Sophie Grenham talks to poet DAVE LORDAN about spoken word, new media and writing what you know …
Dave Lordan is an award-winning writer, performer, educator and editor. He was born in Derby, England and brought up in his parents’ native Clonakilty, Co Cork. He later lived in Cork City, with interludes in Thessalonika and the Netherlands. In 1999 he moved to Dublin, and eventually migrated to Greystones in 2005, with a sojourn in Mantova, Italy in 2009/10 to write and study Art History.
A more fluid creative figure than most, Lordan expresses himself not only through the conventional written word, but a mix of media. He is a staple in the spoken word circuit, regularly collaborating with other artists including Karl Parkinson and Christy Moore who said, “Dave shines a light into the darkest corners…around the cities, through the towns, up the mountains and on down the rivers, and always that bit of hope we surely crave. There are some of his poems that I would love to sing.”
Lordan’s print poetry collections are The Boy in the Ring (2007), Invitation to a Sacrifice (2010), Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains (2014), all three published by Salmon Poetry, and First Book of Frags (2013, Wurm Press). His work is regularly broadcast on Irish national radio. He has recorded many audio books of poems and short fiction, complete with sound effects and music. Among his many distinctions, Dave has won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry (2005), the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary Award (2011) and the Rupert & Eithne Strong Award (2008). Eigse Riada theatre company produced his first play, Jo Bangles, at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum in 2010.
Lordan’s most recent work includes his six part podcast memoir, The Dead Friends, a series based on his experiences as a teenager in the 1990s. Snowflakes is his other new aural release; a powerful reading about human vulnerability and endurance in the face of adversity. The works are seriously immersive, surreal and provocative, as if someone dropped acid on one’s subconscious. Don’t be surprised if his voice finds its way into your dreams.
In addition to his interdisciplinary projects, which are in constant flow, Dave regularly teaches at many institutions around the country. He has just contributed to an exciting new anthology, The Other Irish Tradition (edited by Rob Doyle), joining the original innovators James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, as well as recent game-changers Mike McCormack, June Caldwell and other modern writers who have gone against the grain with form and content.
Dave Lordan lives in Greystones, Co Wicklow. Information on his whole back catalogue, including his most recent audiobooks and courses, can be found on www.davelordan.com.
The Other Irish Tradition (€15) is published by Dalkey Archive Press and available from selected retailers.
I live in Charlesland which is a large, diverse, laid-back, mixed estate with four or five thousand people living in it. The most interesting associated fact I think is that during the archaeological dig prior to the construction in the early noughties a pair of wooden pipes over four thousand years old and well-preserved were uncovered. It’s also within sight of both the Irish Sea and the Wicklow Mountains. Although the commuter lifestyle can be wearing, it’s really quite a suitably relaxing place for a writer to live and I count myself lucky. In Greystones I like to attend the wide range of live music and other live arts events at the great Hotspot Cafe, and for the odd lunch out and about – although we are spoiled for choice – I like to bite down on the omelette, fries, and slathered garlic bread in Caffé Delle Stelle, across the road from the Happy Pear and in many pleasing ways its opposite.
I grew up on Bog Road in Clonakilty, the capital of West Cork, the 33rd county. I was so lucky to grow up among so many hard-working, talented people. People who kept horses, dug holes, built houses, served meals, cleaned floors, stacked shelves, baked bread, cleaned streets and so on and so on, who all had a sackful of songs or poems or riddles or sad or happy stories to share around. I remember my neighbour Mick Donohue whistling and singing as he walked by in the dawn on his way to tend to his horses before he went to work. I remember the great hubbub of Fossett’s and Duffy’s circuses and Mcfaddens magnificent travelling funfair as they went up overnight in the fair field across the road from us. I remember the painted smile on the face of the furious off-duty clown as he beat my friend Tommy up for laughing at him. I remember the caged, filthy tigers and elephants, long after the circus had fled from us, the lonely sorrowful field littered with the skulls and rib cages of the cattle – slaughterhouse rejects – the jungle animals had been fed…I absorbed most of what I know about storytelling, poetry, performing simply from being among my friends, family, neighbours and those summers full of travelling performers as a child. Later in my teens, I took apprenticeship with a local poet, Sonya Lovell, and joined the mighty Craic Na Caoilte street theatre group. I am without question a product of my environment, and gladly so!
I think a writer’s working space is the world they live in; the people, places, and things they move among and interact with. It’s out there in the world, in your life, that the stories and poems are alive and waiting for you to hear and retell them.
To do something with what I have harvested from my life out in the world, I have a writing and recording studio in my attic, which I use for writing, audio, video, livestreaming… It’s got a desk and a Mac and lots of tech equipment and thousands of books.
Sean’s Bookshop in Miltown Malbay – not only a great selection of second hand classics, but also huge amounts of trad/Irish music recordings and associated books. I always find something unexpected and compelling in there.
On his “To Be Read” pile
We are coming up to my favourite time of the year for reading, not only are the evenings nice and dark and long but also I will have a lot more time to read than I usually do for the few weeks around Christmas. I always try to read a big book or two at this time of year and to re-read my favourites. I look forward to re-reading Paradise Lost for the umpteenth time. Also Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, another all time favourite. I’m always dipping into the work of that old blind singer Homer, and of My Life in Song by Christy Moore, our own Irish Homer. Anew, I intend to tackle Hesiod’s Theogony and The Tale of The Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. I’ve got a copy of Jamaican Dub poet Lillian Allen’s 1982 collection Rhythm an’ Hardtimes on its way to me by post. My favourite author might be Anonymous though, and I also intend to spend a lot of time deep diving into the vast treasure house that is the Irish folklore collection at www.duchas.ie.
I go to my imagination to escape, with the aid of various kinds of literature – books, films, podcasts. I like to hillwalk too – Glendalough is a particular favourite. As I kid I escaped to Inchadoney, and even now my favourite places are coastal or island. I’ve been visiting Inis Meáin a lot in recent years and I’d like to winter on Cape Clear sometime.
On favourite destinations
Mantova and Italy in general, because of the heritage – artistic, architectural – which is both terrifying and sacred. So much of it is dipped in the blood of religious and political oppression, and yet remains staggeringly beautiful – awesome in the old sense.
On Snowflakes and The Dead Friends
The Dead Friends is a story about a party in a bedsit in Dunmanway in October of 1993. There were five friends, they’re all boys, all teenagers. I was one of them and I am the only one left to live. The other four died in the pre-Internet era, and indeed there is no record of them online, save for one coroner’s report following a drug overdose in Cork prison. So it’s the story of their lives and their deaths, and about a whole lot of other things brought up by my reflection on their lives and untimely deaths. It’s been quite a success and I’ve been really encouraged by the feedback. I think anybody who was young and involved in Bohemia or the alternative culture of the late 80s early 90s – ravers, crusties, all that – might enjoy it. Snowflakes is soundscaped poems. The title poem was written after I got called a snowflake on the internet by some right wing troll. I was quite flattered, as of course a snowflake means a person with a conscience, but also it’s an insult that is usually thrown at people much younger than me! It’s such a stupid insult, because of course snowflakes are uniquely beautiful objects that fall from heaven and transform the world en masse. And then the whole collection of poems reflects on that idea of beautiful uniqueness, and the unique fragilities of individually beautiful humans I have known over the years.
On fantasy versus reality
I’m not sure if there is such stark contradiction between “writing what we know” and writing in fantasy modes. There’s not much evidence for a realist mode of literary writing before the industrial revolution, so to see other literary modes as lacking knowledge would be to dismiss the bulk of literature completely. “What we know” can be transmitted perhaps more deeply and effectively by fantasy and allegory than by direct description. I would say, for example, that master fantasists such as Philip K Dick, William Burroughs, Margaret Atwood are writing out of a profound knowledge of the nature and trajectory of our real world, and I think their writings tell more about the world than “realist” writing can hope to in most cases. In fact, I’m not too sure what the artistic or intellectual point of realist fiction is at all, given covering “reality” is really a journalist/chronicler/documentarian job and those fields leave nothing left for imaginative writers to do in the area of representing reality. So, as long as “write what we know” includes the ability to do so in an allegorical, fantastical literary fashion, as poets and storytellers have always done, I’m all for it!
On spoken word
Every medium has their pleasures and advantages, as well as weaknesses, for both its practitioners and audiences. I think with a very good spoken word performer you get an electricity and a spontaneity in terms of back and forth between audience and performer that you don’t get with text or the more formal live arts like theatre or dance. I would like to say here too that the spoken word tradition I relate to and descend from isn’t the American slam thing, which I have little time for frankly, but the oral-performative tradition of the west of Ireland I grew up with. I was doing “Performance Poetry” in UCC in 1992 – a decade or more before the terms “spoken word” and “performance poetry” became current.
On new media
The really fortunate thing for me is those oral-performative skills I licked off the stones during my pre-Internet Clonakilty childhood are a great fit for the new media writing modes of podcast, and online video, as well as live performance. I love the direct connection you get with your audience both with online writing modes and with live performance and they always overlap for me in practice anyway. Besides these natural suitabilities and inclinations, I just couldn’t afford to be a novelist or a short story writer full-time or even part-time – the returns just aren’t enough to live on. Whereas if I work hard as a performer and new media writer, I can earn a bare living and also reach more diverse audiences than otherwise. A lot of my audience are listeners more than they are readers, and I am very happy about that.
On what’s next
I’d love if people checked out my audiobooks, e-books, online courses, and collectible handwritten poetry gifts for sale. I sell direct to my readers and listeners and this means that all proceeds go straight to me, a fully independent, self-funded artist, helping me buy precious time to make more work. My big news this month is I’m included alongside James Joyce and Samuel Beckett in the first ever anthology of the best of innovative Irish fiction writers over the centuries. The anthology is called The Other Irish Tradition and is published by Dalkey Archive Press.
I have a lot of plans around podcasting and audiobooks in the next while. In the meantime you will find loads for free on YouTube, and so on. I’d also appreciate people giving a quick like to my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/davelordancreativity.
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