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. 

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.

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!

It’s A Sin – Compelling viewing

Finished this beautiful television series last night. A brilliantly acted and wonderfully written series about the human stories at the heart of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s in London. Utterly heartbreaking at times but ultimately a gorgeous story of love, queer identity and friendship. A compelling piece of storytelling that is very worthy of your time. La! Available on All 4 and HBO Max.

Three Men Talking – Ten Years On

Last night’s 10th anniversary event for Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About was a really special occasion. It was wonderful to share the stage with Colm Keegan Poet and Writer and Stephen James Smith once again, and reflect on the art we made, as well as the friendship we have forged. All because of poetry. Thanks to everyone who came, and thanks for all of the well wishes from those who couldn’t be there. Art is truly the great connector in this universe.

Three Men Talking – Tonight!

Even though a storm is literally raging outside the window, and a pandemic continues to keep its grip on the country, our show will be going ahead tonight, and we will be adhering strictly to COVID guidelines. The Axis Ballymun staff will be very thoughtful and mindful of everyone’s experience, and it promises to be a truly special night. It is so rare that we get to reflect publicly on a piece of art or creativity a decade later like this, and we can’t wait to do some readings from the show, premiere our new audio production of the play, as well as launch the 10th anniversary limited edition book. It has all the elements for being a rare night. I look forward to seeing many of you there and sharing in this milestone. Most of all I’m looking forward to being onstage with Stephen and Colm again, and having a few laughs as we meander down memory lane. Admission is FREE, but you must book tickets – there are still a handful left here

Three Men Talking – 10th anniversary publication

The 10th anniversary limited edition publication of Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About is finally here. So excited to share it with you all. It will be on sale tonight at the event (tickets here). And we will soon announce details of how to buy it online (stay tuned!). It is a beautiful hand-set cover on high quality paper, with wonderful content bursting inside the covers, with new forewords from all three of us, a handful of never-before-seen photos, as well as brand new essays by our Director Sarah Brennan and Irish Times journalist Gemma Tipton. And the play itself is laid out in all it’s glory too of course. It’s a wonderful document of a spoken word play that set waves through the scene in Ireland, and had a profound impact on us all both professionally and personally. What a joy it is to bring a decade of art to life in this way. I’m a truly proud creative storyteller today!

The Brownbread Mixtape: Vol 2 – Spoken Word Poetry

For over a decade I hosted and curated a live monthly variety show called The Brown Bread Mixtape, and it took place upstairs in the legendary Stag’s Head pub here in Dublin. Those eclectic, electric nights in that old Victorian room were some of the most fun and creatively exciting times I’ve had.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently stumbled across a digital treasure trove of recordings from the shows and I put together a handful of mixtapes from the shows that captures some of the best moments. This volume is centred around spoken word poetry, which is a deep passion and love of mine, and the mixtape features some of the finest practitioners of the art form on this little island of Ireland from the past decade. Storytellers, lyricists, polemicists and rhymers, whose wonderful words will wash over you. The featured poets are John Cummins, Erin Fornoff, Colm Keegan, Raven (RIP), Catherina Behan and Stephen James Smith

HOZIER, FATHER TED AND ME

Many moons ago, when I was gigging more frequently and reciting poems and performing sketches, I was lucky enough to be part of a regular night called the Monthly General Meeting, which was a showcase for the most inventive and willdy wonderful creative minds in Ireland. On one of the particular shows, I was on the bill with soon-to-be global musical phenomenon Hozier, as well as Arthur Mathews, the co-writer of Father Ted (possibly the greatest sitcom ever). I recall the gig itself was in the unusual and interesting surroundings of a newly refurbished Georgian building in Merrion Square (it has since become an office building of some sort) For a while Shane (Diet of Worms) and Nial (delorentos) who ran the night, produced a terrific series of podcasts entitled The Weekly General Meeting focused on creativity, and I featured on the debut episode. Take a listen to the episode and I urge you to listen to the entire back catalogue, every one of them a snapshot of a golden age in Irish creativity, amiably hosted and curated by two great artists.

Listen to the episode here