All Ireland Poetry Slam Final 2018
“I plan to do my best to represent you all as well as I can and further push Ireland’s poetry into the eye of the world.”
Adam Lawler travels to Galway to get the lowdown on the All Ireland Slam Poetry Final and we get to meet the 2018 Ireland Slam Champion, Beau Williams.
It was this day last month, 3rd November, that the people gathered from far and wide to participate in the All Ireland Poetry Slam Final 2018, hosted in the Blue Note Galway. The venue, already well-known for its poetry-based events and intimate vibe, was packed with peers and supporters from the start of the night. MC Cathal Holden kicked things off on a charming note with a poem about what it means to be “The Man”, getting the crowd well and truly buzzing.
The twelve competing poets were the champions of their various heats representing all four provinces of the island. From Munster slam competitor Benjamin Burns performed a piece whose highly-rhythmic flow was reminiscent of the Fairly Odd Parents theme, or every white male rapper ever, while Jack Haworth from Connacht performed a hypnotic waltz with the refrain “nothing gets done until someone gets killed”, if that doesn’t get you in the mood of a poetry slam, nothing else will.
A lot of the poetry on the night was ablaze with political fury. Munster poet Mel White delivered a powerful sermon based on the concept of writing what you know, spinning it into a treatise on violence and Israel’s subjugation of Palestine among other topics featuring the winning line “I’ve seen more battered wives than I’ve seen dragonflies”. Mel Bradley from Ulster performed an irreverent piece about misconceptions surrounding bisexual people and bi visibility, with the hook “I’m the worst lesbian in the world”, while Sarah Richardson representing Leinster fires off a poem about her not being like other girls, a popular theme on the circuit right now.
A lot of the poetry on the night was ablaze with political fury.
There’s variety, though, in the odd alternative act. Liz Curley, dressed as a floral Florence and the Machine impersonator, surprised with a vividly pastoral work with personal admissions wrapped up in keenly-observed natural imagery and delivered hypnotically. Jack Laughrey was fun and talked getting degrees and living with depression, with clever wordplay about nasal sex (“because fuck nose”) thrown in for good measure. Fergus Costello, meanwhile, was typically hilarious and spot on.
After a very loud and not very relaxing break, six poets advanced to the next stage of the competition: Beau Williams, Sarah Richardson, Elizabeth McGeown, Mel White, Mel Bradley, Jack Laughrey, and Fergus Costello. The performances were stepped into high fear for this round. In particular, we were left with sliced fingertips with the razor-sharp pieces delivered by Sarah Richardson and Elizabeth McGeown about living and dancing freely in the face of rape culture and growing up amid the turmoil of the Troubles respectively. Mel White’s piece was on activism and how every movement “started with stopping”, her fiery first round made this one feel like somewhat of a plateau. Laughrey and Williams were again solid, but Fergus Costello was the only poet who gave consistently funny, affecting, tonally-fine-tuned performances round after round.
The four finalists were: Williams, Richardson, Laughrey, and Costello. Last year’s All Ireland winner Nuala Leonard breaks up the competitive tension by performing her winning poetry, still perfectly witty with an undercurrent of searching uncertainty, before MC Holden reappears to thank everyone for their support and donations to the prize money. In fourth place was Jack Laughrey, in third came Fergus Costello, in second was Sarah Richardson and in first place was humble spoken word artist Beau Williams.
Exploring themes on masculinity, he possessed a quiet energy and yet presented a charismatic attitude. Like most contenders his final thoughts going into the slam were of total fear, intrigue and focus.
“I had no idea what the other poets were going to bring to the table, but it had to be amazing if they made it to the finals...I knew my poems well and knew my only shot at winning was to do them to the best of my ability.”
Originally from Portland, Maine, USA, Williams has performed his work across the States for over 9 years as a solo act and in multiple collectives. He revealed that, “I have taught poetry workshops in high schools and colleges all over New England and competed in the National Poetry Slam four times and the Arkansas Grand Slam twice.” Williams also has two books of poetry under his belt RUMHAM and Nail Gun and a Love Letter, both available on Amazon.
"Nail Gun was written after my first trip to Ireland on an Artist in Residency position at the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan. I moved to Galway to get my Masters in Creative Writing and to push my performance poetry career to the next level in this amazing country known for its poets.”
Following in the footsteps of 2017 All Ireland Slam Champion Nuala Leonard, Williams has some big plans of his own for the coming year. “I am also balancing school (I live in Galway but am getting my Masters in Creative Writing in Cork at UCC at the moment), but in 2019 I plan to perform all over the country as long as the venues and people want to hear me. If I am to represent Ireland, I better know the poets and venues I am representing.
“I am honored to represent Ireland on the international stage. I cannot express enough how grateful and humbled I am. I plan to do my best to represent you all as well as I can and further push Ireland’s poetry into the eye of the world.”
The competitors in the All Ireland Poetry Slam Final:
Written by Adam Lawler