Manhattan – A poem about Sept 11th

I’ve written before about my experiences on Sept 11th 2001 here. I always like to mark the day itself by sharing something. This poem was written soon after the event, and I was in the city some time later when I filmed the clips of the remembrance imagery. I recorded the poem simply on a microphone at home and then pieced it all together on some video editing software. The end result is what you see above, which acts as some kind of lyrical document to make sense of it all. I hope you enjoy it.

Lilies & Cannonballs – My first published work

Back in the early 2000s I lived in New York City and it was a brilliantly rich time of creativity for me. In addition to working on the now defunct arty website artlick.com, and being in a band, I was beginning to explore poetry and spoken word in a deeper way. I had always written poetry, some of it quite traditional, but some of it quite odd and experimental. This writing was purely written for my own amusement and creative impulses. Not once did I think it would find a published home, but that changed in 2004 when I befriended the writer Dan Connor, who was setting up a new literary journal called “Lilies & Cannonballs Review” (LCR). The name always reminded me of the rock band Guns n’ Roses, but it actually takes its name from a phrase by the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro – “Take a lily and a cannonball, mix them together, there you have my soul”. I was impressed by such an exciting vision for the journal, a place where the ridiculous and the sublime could co-exist. On Dan’s insistence, I submitted three slightly odd pieces to him as editor, and to my utter delight, they were selected for publication. It was my first time being published, and I would not have predicted that these would have been the ones that made it onto ink and paper. What’s more, my pieces were the closing selections in the debut issue of the journal (LCR Vol. 1 No. 1). In my mind I was the headline act. He was saving the best for last. Or perhaps mine were buried at the back for the more adventurous reader. Nevertheless, they were chosen and I was buoyant. One of the more offbeat pieces I wrote is reproduced from the journal below, and it doesn’t scream “publish me” but Dan had a wicked sense of humour, and was very supportive, so what do I know?

The rush of being published lasted for a while and gave me real hope that I could perhaps even make a career out of writing. In the end I did, albeit in a very different way in Corporate Internal Communications. Nevertheless, a fire was lit and I continued to submit pieces to the journal (which was published twice a year). And during that time I was rejected, which did sting, but it was also a good learning curve in the world of getting your work published. 

It wasn’t until three issues later (LCR Vol 2. No. 2) that I was able to get my next piece published. It would turn out to be my last publication in the journal. This time it was a quirky play/movie about two characters called Freddie & Jam-Jam, which was a prequel of sorts to my piece published in New Planet Cabaret some years later. I can see that my writing had gotten more focused and more precise by this time, but there is still the same quirky humour and mischievous spirit to it. 

I was so taken with the journal and the platform it gave to different voices, that I offered my services as a reader of incoming submissions. I soon joined the editorial reading group and I continued to do it for several years until I left New York. Being a reader was a terrific (and sometimes boring) experience, with real insights into what it takes to get published, and more eye-openingly, the standard of submissions that a journal receives. Ranging from full-blown masterpieces to embarrassing half-thoughts posing as literature. I loved it and it forced me to consider work that existed outside my relatively narrow reading habits & norms, as well as sharpening my critical eye for what good looked like. It was another layer in my creative journey that I look back on with great fondness. In particular I loved seeing it come together in the final stages of editing. There was real care and thought put into selecting the writing, and indeed the artwork that also graced its pages. In fact, my own father Tony Ryan had a couple of his etchings and monoprints published in LCR Vol. 2 No. 1, which was a special moment for him, and point of pride for me

Alas, the journal is no longer being published. It too was a casualty of time and money in an increasingly difficult creative landscape. But it will always have a special place in my heart as a writer. If it wasn’t for the encouragement of Lilies & Cannonballs, I may not have persisted. For that I will always be grateful. 

Broadcast audio recording of the award-nominated Fringe show “Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About”

As we enter September, it is time once again for the wonderful Dublin Fringe Festival to kick into gear. With that in mind, I wanted to resurface an audio recording we did last year to mark the 10th anniversary of our award nominated Fringe show Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About“. (You can read more about the process of developing and staging the show here). For all the wonderful success that we experienced with the original staging and touring of the show, we never adequately captured it at the time. So, for the 10th anniversary we did a studio audio recording of a performance, and then hired the talented composer Gareth Quinn-Redmond to compose a soundtrack/score for the piece. The end result is a beautiful piece of art that elevates the original beyond our wildest dreams. It didn’t get much love at the time of release, but I stand over it being as good as anything I have ever created. Please listen and share with others. It really deserves to be heard. Spotify link above. Soundcloud link below.

If you’re interested you can pick up a copy of the limited edition 10th anniversary script here on this website. This special print run includes new forewords by all three authors, several never-before-seen photos, as well as new contemporary essays by Director Sarah Brennan, and Gemma Tipton (The Irish Times) that reflect on its impact and enduring Irish theatrical legacy. 

Spoken Word Poetry – “the hole there in the floor”

For several years I was referred to as a performance poet, or sometimes as a spoken word artist. In essence, I wrote lyrical things and told them animatedly into a microphone. I picked up a love for this artform when I lived in New York, and later honed and nurtured it in Ireland. The community of performance poets in Ireland was (and likely still is) very small, so we became a close knit community. Some of us even banded together to establish and run Ireland’s first ever spoken word festival, LINGO. 

My poetic other life had many other highlights including writing and touring a spoken word pla around Europe, wild performances at Electric Picnic festival, participating in an Irish poetry showcase at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in NYC, and sharing a stage in front of 500 people with the legendary Saul Williams. 

I wanted to share one of the few recordings of my work filmed by Storymap (a cool project that sought to put pins on a map of Dublin with a video story/performance associated with that place) in my spiritual home The Stag’s Head pub. A place where I hosted and ran the brownbread mixtape show for nearly a decade. I have such fond memories of eclectic, electric nights in there. Anyway, without further ado, here is my poem “The hole there in the floor, which, fittingly, was written partially in New York and in Dublin.

Rakattak – 14 guitars, 16 amps, 1 mallet

One of the most creative periods of my life was when I was collaborating on the website artlick.com. No idea was too big or too small to be explored creatively. One such idea was a series of pop up ads for fake products & services. We zeroed in on a series of fake musical instruments and equipment. 

The Rakattak was a wild concept whereby 14 Fender electric guitars are suspended by springs inside 16 amps (on high distortion). Each guitar is in an open tuning to a note on a musical scale (not sure why we didnt design it with 16 guitar to cover two octaves) and an accompanying large mallet to strike each guitar, as if it were a large  vibraphone or xylophone. We imagined an unruly, melodic sound that would make My Bloody Valentine smile quietly. The ads only show the instrument in glimpses, but here is the original design by Dave Bagnall

You may also notice in the ads that the company producing and selling these musical items is called ChickenScratch. This always tickled me. I believe it was one of Dave’s ideas that was thrown out there randomly. And it stuck. 

The accompanying ChickenScratch logo was designed to look like a vinyl record that is stretching (time and space?), as well as sparking thoughts of the belt in a record player, or some similar analog piece of equipment. 

We both had a deep affinity for analog equipment in a world that was becoming increasingly digital (ironically using a digital medium to say it). So, the ChickenScratch tagline is reflective of our love for all things analog – “Analog solutions for a digital world”. In this slice of creativity we managed to achieve that to the fullest.

Plan “Be” – 5 tips about being creative

A few years ago I was lucky enough to become friendly with the brilliant Shane Langan and Nial Conlan, curators & hosts of a wonderful gig in Dublin called the Weekly General Meeting. As an offshoot of the show, they also had a podcast that showcased some of Irelands best established & emerging artists. I was featured as a performer in the very first episode alongside Hozier and Arthur Mathews (Father Ted), and they invited me back to talk about my philosophy of creativity, and ultimately to share my top 5 tips about being successful in your creative endeavors. This is the interview (starts around the 25 minute mark) and if you don’t have the time to listen, here are my original notes for the interview that capture the essence of the conversation, as well as adding some additional thoughts to it :

1. BE A LUNATIC Be a lunatic and shoot for the moon. Commit to it, then figure out how to do it. As JFK said about the actual moonshot. “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”. In essence I am saying, simply grab a hold of an idea, own it, and do it yourself. Figure out how to do it along the way. The Brownbread Mixtape show that I hosted for a decade, as well as the LINGO spoken word festival I co-founded, were both anchored deeply in that idea. Dream big, shoot for the moon, and use your passion as fuel to make it happen.

It’s important to be a doer instead of a talker. Forget about “some day”, make it today. And surround yourself with people who say YES. Immerse yourself in a community of folks who say “Why not?”. Wild flights of fancy are worth the effort. Especially if you have others around you who want to realise the same ideas. And even if you fail, you will have built strong bonds with other creatives, and will likely learn something from the overall experience.

2. BE INCLUSIVE – A rising tide lifts all boats. I believe that. Especially when it comes to the creative community. When sizing up all angles of a creative undertaking, I believe it is important to always think about how to bring as many people along on the journey as possible. For example, when curating a line-up, I place real importance on the variety of voices represented onstage. And when it comes to the audience, my style of performance and MCing is about breaking down the line between me and the audience. I want to make everyone feel like they are fully part of the experience. The great Irish writer Dermot Bolger paid me the highest compliment by describing my live performances as follows: “… there is the feeling you felt at punk gigs in 1977 of no separation between performer and audience.” For all of my poetry performances, and especially as MC at The Brownbread Mixtape gigs, I was really focused on drawing the audience in, making them feel welcome and valued, hearing their stories, and ultimately making the experience theirs as much as mine. This takes some time and it takes commitment to build that trust. But I always go in trusting the audience. Trusting their intelligence. Trusting their willingness to connect. And the end result is a room full of people feeling connected on another level. And part of that is down to me and the people in the room, and the other part is down to the power of great art. Art is the great connector in the universe.

3. BE COOL Be cool and be kind. To artists. To audience. To everyone. To your work. If you are good to others, they will pay it back, or, even better, they will pay it forward. I didnt have an agenda other than to have a great night filled with great art, and in return we would all feel a bit more happy & connected afterwards. Sounds like common sense, but it isn’t common practice always. Most people are just looking for a nice gig with a welcoming audience. And I know that I can always provide that. Whatever comes after that is a biproduct of the energy you transmit. In a nutshell, my artistic philosophy has always been this – Be good and good things come back to you.

4. BE SPECIFIC  The more specific you are, the more universal it becomes. When it come to creative work and outputs, my greatest successes have usually come when I applied this principle. James Joyce even said much the same thing – “In the particular is contained the universal.” This has held true for both of the award-nominated Fringe plays I wrote (Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About and The Definitive View with Sneachta Ni Mhurchu). For both shows I chose topics and details that were ultra specific to me personally, or to the country I live in, and through that lens I was able to reflect greater truths and moments of catharsis in every place they were performed in (from London to Paris). Because those moments are really microcosms of grander human themes and experiences. If you get real & vulnerable with people and take them to a specific place, they will likely go with you and immerse themselves willingly, because you want to share something. Because at the core of your creation is often a fundamental human truth that resonates deeply and emotionally. And that is the best you can hope for with your art.

5. BE OK WITH WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW In life. In your art. There are so many things competing for your attention and for your time, and, as hard as it is, you must simply accept your circumstances. When I have forced myself to create something, it is rarely as good as the times where I have a fire lit inside me. And this is not an excuse to be lazy or to procrastinate, but rather a grander idea about accepting the demands of your life at any given moment and being fine with how much you can create at that point in time. Be it your family, your job, your commitments – these things may slow you down, but look at them as opportunities to live your life and fill your cup with experiences that can later be translated into your work. Forgive yourself for the days where nothing creative happens, but don’t forget to celebrate the days when you do create something new. And be prepared to fail. Be prepared not to please everyone. Be prepared to go long stretches without creating. But remain a believer in your ability to create. That is being. That is creating.

Paschal Quigley – The greatest Irish singer-songwriter of all time?

Paschal Quigley is the greatest singer-songwriter that Ireland has ever produced. He is also a figment of my imagination. For over a decade I have been writing and recording a radio mockumentary about his storied career in the Irish indie music scene. The script for that is almost complete, but I will post more about that in the coming months.

Down the years I have recorded a selection of Paschal’s most vital songs, as he traverses through many musical genres and phases of disillusionment. The song above is his indie smash Damascus that chronicles a moment of blinding realisation about his place in the music industry, while on a road trip to Cork. It might be his best song. 

Throughout Paschal’s story he is a shapeshifter and reinvents himself. At some point in the late 90s Paschal pivots to punk and writes this rage filled reaction to his short-lived stint as an office temp. It also marks the moment he goes “electrical” at the first (and also last) Dungarvan folk festival. Play it LOUD!

Three Men Talking About Things That They Kinda Know About – Limited Edition 10th Anniversary

For anyone new to my website, I just wanted to holler about the recent publication of our award-nominated spoken word play, Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About. A decade ago we staged this show at the Dublin Fringe and subsequently toured it around Europe to huge critical acclaim. It was one of the most fulfilling and important artistic experiences of my life, and you can read more about the genesis and creation of the show here.

As for the book itself, we put incredible thought and care into creating something that was a unique work of art in-and-of-itself, with a cover produced on a letterpress printing press, on high quality handmade paper, which gives it a really unique look and feel. Inside the pages we have lots of gold too, with new forewords from myself and the other authors, archival photos, and essays from our Director, Sarah Brennan, as well as Irish Times journalist Gemma Tipton.

This unique 10th anniversary limited edition book is for sale right now directly from this website, so please consider supporting independent artists by picking up a copy today!

Ways of seeing – A portrait of the artist as a young man

My father painted this portrait of me when I was around 5 or 6 years old. He began painting it when we lived in Sweden, and he finished later when we had moved to Ireland. I know this because I recall posing for it when we lived in our little apartment in Kalmar in the south east of Sweden. I have a softer recollection of the latter phase of the painting but I recognise the house outside the window as our neighbour’s house in Waterford, Ireland, so it was definitely created over a period of years. Seeing it again and studying the painting, it made me think of a few things. Firstly the way another person sees you is always filtered through a certain lens and you cannot control that. In this case I see it as a loving gaze of a father and that shines through in the soft energy of the light. It also feels fitting that I appear to be sitting down to write, which ultimately ended up being my own path as an artist & creative. Secondly I was taken with the idea of the drafts and phases a piece of art goes through, and that the completion often comes long after the initial creation. This gives me comfort knowing that even a painting of this scale (the original painting is 5m x 3m) has a series of iterations and drafts, just like my own work. And finally, the slightly hazy, almost ghostly elements to it feel like it is slightly unfinished, or perhaps it was an artistic choice. I like not knowing that. When is a piece of art done? That is a question every one of us must ponder with everything we create.