Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Doing Something Right

From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s hard to get recognised as a writer. While people seem to be more interested in music, film and TV than books or poetry, writing suffers and doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. While Gerard McKeown is a writer, he takes part in what is called ‘performance poetry’ and a lot of the time this is mocked and not taken seriously, so how does he feel on the matter? “I feel performance poetry can get unfairly looked down upon by people who want to judge it according to what they think poetry should be, but then when writers like John Cooper Clarke or Stewart Home come to Belfast and you get asked to support them you feel you're doing something right.”

While music may be taking over these days, Gerard has had many opportunities to incorporate it into his work: “The Lowly Knights invited me to support them at their EP launch. That all stemmed from meeting Michael from the band at a gig and finding out we liked each other’s stuff, which is always the best sort of recognition.” If you listen to Gerard’s work on his MySpace you’ll notice that he has put some of his work to music, portraying the fact that sounds are just as important to him as words: “One of the most important factors in choosing the words for my poetry is the way they sound. A poem has to work aurally before I'll consider it finished. I was originally attracted to poetry through music, for example, Bob Dylan referencing Rimbaud. So for me there's a strong link between the two. Poetry is music set to words, as the saying goes.” It’s not very often that music and poetry are mixed – a lot of people would say poetry is just words that are lost without music but when a band and a poet come together like this it’s easy to see how the two can work so well alongside each other, and how songs would be non-existent without poetry.

But it’s not all about the serious side of things. While it’s easy enough to sit down and read a sombre poem, you might not want to listen to the same thing when you’re out at the pub with your mates and Gerard takes this into account with his use of comedy: “as much as I will draw from music I will draw from comedy. Comedy works well for performance poetry because you can often perform to people who've been drinking. They like to laugh and it more often than not fits the mood of most pub gigs.” But it’s not all jokes, the things Gerard makes comical are topics that he feels need to be discussed, Humour is a good way of introducing these topics, without coming across like you're talking down to people or telling them how to think (which for a lot of people is boring).” It’s true; no one likes to be preached at, no matter what the topic, and so disguising opinions with humour seems like something that should be done more often.

So next time you see a poster advertising a performance poetry night, maybe think about checking it out before you judge it.

You can check out Gerard's work at www.myspace.com/gerardmckeown

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