Rick O’Shea gets well-versed in poetry for new programme

Rick O’Shea tells Jonathan deBurca Butler that he jumped at the opportunity to present an arts programme of his own

BROADCASTER Rick O’Shea is not known for poetry. But the smooth-talking Dubliner has been a popular radio presenter on RTÉ 2FM since 2001, and his afternoon show is synonymous with the station’s fast-paced pop feel.

However, the 41-year-old has expanded his range, so when RTÉ approached him about presenting a programme that “sets out to explore the diverse and vibrant world of poets and poetry,” he jumped at it.

“For those people who only know me on 2FM, the question of me presenting a poetry show is very legitimate and when I accepted the offer I knew that I’d have to face it,” says O’Shea.

“But I’ve been doing a lot of arts stuff over on RTÉ 1, a lot of book reviews on Arena, and the like, so for those people, and for people who know me personally and know my lifelong interest in spoken word, it’s a different question.

“Had it been a gardening programme or a show on fishing, I would have been the first person to say ‘I’m afraid that one’s not for me’, but when I was offered something that was in arts programming, that was an immediate no-brainer.”

O’Shea says the occasional nod will, of course, be given to the great poets of the past, but the focus is on the present.

“The idea of this is to shed light on poets that are working today,” says O’Shea.

“All the interviews that I’ve done, up to this point, are all modern, living poets. The first interview I do is with Liz Lochhead, the national poet of Scotland and, at the end of the programme, we do a segment that was recorded at a night called the Brown Bread Mixtape, in Dublin, that includes spoken-word poetry.

“There’s a fella on from Coolock doing some spoken-word stuff and that’s great and very different. So, it’s everything from people who are quite famous contemporary poets to people who you’ve never heard of. Of course, we will be doing stuff that looks back at older poetry: for example, there’s a Yeats anniversary coming up soon and we’ll be covering that, but all in the context of living poetry that’s being done today.”

O’Shea stresses that he is no expert on poetry. In that, he is not alone and he hopes that the show’s voyage-of-discovery feel will work to its advantage.

“It’s also about bringing a mainstream audience into what can sometimes be perceived as being a minority topic,” he says.

“I think loads of people who might not consider themselves great lovers of poetry have individual poems that they think are brilliant, ones that they’ve come across at various points in their lives, and they just want to find out a little bit more about poetry. I think the new show might act as a gateway, or access point, into poetry in general.”

O’Shea is aware that, tor the vast majority of people, the relationship with poetry begins and ends in school.

“As to why we don’t access it more, I suppose there aren’t really that many outlets for people to encounter poetry in real life. If you go into most book stores, there’s quite a small section of poetry in a corner, people rarely hear it on radio. It’s a shame, because it’s the smallest and most accessible of the spoken-word art forms — you can read a poem in 45 seconds and it can change the way you feel about yourself,” he says.

  • The Poetry Programme begins Saturday at 7.30pm on RTÉ Radio 1


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