Performance poetry is a different beast to the traditional written poem, and one that’s relatively new to many. It’s a medium that’s alive and well on the Dublin arts scene and is playing a huge role in a recent surge of interest in poetry among Ireland’s young people.
Leading the way in this movement is Slam Sunday, a monthly performance poetry competition night held at Dublin’s Accents Coffee and Tea Lounge. I had the chance to sit down with its organisers, Aidan Murphy and Edel Doran (plus an out-of-this-world banana cake) and ask the burning questions of slam poetry noobs everywhere.
Though Slam Sunday has been running since October 2013, both Murphy and Doran have a long history with poetry. Each has been involved with a number of similar nights around the city: Doran is a writer herself and is also involved with Milk and Cookies, a monthly story-telling group where the audience performs the stories, and Secret Garden, a spoken word and music festival. MC at Slam Sunday, Murphy says he now spends about a hundred nights a year listening to poetry. He first worked on The Monday Echo, a weekly songwriting and poetry night, but found that the timing (Mondays at 11pm) wasn’t the most accessible. For performers still in school, Slam Sunday certainly offers a more realistic forum, taking place at 7pm on the first Sunday of each month in Accents.
It’s clear how important spoken word is to both Murphy and Doran, and they are keen for Slam Sunday to be a driving force in encouraging young people to explore their love of poetry. [pullquote]“There’s a whole new life to poems, compared to what’s in textbooks,” says Doran.[/pullquote] Though similar to an open mic night, Slam Sunday is run as a competition with a cash incentive in recognition of the time and work involved in poetry, something that is stressed during the interview. As Murphy explains, “performance poetry isn’t like hiring a musician; no one’s going to pay you a hundred quid to do spoken word for an hour”.
The main rules of Slam Sunday are fairly simple. Here’s a spoken word poem by Ailish Kerr that explains them. [iframe id=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/op1W3X3UH_A” align=”center”]
Though there are some regulars, there are no favourites – Doran stresses “we love all [our performers] equally!” – and the sign-up system is a fair one. Names are picked out of a hat, and anyone not selected is noted and kept in mind for the following month. Murphy, who has been attending performance poetry nights around Dublin since around 2009, says he sees new faces at every Slam Sunday. Some even turn up to perform for the very first time, “which is surprising, because it’s a very high-pressure environment. Sometimes you’ve got a hundred people, watching you perform something you’ve written, from memory”.
Doran feels that Slam Sunday has “really sparked something”; a lot of college slams around Dublin – none of which existed before last year – are organised by Slam Sunday performers. “There’s enough of a critical mass of poets who will turn up and want to perform…the show will always go well”, says Murphy.
Ticket sales cover Slam Sunday’s operating costs, but not the €150 that is given away in prizes every month, all of which is raised through crowd funding. This year’s fundraising drive will take place in May and has a target of €1,800. It’s an excellent cause and a really well run series that is clearly meeting a need for Dublin poets and poetry-lovers alike.
The full set of Slam Sunday rules is available on the Facebook page , along with updates on when tickets, priced at €3, go on sale.