Pictured: Champions of people’s poetry Sarah Clancy and Dave Lordan. Photos by Fabio Barcellandi & Beibhinn O ‘Connor.
If Heaney’s squat pen isn’t quite your bag of spuds then the People’s Poetry Award might be just for you. Sean Finnan chats to Sarah clancy, Dave lordan and other heads who are making poetry a threat again.
Comprised of more than 80 judges from Clare Daly to Christy Moore, the award is based on the relationship between the poet and the public. This being its first year, Dave Lordan told us about his reasons for starting the prize. “It’s an idea that’s being floating around for a couple of years and it’s quite an obvious idea really. There’s so many young people in particular, but sometimes not so young people, often making homemade videos of poems which are very powerful and very eloquent. They speak to the general concerns of people, things like, ya know, the Eighth Amendment and the anti-water charges poems. We’d a lot of poems too dealing with women’s sexuality and so on.” “There’s a collective thing going on if you like,” continued Dave, “and I really thought it was time to shine a light on this. It worked out really. I decided to run a prize that wouldn’t be about the razzmatazz or getting a photo with the president or anything like that, but would be more about artistic development and building the audience for this type of work over all.” Sarah Clancy, a familiar face at recent anti-water charges demonstrations, was this year’s winner of the prize with her poem And Yet We Must Live in These Times documenting the personal anger and vulnerability of living in austerity Ireland. “In some ways it’s the first competition here in Ireland that just took poems that were out in public,” Sarah explained to me. “So these were poems that were made public before so I didn’t enter myself. I didn’t vote for myself, I didn’t do anything about it that’s just what happened. So in ways I’ve an advantage as I’d the poem at the water demo and some people had seen it on Facebook and Stephen Murphy probably had the same. The competition in some ways then reflects that poetry was in public this year which I think is the first time in a long time.” The majority of poems that made the shortlist for the People’s Poetry Award have a political edge to them. And despite poetry in Ireland being historically close to radical politics, it’s a form of late that has come across as a glitch of romantic nostalgias rather than an articulation of the mood of the people. “There’s a great quote from, do you remember the Situationists?” asks Clancy, “They have a marvellous quote, the point is not to put poetry in the service of the revolution but to put the revolution in the service of poetry. It’s not that poetry has a real role in changing things, in making big things happen, but people being able to express what they think about things in ways that weren’t happening to them by the status quo are enormously important and that doesn’t matter if its graffiti or poetry. Just people going ‘I’ve the right to have an opinion on something, I’ve the right to have and express my own feelings on it rather than what I’ve been told about it.’ If we can’t imagine something better, we won’t get it. That’s where I’d see the role of artists, first of all rejecting what’s here and second of all in terms of what it might look like, or what it might be like to be independent.” Social media has opened up the possibilities of that independence, an opportunity to find a prospective audience from one’s own bedroom, no longer beholden to the whims of a publisher and the demands of a marketplace. As Lordan describes: “There are generally more people more politically aware, more open and therefore they’re more open to radical art. The thing that I’m reminded most of all when I look at these young people is punk. You know people just setting up their own thing, saying what they want to say and saying it in the way they want to say it and finding their own audience. There is no funding whatsoever for poetry films, poetry videos and very little for spoken word. It’s all hand to mouth stuff. But that has an advantage in the sense that everybody involved is very grass roots. This competition showed that up, it showed up the DIY culture, that you could do a major competition without involving a major sponsor, or any institutions or without filling out any forms. All we had to do was have the idea and get it to happen. I suppose we used the methods of the activist left…they don’t wait for permission to do stuff, they just go off and do it themselves and that’s why we like them.” However, another of the nominees of the award Alvy Carragher points to a number of potential problems surrounding the recourse to social media as the main platform for poetry. “Internet trolls, narcissism, spending more time on Twitter/Facebook than on your poetry. If you spend half your time performing and half of it social networking – then where’s the time for your craft? I also think it can have the effect of people producing work before its ready or feeling like they need to and producing lack lustre stuff. Which doesn’t do the promotion of poetry as an art any favours.” Yet, as evidenced on the link below, the quality of the poems nominated for the prize and their willingness to honestly engage with contemporary Ireland highlight once again that poetry is never far from dissent. Head over to the Bogmanscannon.com to look at the twelve pieces of poetry that made up the entries for 2015.