For many of us, the newfound excess of spare time we have on our hands has resulted in extra hours of mindless scrolling. However, if you’re looking for some online content that will feed the soul, look no further than the abundance of Irish spoken word poets that have been cropping up in recent years. With social media playing such a big role in the growth of the scene, their work is quite literally at your fingertips.
For most of us, when we think of Irish spoken word artists, the first person we think of is Emmet Kirwan. Indeed, when I spoke to some of Ireland’s up-and-coming artists, they all cited him as an influence. “I think a spoken word poet who has a huge influence in the rise of the art is Emmet Kirwan,” says Lucy Holmes, one of the scene’s rising talents. “His spoken word videos made poetry seem cool, for want of another word.”
“Emmet Kirwan rose to prominence in 2017 with a YouTube video titled Heartbroken, which dealt with the hot button issue of the eighth amendment in a beautiful and evocative way.”
Kirwan rose to prominence in 2017 with a YouTube video titled Heartbroken, which dealt with the hot button issue of the 8th amendment in a beautiful and evocative way. Since then, he has appeared on the Late Late Show several times and in 2018, his play Dublin Old School which features spoken word poetry was made into a film. Since his success, many other spoken word artists have emerged in Ireland. “You see people like him on mainstream news, and that’s giving people the inspiration to write,” says Emmet O’Brien, another spoken word poet who is gaining traction.
Holmes attributes the rise of spoken word poetry to the accessibility of social media, which allows people to effectively self-publish. “Instead of poetry being limited to notebooks and never seeing the light of day, people now have a way of sharing their art,” says Holmes. As well as this, social media lends itself more to the form of spoken word as opposed to written poetry. “From personal experience, poetry that is spoken and in a video format gets a lot more engagement than poetry that is written or typed out.” Of course, when young aspiring artists see other artists sharing their work online, it encourages them to do the same and this has a cumulative effect; as O’Brien puts it: “There are so many prolific writers, and that inspires more people to write.”
For O’Brien, the freedom spoken word allows artists is a significant reason for its growing popularity. In his view, this is connected to a shift in culture. “There hasn’t necessarily been a surge in writing poetry,” he says. He explains that people have always written poetry, but culturally, the limits for what was acceptable were very stringent. “People are more free to write about what they feel in whatever style they feel,” he explains, “It’s not that more people are writing than before, it’s that there’s more freedom of expression there.”
He also sees the growth of spoken word as closely related to the growing popularity of hip-hop, especially for those from working class backgrounds. Given that both art forms are synonymous with criticism of social issues, their rise can be attributed to the social unrest that seems to pervade our society. This is certainly Holmes’s opinion. “The world seems so unstable and a lot of people turn to art to try and rationalise the irrational,” she says. She cites things such as the financial crash, the housing crisis, the climate emergency and, of course, the current pandemic as factors that push people to take solace in consuming and sharing art.
“The freedom the art form grants writers allows for the exposition of experiences and identity in such a raw, redolent way that it is not surprising it is growing in popularity.”
Although the unique Irish experience has typically been strongly represented in Irish writing, it would seem that this is changing somewhat. “Being Irish is part of my personal experience of the world,” says Holmes, but she prefers to keep her work “open to the reader’s interpretation.” This openness is not surprising given that there is less of a one-size-fits-all Irish identity now than perhaps there had been in the past. This is reflected in the diversity of the spoken word scene, with poets such as Wuraola Majekodunmi writing work that explores identifying with both Irish and Yoruba experiences.
It is clear from the rapid growth of the Irish spoken word scene that the art form is here to stay. The freedom the art form grants writers allows for the exposition of experiences and identity in such a raw, redolent way that it is not surprising it is growing in popularity. Thanks to social media, the world of spoken word poetry can be explored in depth with ease.