The work of poet Lewis kenny takes in everything from skagged out MDMA session victims and urban gentrification, right up to the importance of cherishing your ma. Rashers Tierney grabbed him for a chinwag about what makes him tick.
We came across your videos on Youtube, saw you pop up at a We’re Not Leaving gig and a spoken word event in the Boh’s bar – can you introduce yourself to us and tell us what makes you tick?
Well my name is Lewis Kenny, I’m a 21-year-old spoken word artist from Cabra, currently a student of Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology and I suppose what makes me tick is spreading the word about the growing poetry scene in Ireland. It gives me great drive to keep doing what I do when someone who’s never heard poetry before, respond so positively to it. For example we packed out the Bohs bar full of people who’d never been to a spoken word event before.
What did you grow up listening to? Did you find yourself stumbling into exploring lyricism and word play via music or poetry? Who would you list as your influences?
I grew up listening to Irish music mostly, my earliest poetic experience would have been Luke Kellys ‘For What Died The Sons of Roisin?’, I didn’t really know what it was at first but I knew it was powerful and that I felt his words. It was a strange transition really, I started off as a musician writing bad song lyrics, trying to replicate Arctic Monkeys wordplay, which eventually crossed with a love of Irish Hip-Hop and formed spoken word poetry for me. My biggest influences would have to be my favorite poets Alex Turner, and the Working Class Records lads, like G.I., Lethal Dialect, Costello and Calvin Wade.
Your piece ‘Cabra’ asks at the very end “what happened my community?” What did happen. tell us what you think is going on? You mention gentrification, how is this playing out in the area?
Around the time of writing that poem, I’d been constantly hearing about close friends I’d grown up with being kicked out of their homes for various reasons, being locked up, forced to emigrate or just losing their way and it made me so angry. Some of these people we’re honestly the most intelligent and talented people I’d known. I just remember so fondly growing up with my friends in this area, having the sense that we could accomplish anything we wanted when we left school, to this somber feeling of waiting for things to get better and for people to come home. The brain drain and wasted youth is real. Even now when saying this I feel like I’ve taken a moral high-ground but honestly I love my community and would do anything for it.
At the time gentrification was looking good, we had good investment from businesses, property value increased and housing quality was good. However since the fall of the Celtic Tiger we’ve seen how local community businesses have struggled to compete with more well known chains, an example being Reids on the Cabra Road up for sale. Also plans for much needed redevelopment of decaying areas including O’Devaney Gardens being scrapped is a huge blow to the area.
Is the opening of the Grangegorman campus and the upward push of emigrés from the craft beer and artisan bread feasting vales of Stoneybatter reshaping the area?
It’s absolutely wonderful to see the DIT open a new branch in Grangegorman. It gives a massive boost to sustaining local business, as well as encouraging investment with over 1000 new students in already. Also this could be used to push on the local population to 3rd level education, whether it be youth fresh out of school, or older generation who just never had the opportunity.
You use some aspects of music in your tracks on Youtube. Why did you feel that was necessary?
I didn’t think it was necessary, but felt that maybe for people who’d never heard spoken word before, it was best to try make it easier for the ears. I also felt that music on ‘Cabra’ added an extra dimension to the piece as a whole.
Some of us in rabble have talked before about how Ireland’s session culture, its army of unemployed youth with nothing better to do than lose themselves in party gaffs rarely gets represented in cultural work here. Least not in the same way it appeared in the writings of the chemical generation in the mid 1990s. Why have you chosen to approach in some of your work?
I choose this because it’s real, this is how it is across the country. I like to draw on drug and youth culture and how they’re connected with each other. We’ve seen over the last few years that the increase in quality of ecstasy has seen it increase in popularity again so it could be said that this is the new ‘Chemical Generation’.
If someone was being unkind, they could reach for descriptions like “laddish” etc to describe your work, but really that’s a disservice. You cart through talk about the double jobbing of home makers on 54 hour a week shifts, to hugging your mother for the first time “in God know’s how long” to “avoiding the boys”, sick of their cruel hardman banter. Would it be fair to say you strip away at how uncomfortable masculinity can be to bear when young?
I think ‘Lad’ culture is a very common theme when growing up, but I think there does come a time when you just have to look at yourself and say ‘What the fuck am I doing? Grow up’.
It’s not masculinity but rather Ladism, that promotes and glorifies a culture of sexism, racism, homophobia, violence and alcoholism. While I talk about drug culture and advocate sensible drug policy, I don’t glorify its use.
I like to write about what’s real to me and what’s going on in my head, everything I write about is true and would never try to coat it in anything to make myself less vulnerable. This is what poetry is all about, exposing yourself to the world and hoping for them to be kind.
I find it really hard to read poetry, it just doesn’t leap off the page to me. It’s a spoken art form really isn’t it and when performed live, it takes on whole nuances of delivery missing on the page. Do you think social media, the ability to churn out spoken word on Youtube etc has opened up a new audience for the art?
I personally think there are two types of poetry, poetry that is meant to be read and poetry that is meant to be heard. Youtube has become a social hub of people now able to get their performance across. It has honestly done wonders the art form, where posting just words never got the same reaction from people. it’s really great to see.