, she says.
They collect donations at events to help fund the future book, which, Bernard says, would be a fitting thank-you to all those who have taken part so far.
There’s been all sorts working on all kinds of things, says Ní Dhúill. “That’s what I think we’ve been able to do for the Dublin poetry scene – be a place for messy, unfinished work.”
“A place to try new things and meet other creatives, to bounce ideas and see different perspectives or take on a theme in a welcoming, safe place,” she says. “Somewhere new poets are just as welcome as old hands.”