Outside of an LGBTQ-specific context I cannot remember ever hearing a poem about gay sex at a poetry event at home in Northern Ireland, and so when I arrive at the Irish Writers Centre for their regular open mic night, Takin’ The Mic, I have to be honest, I am not expecting the evening to kick off with a poem about sex at a gay sauna. Mark Ward, who has recently been highly commended in this year’s Patrick Kavanagh award, introduces the evening and then reads us his Turkish bath poem. This doesn’t happen in Belfast, I think (the poetry, not the sauna fun). I remember something that I heard Ruth McCarthy who runs the Outburst Queer Arts Festival saying recently; that sex is not talked about at home, and particularly not queer sex. That we can say ‘love is love’ but nobody wants to talk about homosexual sex because it is still taboo; ‘We dance around it like it’s on fire’, she said.
Back to the poetry. Everyone gets five minutes to take their shot with the mic and I am impressed by the diversity of topic and delivery. There is dark poetry (‘Dread settles in the rafters like a thing with wings’- Stephen O’Donnell), flash fiction horror and comedy from Catriona O’Malley, Elizabeth McGeown reads a poem about our real life horror- the Magdalene laundries.
There is a short story by novelist Eamon Somers who has read his work many times before, and another story from Dana Levitz a first-time reader/performer at any kind of literary event.
There is a shocking and important story about homelessness by Carolyn Swords. Sinead Hickey whose bio announces her ‘not a real writer’ reads a story about ghosts and it turns out that she is, actually, a real writer. Jimmy O’Connell, Bob Shakeshaft and Kevin Ó’hÉanna, read stories and poems. There is a beautiful and sad love story read by Dylan Martinsen from New York who has not read in Ireland before, and it reminds me of the queer sci-fi novel by TJ Klune that I’m currently reading about a man who falls in love with his guardian angel, but Dylan’s story is real and the Camino Canto by Diarmuid Fitzgerald is real, and when Mark Ward reads another poem, this one about getting married in Vegas, and he says the line ‘Down a side street we breathe easy’, it is so real, and perhaps this is the side street tonight?
So when blue-haired Bern, Patti Smith with an Irish accent, puts protest shouts about climate change into beautifully clear song, we are with her in the side street; when she sings about the difficulties of belonging and identity, we are with her, and it is not difficult to join her when she invites us to sing along, so that everyone’s voice is spoken.
I need to go to more open mic events at home. I need to challenge myself to listen more in Belfast. After tonight I am sure there are voices that could be amplified that I haven’t even heard. But I also feel that I want to return to Takin The Mic at the Irish Writers Centre. I want to bring my poet friends with me on pilgrimage to this place. I wonder what and who the next one will bring.
Note: I hope that I have mentioned everyone who read. I know that many readers/singers have work to promote and work for sale. It would be great if you could leave a comment below to tell everyone about your work and where people can read/hear it.
Due to an increase in submissions we are now closed for new submissions for the Poem of the week, Unbound and New Voices section of the website. We will still accepting interview, essay and article proposals. Check out the website for future updates.
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