Slam poetry students for American TV debut

When you ask an Irish person about poetry, the majority suffer an acute case of Leaving Cert flashbacks — nightmarish visions of Sylvia Plath and Robert Frost float before their eyes.

Slam poetry students for American TV debut

However, the youth of our nation are beginning to have a different view — when they think of poetry they think of performance; and art; and expression.

A good part of this can be attributed to Galway poet Stephen Murray who travels to secondary schools giving writing workshops.

From a competition attracting more than 5,000 entries, Stephen put together a team of four young poets who will travel to the US this summer to compete in the HBO-televised slam poetry competition Brave New Voices. It will be the first time Ireland has been represented.

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Ryan Mangan from Galway, Neasa McCormack from Clare, Melissa Kavanagh from Dublin and Iobhar Stokes from Limerick, were selected for the event, being held in Atlanta, Georgia this July.

“With poetry, people think it’s very dull and monotonous but slam poetry is now huge in the US. The competition has attracted thousands of entrants and they’ve made a HBO programme out of it,” said Ryan.

“It’s aimed at the youth side of poetry, really. The slam element adds another dimension and turns it into a performance,” he said.

To promote poetry in this country, Ryan says the Leaving Cert syllabus needs to be changed dramatically.

“I don’t feel young people are being encouraged at all. They are mostly taught poetry that’s dull — too conservative, too bland. And the majority of students in school hate poetry and don’t want to go anywhere near it. But it can be exciting, and intriguing, and it can be something young people want to talk about.”

Fellow poet, Melissa, is looking forward to the competition but finds the high standard a little daunting.

“There’s a big element of drama to slam. You have to inject yourself into the poetry as much as possible. The performance itself has almost as big an impact as the words you use,” she said.

“But if you mess up a line, or if you forget a verse or something, you just take it in a different direction, it almost becomes a new line, a new verse — that’s a big part of it.”

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