I was really taken with Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” at Joe Biden’s inauguration today. Poise and power from such an essential, young voice.
The legendary German filmmaker Werner Herzog was profiled a while back in the Guardian newspaper with a particular focus on his comedic sensibilities. Well worth a read for an insight into the mind of a quirky genius. The above video is also another classic Herzog interview with his typical acerbic wit mixed with his profound philosophical take on the world. His words on the role of the poet seem particularly striking and well chosen. Do stick around for the rest of the interview though where he tackles Wrestlemania and Anna Nicole Smith.
I love words. It is the world I am most happy in. And poetry is my favourite written form.
Some years ago I was asked to perform some poetry at a spoken word night in Dublin and I decided to play with the very idea of writing itself, and the end result was this poem that toys with ideas of writing and language.
It was a poem I spent many hours crafting and rewriting. The end result is a poem I really love.
the sentence I'm trapped inside this poem, sentenced to burn in here alone. Which means that for the next 30 lines it’s my unwanted home. High time then to plot my escape clause from this overheated verse shaped box, starting by making a ladder from dangling participles and some missing socks; glue it together with predicates deconstructed carefully in their prime, then bind up each end with the finest scented romantic metred rhymes. Then, step by step deconstruct it and hide it under my pillowy upper case, then for a while bide my time, take a beat ... every sentence needs its space. Then as the following few unfolding lines presently grow tense and taut, the next phase of my escape plan begins out in the yard of discarded thoughts. I assume a pseudonym and then flip the silent “P” around like a spoonerism and use it to dig a tunnel down underground. Then with one hand scatter colons carefully to cover up the hole, with the other I dust pocketfuls of unusèd accents that I stole. Then back inside the structure to set in motion this poet’s plans, but first I kneel, dot my eyes and cross my tees with shaking hands. So it begins like this, I divert attention by twisting palindromes inside out, "Name no one man, Madam I'm adam"; I roar out loud and shout. No you're not", says the onrushing guard, pushes me back up 'gainst the margin hard, he grabs an @ symbol, calls for back up, the grammar police are now alarmed. Seizing my moment, I carpet diem, pull the rug from under them all the way, make haste, cast my ladder out, soon running across thoughts faster'n I can say "See you later poem, I'm heading for the margin, Where sweet letters bulge and new ideas barge in! Scrambling letters in my wake now, dashing towards the hyphenated end-goal, In I slide footers first through the peering freedom shaped escape hole. Once free of the poem and outside those lines I'll assume the case to be, that I’m in a position to begin a subjective textually liberated life that’s free. And as memories of the sour sentence fade into a sweet footnoted tome, I will rewrite all my cold first drafts, no longer trapped inside this poem.
[Kalle Ryan – 12 Jan 2010]
This is a poem I started writing when I lived in New York and was starting to forge a really keen interest in poetry, and specifically performance poetry. The poem was supposed to be a snapshot of the punters I saw in a bar in Manhattan called Tom & Jerry’s. But the original draft was a bit too angry and so it remained unfinished until I came back to Ireland, and after a night out in The Stag’s Head pub one night (which would later be the home of The Brownbread Mixtape), I dusted off the poem and finished the thing. It’s probably one of my poems that I am most happy with, as it captures a proper bit of the fire and melancholy I saw in those folks in the bars caught between their dreams and the drink. Some time after I had written it I was approached by Tom and Andy from the truly brilliant Storymap website, who asked me to perform it in The Stags Head so they could film it for inclusion on the site. I was only too happy to oblige and the end result is a lovely document of a poem and a place.
Back in 2014, the poet Dave Lordan, was serving as guest editor for Penduline Press – a publication from Oregon in the United States. He commissioned a special audio broadcast from me to showcase some of the very best contemporary performance poets in Ireland. I had never really tried something like it before but I was really excited about trying to piece something that was representative of the many great voices in Ireland at the time, as well as making it an audio piece that was enjoyable to listen to, maybe even informative, and maintain a good energy and rhythm to it, so it actually flowed like a proper album. There was also something nice about taking the time to go back through the archives of the endless hours of audio from all of the many poets at the brownbread mixtape shows, and handpicking some of the standout moments. (I was even cheeky enough to put one of my own poems in there from the Fringe show “Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About”. More on that show and the unique creative process of writing a show collaboratively in this post.) The curation process was really hard and ended up being super subjective of course (but isn’t all curated content?) and I decided to not script my interludes, but instead to speak from the heart about how these poets and their work had connected with me. That conversational tone felt right for the piece and it flowed relatively well. Then once I found the haunting simple piano piece by Irish musician Elder Roche, it all seemed to click into place. The end result was something I am really proud of and I totally stand over today. I actually think it serves as a nice snapshot of the variety of spoken word in the country at that time. And it is a proper document now. Many of the poets have deservedly gone on to greater success as performers and published writers, which is so brilliant to see. They are listed below. Seek them out, they are all legends.
Here’s what Dave Lordan said about the documentary at the time:
“[the brownbread mixtape] is a very professionally run cabaret and it has featured many of the most engaging and entertaining live arts practitioners in the country. Kalle is an excellent host and curator, a fact proven by the popularity of the monthly event. Everybody wants a gig at The Brownbread Mixtape. [ … ] Kalle probably has the closest to an overview of performance poetry in Ireland and he was the obvious choice to make a showcase selection for Penduline.” – Dave Lordan, Guest Editor, Penduline
Here is a list of the poets in order of appearance:
1. Stephen James Smith – “The Gardener”
2. John Cummins – “Brink”
3. Abby Oliveira – “the television”
4. Karl Parkinson – “The Positivity Manifesto”
5. Raven – “High John”
6. Erin Fornoff – “Hymn to the Reckless”
7. Brian Conaghan – “Waiting for the penny to drop”
8. Colm Keegan – “Ireland Is”
9. Fergus Costello – “Extract from a letter to the fella that used to be married to my sister”
10. Kalle Ryan – Excerpt from “Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About”
Here is the original link to the publication in Penduline Press: