Rhyming poetry feels like a long lost art form. Modern poets are more about ponderings or lines that desperately feel like they should expand into a novel. Irish poet Stephen James Smith is the perfect example of such a poet whom you half expect to write a novella or break into song the longer he recites his poetry. But he doesn’t.
Instead he recalls his childhood, his Ireland and his home, delivering it in a pleasurable oral and written form. Stephen speaks to Susie Daniels about Schrodinger’s Cat, secondary school children and writes his own ‘Ode to Students’ exclusively for Student Rag!
Did you ever want to be a songwriter or singer/songwriter or do you do that too?
Yeap, I’m just a failed musician so I turned to poetry… I play music with some proper musicians sometimes and they are kind enough to allow me to join them. So I can get my musical fix still.
What is it about poetry that drew you to use it as a medium?
I’m dyslexic and too lazy to read or write a novel, plus I love the oral art form, so listening drew me in.
Who were your inspirations from the creative world growing up and specifically in poetry and
Pat Ingoldsby is my favourite poet (he is an auld Dublin street poet), I loved how raw his poems are, they always get a reaction from me. I loved the theatre also, and would go a lot. Jimi Hendrix, Christy Moore and Radiohead would be early influences. Now I’m a huge fan of Kate Tempest.
When you were student-age what were you reading and how did the books/poems speak to you?
I mostly read poetry and song lyrics, but Roddy Doyle and Irvine Welsh would get my attention also.
The Gardener’ sounds/reads like the start of a novel. Ever developed any of your poems into novels/novellas?
Not yet… I did write a play and toured with that. I plan to write another one to tour next year. A novel feels a bit too daunting an undertaking for me right now.
You conduct poetry workshops in secondary schools. Is it difficult to enthuse secondary school kids? What poems are they currently reading and what do you learn from the schoolchildren?
I love doing this! Young people are great bulls*it detectors, so you just have to be you with them. If I show them stuff I’m passionate about they buy into that easily. Just be honest and kids respond to it. I generally get them to focus on a place with a view to elevate their own hometown out of the ordinary, so I get to learn how they see the world and that’s refreshing.
My first secondary school Haiku was:
Red Autumn leaf
Drifting across the water
To a place unknown
I like haikus because they are short and succinct. Have you got a haiku that you can share with us?
You know what I’ll give you a laugh… I had a haiku in my book and that was about 20 syllables, I don’t know how the f*ck it fell through the cracks!
There are 30 others that are actual haiku but maybe it’s best I don’t share any with you!!!
My favourite one is by a pal of mine Little John Nee:
Wee lamb exploring
Alone among the nettles
Never heard of mint sauce
Can you write a few lines for Student Rag as an ‘Ode to Students’ for the thousands of Freshers in Scotland just starting out their degree?
What’s this? You want me to work for free? You know I charge good money these days! I’d rather let the students find their own creative flow and use that prompt! 😉 OK how about…
An Ode to Students
Good luck finding an abode and paying your rents
They say this time of your life is heaven sent
But that’s just by those who can’t remember what it’s meant
To get an STI after the freshers week amusements…
(Not my finest work, but it’s a 30 second free flow…forgive me!)
After writing so much poetry have you captured the essence of what is important in life to you?
Well I’m always learning (hopefully how to write better poems as the 30 second attempt above will highlight), but mostly I’ve learnt to value my time and how important creativity is to me.
I’ve done the office jobs building sites and bar work.
No, I’m happy working for me and traveling the world with my poetry, it always sounds romantic and in some ways it is.
But it’s what I’m going to do no matter what now.
Who is your favourite modern female poet if you have one?
I have loads! Kate Tempest is the obvious example. But in Ireland I love Sarah Clancy, Elaine Feeney, Abbey Olivera, Alvy Carragher to name a few. Andrea Gibson is a great poet from the US and in the UK asides from Kate look up Poetic Pilgrimage, Molly Case and Deanna Rogers to name but a few.
If we add music to your poetry does it automatically become a song? If not, why not?
Ah god, this is like Schrödinger’s Cat or something. Can I say I don’t care, it’s all subjective. Didn’t Dylan win the Nobel Prize for Literature recently, that caused a lot of debate about whether a song-writer should win it. I just want to appreciate art and not worry about splitting hairs like that.
Do you ever do comedic poetry?
Not really, there’s a few lines in my poems that get a laugh, but mostly I’m a boring serious kind of poet. I tend to make people laugh in between my poems in a performance setting to release the tension.
Stephen James Smith’s poetry book collection Fear Not is out now. Stephen will do a show at The Admiral in Glasgow on October 10th.