Gerard McKeown wins Belfast Performance Poetry Cup
arts and media |
Dé Céadaoin Aibreán 11, 2007 19:17 by Anthony Wisener - Belfastpoets anthony_wisener at yahoo dot com
Ballymena born writer Gerard McKeown has won The New Belfast PerformancePoetry Cup, after competing in an intensive slam contest, which featured competitors from all over Ulster.
The poetry slam, which took place on 2 April at Belfast's Black Box Theatre, was sponsored by New Belfast Community Arts Initiative. McKeown won the cup with two poems The Beautiful Goth and The Dreams of the Middle Class Poservs The Reality of Cool Punk.
Slam is a form of poetry contest, which originated in America in the 1980s, where a panel of judges rate the poets on their poetic and performative abilities. The poets are narrowed down and then play off against each other in a final.
McKeown is one of a number of Irish writers gaining prestige in the growing artform of Performance Poetry. Their is a strong, ancient oral tradition of poetry and story telling in Ireland," McKeown says, "which I feel the modern performance poetry scene continues."
Gerard started writing poetry as a teenager but admits it was mostly standard teenage fare. "The problem was that I was mostly copying poetry that I was reading, rather than what came naturally. Every so often I'd write something funny just to show my mates
for a laugh, that's really where the root of what I do now lies."
McKeown's first experiences of performance poetry came in 2004 at the Arcadia Cafe in Belfast. "I'd went intending to read the more traditional poetry I had, but when I heard the other poets read I knew where my funny stuff belonged." From this McKeown began his connection with the performance poetry collective the belfastpoets.
McKeown had studied literature at the Cumbria Institute of the Arts where he had studied the work of the American poet John Berryman. "His writing helped me form own voice. I realised that anything could be the basis for a poem, his imagery was so dark and his references obscure, but there was something very tangible and fresh about them as well." He later discovered the Glasgow poet Tom Leonard and realised that Leonard's use of a Glaswegian dialect was something that
could be applied to his own writing. "I think the Northern Irish slang is very rich, especially in Ballymena, there had been a great tradition in Ulster with the Weaver Poets using everyday language, which I felt was something worth applying to modern day poetry."
McKeown also studied drama at University and now found he could use this to his advantage. "I had a knack with comedy and I knew how to work a stage. It fitted in nicely with performance poetry and gave me confidence to develop an act where I would have banter with the audience and not just read poem after poem uninterrupted."
Some critics of performance poetry have accused it of dumbing down the art of poetry. McKeown disagrees with this: "Performance poetry is concerned with trying to communicate with people in an entertaining way. Poetry is concerned with the sound of words as well as their meaning, performance poetry does not try to intellectually best its audience with complicated language. It largely prefers patterns of everyday speech, while at the same time utilising the sonic qualities of tonality and volume. The nature of it means that it benefits from incorporating other stage based arts such as theatre or stand-up."
McKeown's win now means that he is part of the Ulster Performance
Poetry team that will compete in the All-Ireland slam in McHugh's, Belfast on the
11th May. Here's one of the poems that put him on the team:
The Beautiful Goth
I saw a beautiful goth in Botanic Gardens the other day
her hair was raven tresses
which framed a pale face of porcelain skin
but on it was etched pain,
a pout of raspberry refrained from talking
no words could sum up the pain
on her pretty painted face.
And while I understood this
I had to ask myself
If this girl is so pretty,
then why is she wearing so much make-up?
Perhaps she is hiding an ugly face?
Is it a human face?
Or is it the face of a lizardman's daughter?
Lizardmen come from outerspace
and have been trying to enslave the human race.
They are in government, in entertainment,
in all walks of life.
They could be at your job,
they could be your dog,
because lizardmen can take many forms!
They have been here for centuries!
They built the pyramids
and killed both the Kennedys
I know that they did!
they show up at your door
knock you to the floor
and try to eat your brains!
They ate my friend's brains!
And made it look like a burglary
BECAUSE LIZARDMEN ARE SMART!
BUT THEY WON'T GET ME!
BECAUSE I SLEEP WITH A GUN!
Copyrightof the poem The Beautiful Goth belongs to Gerard McKeown and is reproduced here with his permission.