Spoken Word in Dublin: An Interview with Oisín McKenna and Vickey Curtis

Hannah Mullen
Posted January 11, 2013 in Arts & Culture Features, Arts and Culture


When a country’s economic situation tumbles, the silver lining generally comes in the form of an artistic uprising and Dublin has been no exception. In recent years, our city has nurtured subcultures and independent projects, paving a new street of art and music down which Dubliners can walk. Their definitions abstract and undefined, we no longer feel the need to pigeonhole an art. Enter spoken word, an art form that encompasses poetry, storytelling and performance. Come Rhyme With Me co-founder, Vickey Curtis and artist, Oisín McKenna talk about their personal interactions with spoken word as well as the art form on a broader, local level.

Tell me about Spoken Word.

Oisín: Spoken word is another term given to performance poetry.  Some people would describe it as necessarily passionate with heavy use of rhyme and rhythm, sometimes a bit angry, often engaging with social or political issues.  I don’t think any of these things are necessary though.  The main criteria for me, is that it’s poetry of any description that is designed for performance, rather than simply to be read.

Vickey: As an art form I think it’s very broad. I think it encompasses poetry, raps, slam and in some respects short story. It’s probably one of the oldest art forms, storytelling around the fires of houses, kings would have storytellers, I mean that chap Yorick from Hamlet was probably a spoken wordsmith so I mean there is a huge history to it if you want to look at it that way. I believe that all things that come out of our mouths is spoken word – political speeches, Rihanna accepting an award, tweets, lyrics and anything that is said in an open forum can come under and be used under the term ‘Spoken Word’.

Tell me about Spoken Word in Dublin

V: Spoken word has always, I feel, been around these streets, whether through events or just a small gathering in someone’s living room.  At the moment though there is a new scene emerging, there’s the Tongue Box in the Cobblestone, there is Come Rhyme With Me (CRWM) and there is a new night coming up that Oisín is starting called PettyCash. So right now it’s very visible in the city and it’s a great thing. Spoken word can often fall by the weigh side in cultural circles, but I think it’s probably the most culturally accessible art form there is. It’s about speaking; using the voice and most people can do that.

O: There are plenty of great spoken word artists in Dublin, but there aren’t that many young people involved, especially compared to theatre, music or fashion. Most young people aren’t aware a spoken word scene even exists in the city. I think the scene can be pretty insular, and involves a lot of the same artists in rotation on just a handful of spoken word nights, which young people might find intimidating. I also think a lot of spoken word artists in Dublin aren’t engaging in themes that seem relevant to the generation we’re emerging from, and aren’t always making full use of the platforms for distribution and marketing that young people are most frequently engaging with, again compared to theatre, fashion or music, all of which have employed the use of amazing social media campaigns in Dublin.

Tell me about Come Rhyme With Me and PETTYCASH respectively.

V: Come Rhyme With Me started as a conversation, between myself and my friend Una Mullally. We wanted to work on a creative project together but weren’t sure what that would be. I had been writing and performing ‘adult nursery rhymes’ for a while and Áine Beamish who was running the theatre space in Outhouse on Capel Street asked me if I’d be up for doing something there.

It was very much an experiment. We didn’t want to operate within the traditional borders of spoken word. I think that everything spoken is spoken word, and there’s as much poetry in a line by Kanye or a slag someone shouts on the bus as there is in something that’s deemed “literary”. I think that’s why people have found CRWM interesting. The people who perform aren’t necessarily ‘poets’, they’re people who haven’t stood on a stage before, or rappers, or people who come up after a gig and want to get up. That whole buzz is probably why we ended up in the Fringe because that’s also an outlet that challenges the structures of what art is meant to be or what is expected of theatre or performance.

We’ve no idea where Come Rhyme With Me will go next. In a weird way I think you’re better off being experimental with something because you never know what it will become or where it will bring you. Pigeonholes are for pigeons.

Ralph Jordan