First Published May 2023
‘KILN’ TIME AT JOHN LEE’S
This coming Friday, May 12th, sees poet, comedian, and spoken-word performer DAVID HYNES bring his POETRY KILN collective to JOHN LEE’S in Tullamore.
Ahead of that show, I had the pleasure of catching up with Dave for a bit of a chat about it all. I began by asking Dave to share exactly what his new collective is, who is involved, and how it all came together…“The Poetry Kiln Collective – or Poetry Kiln – formed a few months back and had their first meeting in the hotel foyer of the Morrison hotel on the quays.
If you say ‘kiln’ in a Dublin accent it’s ‘killin’. I’ve been in a few groups since I started performing 10 years ago but this particular project has me more excited than anything I’ve been involved with in a long time. I’m not sure if it’s to do with a new perspective on life since the pandemic but it’s great to feel a buzz at the idea of what we might achieve. We’ve got so many ideas of what we might do going forward. Myself, I get my inspiration from Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground factory movement and from Anthony Wilson’s Manchester Factory. In Annie Peter and Emmet O’Brien, I think I’ve joined forces with two of the most dynamic and gifted individuals on the scene in Ireland that I’ve come across. Both of them are taking their art to new levels and audiences that the spoken word scene haven’t reached yet. The first time I saw Annie was on stage at last year’s Electric Picnic and I was blown away by her performance…and she’s gotten better with every performance since. Annie has a way of mesmerizing a crowd and bringing you on journeys …and that’s what the best spoken word is …a journey. I ran an event in Kilcock last December and asked Annie to perform, and afterwards the three of us went for a meal. It was then that the seeds were sown for Poetry Kiln. When thinking about the dynamic that this project might have Emmet was the person who I thought would fit most into the same vision that myself and Annie seemed to share. Emmet is a superstar…yes he is and if you saw him perform you’d agree. These two are powerhouses of the scene already and I hope that the Kiln will go on to become a real force in the artistic community and we get to reveal to the public some of the great plans we have. Myself and Annie are just back from performing at Ballydehob Jazz Festival where we had Fergus Costello as a special guest who’ll be performing with us again at John Lee’s, and it was great to have the feeling of family back from old friends and new and the fun of a road trip with a kindred spirit.”
Dave – in case you didn’t know – isn’t exactly a stranger to either Tullamore or Joe Lee’s, of course. In fact, he’s almost an honorary Tullamore man at this stage, being both a member of the Tullamore Rhymers Club and heavily involved in the monthly Scene Of The Rhyme event in Lee’s. I asked him how that connection first began and then grew over time?
“Ah, the Tullamore connection..it’s more of a love story. Strangely enough it started in Dublin at the Leinster heat of the All Ireland Slam …I want to say it was 2014 .
Cormac Lally took part on the day and the two of us made it to the final heat of four but Cormac finished third and I finished fourth. Afterwards I walked down from The International venue to Cormac’s bus stop back to Tullamore on the quays by the Ha’penny Bridge. We had the first of thousands of animated discussions on the art of word and Cormac invited me down to the first ‘Scene Of The Rhyme’ in Joe Lee’s – now John Lee’s – and I missed not even a handful of them over the next five years. The last Friday of every month involved picking up poets, comedians, and musicians from Dublin and driving to Tullamore and back to Dublin to drop them home at 1,2,3, 4…sometimes 5 in the morning. Along the way we performed as a group at festivals and events up and down the country and hosted nights that live long in the memories of entertainers and audiences alike. I’ve hundreds of fond memories and I’m looking forward to seeing and entertaining the Tullamore crew with what I think is going to be one of those special nights. Emmet, Annie and Fergus Costello are artists you don’t want to miss.”
Dave is a man of many talents who has contributed to the world of the arts not just in many places, but in several different capacities too: as a poet; a spoken-word performer; a comedian; and also an organiser/promoter, having been very influential in the A-Musing event in Dublin for so long. But which description of who he is at heart really fits him best?
“As much as I love making people laugh and as much as I love being onstage performing…it’s probably poetry that is in my heart. I do read out poems onstage as well as what I would consider my spoken word pieces. I don’t think I really fit into a category in the spoken word scene. At times I feel like I could be standing on a field at a football match but with a hurley in my hand. I wish my poems of the heart meant as much to others as they do to me. I do know a lot of people love them. I suppose the problem with performing so many different types of genres is that different people like different things. They are people who prefer my comedy..people who prefer my spoken word and people who prefer my normal poems. That said, I actually love my letter poems which I’m probably most known for. But if I was to choose one hat for myself it would be a poet …as long as I could share them from a stage.”
The A-Musing event that we had just mentioned has played a big role in Dave’s life…
“‘A-Musing’ was my very first gig …..well kind of. My first ‘gig’ was as best man for a friend. It went so well a seed was planted. I knew it was something that I could be good at. Getting a hundred or so – mostly strangers – laughing is such a rush. I’d had friends many times tell me I should be performing comedy onstage. I’ve always had an artistic side both with my hands and probably a bit of flamboyance with my words when the occasion suited. The poetry was encouraged by a customer and friend who’d seen a poem I’d written for an old flame and he had run a serious poetry competition in Ireland for a few years. He said it was seriously good …so that watered the performance seed and that grew into the idea of performing. So I took to the internet to find a gig. There was a three month waiting list for a spot at the bottom rung of the ladder on the comedy scene. So I Googled ‘poetry gig’ and ‘organize your own gig’ came up …so I did. I rang Accents cafe in Dublin and organised an event for the following January and invited all my friends.We had a crowd of about fifty people and I did a set of poetry and a set of comedy and an almost 6 year monthly show started that night. The genius Mark Cox joined me the next month and became the second A-musing member. The brilliant Paul Curran became number three followed by Liam McCabe. There’s only myself and Liam left performing as A-Musing from the original group but we don’t go anywhere without Paul in our hearts and an open door for Mark if he ever graces the shores of Ireland again. Over those six years so many brilliant people both established and people just setting out graced Accents and many of them we took with us to festivals as special guests. A lot of people who are becoming household names now. We’ve taken A-Musing to seven Electric Picnics, Body and Souls, and near enough every other festival in Ireland in that time. We’ve been to nights all over this island and put on shows or been part of shows that will live long in the memory. But more than all that I’ve made friendships which will last lifetimes up and down this country and feel lucky to have seen the best of people…for the arts bring out the best of people. So A- Musing was and is something that will always make me proud to be a part of. It’ll be at Electric Picnic again this year along with Poetry Kiln in The Word tent in Mindfield.”
Something Dave does that sets him apart from other writers and performers is his amazing letter poems (where every word in the poem begins with the same letter), guaranteed to be remembered by anyone who has ever had the pleasure of hearing him recite them! What sparked the idea for those, and what’s his process for writing them? Do they require much of a different approach to his other work?
“The idea for the letter poems began at the second A-Musing show when the featured poet did a piece called ‘Story With a Lot of D’s’. I thought to myself maybe I could write a poem using words that all began with the same letter, and a couple of months later I found myself working in a house in the wilds of Galway for four days with no tv so I wrote my first one there …the ‘F’ poem, which became known as f-alliteration. It was a year before I did a second one, the ‘P’ poem, ‘Porter Price’. Then it occurred to me I’d have to do the whole lot! Yes, it’s a much different approach to my other poems or creative work. They generally have been done over a weekend. A couple of hours on a Saturday getting the best part of the story put down on paper and a couple of hours on the Sunday bringing the story together and polishing it up. I found it’s not something that can be forced and I would have a line or two scribbled down somewhere waiting for the inspiration and / or time to complete a letter. There comes immense satisfaction when one is completed, especially if it’s one I know can be performed on stage. I get almost as much joy from a clever one involving one of the obviously difficult ones. I am known for them and I’d imagine they’ve gotten me gigs and recognition I might not have gotten otherwise.”
And speaking of his approach to writing, is that something that he has a certain routine for? Would he write every day, for example? At a set time? Or is he a writer who needs to find himself ‘inspired’ in the moment, as it were?
“I’m not sure if I can define how I write. It wouldn’t be structured time wise. I don’t have a set time or day. It can come from inspiration. Sometimes it just comes from actually writing and finding a poem as I write. I can write in a certain style for a few weeks and then a few weeks later when I pick up a pen I’m writing in a different style. I have pieces of paper and notebooks with lines , jokes or ideas lying all over my sitting room …and some in the bedroom. I message myself these things too on my phone. Sometimes I’ll write a poem from start to finish on Facebook. A lot of my short poems come out in one go and stay that way. I believe they have a natural rhythm. I’ve often wondered if a structured timeline would benefit me but I get distracted by my record collection and life in general!”
Dave has been very open about some of the challenges he’s faced in dealing with the loss of two people very close to him in the last few years; his dear friend and fellow poet Paul Curran, and more recently, Dave’s own brother as well. May they both rest in peace…
Has he found that having writing as an outlet, having that ability to put his feelings and emotions into words so eloquently and honestly, has helped him to navigate those heartbreaking moments?
“Writing at times has probably helped me deal with despair. I’ve written in despair. I’ve written in joy. I’ve written in loss. I’ve written in love. I’ve always found that no matter the words you put on paper, the emotions that run through you work themselves into the fabric of the piece. The last couple of years have been particularly horrendous in reality but they’ve also been life affirming. Writing has helped at times but there were long periods where I couldn’t put pen to paper and it’s probably why I haven’t done comedy since before covid. I was struggling with the fallout of my brother taking his own life and if you look at what I wrote, it’s all soul-searching with the odd exception. I found much in life and people in the last two years that inspired some great poems I believe. I’m just putting the final touches to my first letter poem in two years and will have it ready for Tullamore on Friday. As you know, the brilliant poet Paul Curran also took his own life a couple of years before my brother and there isn’t a stage I don’t stand on that I don’t think of Paul before I open my mouth. Paul was such a bringer of joy and light into everyone’s life and a lot of my best work was brought out of me by just being around Paul. He was inspirational in the best way you can be. Anytime I was with him I found myself scribbling lines on a notebook. I miss his laugh and miss being able to make him laugh…”
Because Dave is a man who wears so many hats in his creative life, what words of wisdom or advice – based on his own many experiences over the years – would he offer others in the following areas: as a writer firstly, but also as a performer, and lastly, as a promoter of events?
“If you can write…write. Because a day may come when you can’t. If you can perform …perform. Because a day may come when you can’t perform. If you can organize a gig ….organize a gig. Because you can perform yourself or watch others perform, and grow and blossom. Meet new people, fall in love with life and the country you live in. You’ll stand in fields spitting words with kindred spirits, make friends and experience a joy you might never have if you’d spent your life in the shadows. Life opens doors for you if you take the chance!”
If he could perform in the presence of any present day celebrity or famous person, and in any venue or setting, who and where would that be, I wondered, and also why? And, if he could perform just two pieces on that occasion, one of his own and one from any other writer, which pieces would he choose and why?
“I’m not sure if I can pick a celebrity as whoever it would be would determine what the poems are. There are very few people alive I look up to. If it’s ok I’d like to pick someone who’s standing in the poetry world is growing after his untimely death, my friend, Paul Curran. The venue would be a room with just him and me. I’d have a multitude of poems I’ve written since he died that could suffice because of why I’ve written them, but I think that there’s one that stands tall and that’s my ‘A Profession’ poem. It’s the one that gets the most reaction from a crowd and seems to resonate with people, especially young men. It’s just a simple poem that I hope gets across that most of us face the same challenges and we’re not alone in our fears and challenges. The other poem is a poem by a brilliant female poet about a woman who had a child die … a baby of a short few painful weeks. The despair, solitude, and grief that consumed her for years up until she had another child who saved her from the world of despair, and reminded her of the fact that joy and sorrow can live in the same body. I would hope that somehow these two poems would go deep into Paul and take root and let him know he was loved by everyone who knew him. I can still see him walking off across the field at Electric Picnic the last time I saw him, and I wish I’d called him and had another chance at conversation.”
With Ireland and the world in the shape both are in in 2023, what role does he think the Arts have to play, particularly in his own areas of poetry and spoken-word?
“As I’m sure most realised during the pandemic, the arts in all its forms keeps us going. Music , art itself from Van Gogh or Dali. Literature is endless worlds to be transported to. Poetry to revel in. But spoken-word, spoken-word is growing and it’s a tradition that’s been there since man learned to talk. I believe today its significance is going to become more important. It’s a voice for those without a voice. It’s a signpost for those who are lost. It doesn’t limit you to your bedroom listening to the lyrics of your favourite singer, although that too is a soundtrack to life. Spoken word can become an art that’s as important as any other art if it’s allowed to blossom and voices are allowed to be vocal. In a world where it gets more and more difficult to get someone else to hear your viewpoint, spoken-word can transcend colour, creed, gender or whatever constraints that society might have. As always, my hope is with the youth. So come listen to Annie and Emmet on Friday.”
~ THE POETRY KILN, featuring DAVID HYNES, EMMET O’ BRIEN, and ANNIE PETER, comes to JOHN LEE’S in TULLAMORE, on FRIDAY, MAY 12th.