Lewis Kenny, a 21-year-old student and spoken word artist, made history at the start of this season when Bohemians appointed him the first ever Poet In Residence at a League of Ireland club
Which came first – the football or the poetry?
The football, definitely. I’m from Cabra and my granddad, Christopher O’Brien — who was a member of Bohemians for about 30 years — started bringing me to Dalymount when I was only about four or five. At that age, I didn’t really have much idea about the football — for me then, it was all about the fact that I was with my granda and surrounded by thousands of people. I remember the atmosphere more than anything and getting swept up in that. My earliest memory of actual players would be of the likes of Tony O’Connor, Kevin Hunt, Glen Crowe and Dave Hill.
Where did the interest in poetry come from?
To be honest, I didn’t have much of an interest in poetry at school. Nothing ever really resonated with me then. In school, you were just taught poetry from the page, not really the performance aspect of it. So I remember being struck when I first heard Luke Kelly’s ‘For What Died The Sons Of Roisin?’. I didn’t even realise it was poetry at first, but I’ve always liked that kind of thing. I would make the distinction between spoken word performance and poetry on the page. Spoken word is performance poetry — it’s meant to be heard and meant to be seen. The styles of what’s said and what’s written on the page are very different things. Music would also have been an influence on me in terms of styles of writing. Hip -op would have influenced the rhythmic way I spoke the words and their placement.
How did you become Bohs’ poet in residence?
I used to organise some poetry nights in Dalymount with Daniel Lambert who is the Head of Strategic Development at Bohs. And because this is the 125th anniversary of the club, he asked me if I’d like to mark it by becoming the poet in residence. And of course I said yes — I was absolutely delighted. There was no plan per se. He said there was no pressure to produce something for every match programme, more like something every couple of months. And it doesn’t have to be strictly about football. It can be about the area as well. And I’m actually working on something right now about Phibsborough and Cabra which will incorporate Bohs and Dalymount Park.
One that’s definitely about football is your brilliant piece, ‘What Is A Club?’ which people might have seen and heard you perform on ‘Soccer Republic’ and ‘The John Murray Show’. For those who are unfamiliar with it, can you sum up what you feel is special about supporting your local League of Ireland side?
I suppose it’s that everyone is there for the same thing, like you’re part of a movement. Whether it’s Bohemians or anyone else, it’s about saying: this is my club, this is where I belong, this is the team I support. There’s the passion and there’s the noise but, most of all, it’s literally about being with friends.
Unfortunately, as throughout most of the country, the reality is that there aren’t even that many people in Cabra who will go out to support their local League of Ireland club. As a Bohs fan, you must have had this conversation hundreds of times yourself. So any ideas on how more people might be attracted to the games?
You’re dead right. I’ve had this discussion a lot and especially with Daniel Lambert who’s obviously trying to do things that will bring up the numbers at Dalymount. I think the clubs have to think differently now. I know that earlier in the decade there was actually a good bit of money pumped into the league but, with a lot of the clubs, it wasn’t invested wisely, even though the standard of football was raised and that helped boost the crowds. But I don’t think you can rely on the standard of football alone to bring the crowds into the League of Ireland. I think people have to think outside the box.
Like, Bohemians now are using Dalymount Park for things that aren’t only football-related but which still do promote the club. Today, May 2, for example, they’re having an open-air cinema screening of ‘The Van’ (as part of the Phizzfest community festival). There’s already been the poet-in-residence thing and also the fact that they invited Michael D. Higgins along (for last month’s game against Galway United). Anything that promotes the club outside of football will, I think, help develop a positive image for the club, give it a stronger sense of community and get more people involved. I really think it’s key for clubs to start doing more community projects so they involve themselves more in their community and attract people that way. And there’s also word of mouth, which I touch on towards the end of the poem. One idea is that everyone who goes regularly to a club would bring one person to a game. Even if only 10% did it, that would still mean more people in the ground — and the possibility that at least some of them will come back again.
Are you happy with how Bohs are doing under Keith Long this season?
Yeah, really happy. In the last couple of years we haven’t played the most attractive football and we’ve always started the season badly, only finding a bit of form late on. But we’ve actually made a positive start this time and, with a squad of young players, I think the standard of football we’re playing is really, really good. In saying that, our three biggest games so far were against Pats, Rovers and Dundalk and we got beaten by Dundalk and Pats and drew against Rovers. The other teams we’ve played wouldn’t be title contenders but, still, the fact that we have been winning those games is really good. A couple of seasons ago we probably wouldn’t have won those games.
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