Student Life and the Spoken Word

Many young people find their voice partaking in spoken word events in college. BND spoke to four students: Caoimhe Donnelly, Leo Kuhling, Paul McNamara, and Alana Daly Mulligan about how attending spoken word in college helped them develop their confidence and their writing.

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Caoimhe Donnelly

Spoken word helped me find a community of like-minded people the minute I entered UCD. It encouraged me to put myself out there; one of the first ever events I attended at the tender age of 18 was UCD LitSoc’s The Cavern, an open mic event showcasing poets, musicians and comedians. I felt emboldened to share my work with weird new people, because I knew it was something we all had a mutual love of.

Whether it was LitSoc events or those off campus like Slam Sunday and The Noise Upstairs, spoken word helped me to come out of a shell I didn’t realise I was hiding in. Though I was very unsure of myself - I say that as though any college student worth hanging out with is, at any stage, “sure of themselves” - poetry and performance nurtured my growth. It allowed me to share my thoughts and be vulnerable. Whenever things were hectic socially, mentally or academically, I knew there was an opportunity to release what I was holding in at a spoken word event.

“I felt emboldened to share my work with weird new people”

I’m studying in Potsdam this year, which has not come without challenges. Connecting with slam and spoken word events here and in Berlin has helped me meet new people and get a sense of the local colour. I’m glad I can connect with people this way, it’s such a unique experience. I feel like college would be sorely lacking if it weren’t for spoken word.

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Leo Kuhling

Coming to college is a daunting experience, especially if you're a bit of an introvert. I remember having to present in front of the whole class a few weeks into my first semester; how the lecture hall felt like an amphitheatre, how my hands shook, how I blushed the whole time. It was an experience I never wanted to relive.

“Discovering a poetry and spoken word scene in Limerick did wonders for my confidence”

Shortly after starting my degree, however, I found Stanzas - a poetry and prose group based in Limerick. I read there for the first time almost 5 years ago, and it was such a different type of public speaking. I felt confident, encouraged, and I felt as if people were there to listen, not to criticise.

Since then, I’ve gotten much more comfortable speaking publicly. Discovering a poetry and spoken word scene in Limerick did wonders for my confidence. I still shake on stage, I still blush. But now, the prospect of performing to an audience is something I look forward to. Since I first started reading and reciting poetry aloud, I’ve performed at Cúirt International Festival of Literature, The Art Bar in Toronto, and even Electric Picnic last summer. I still get nervous, but now it's a good nervous.

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Paul McNamara

When I started in Mary Immaculate College University of Limerick, I didn’t know what spoken word poetry was. While there wasn’t a specific focus on it in my college, participating in the Writers’ Society and the Drama Society gave me the tools, inspiration and opportunities to develop a passion and ability for spoken word.

The Writers’ Society offered plenty opportunity to write for the stage and have it performed as well as opportunities to write and perform poems and stories at open mic nights. I also had plenty of chances to perform also, letting me get used to being comfortable in front of a crowd and developing a love for connecting with an audience.

“I believe there is no better atmosphere than this to help someone develop as an artist.”

More important than these opportunities, however, were the people I met through working with college societies. Being surrounded by creative people, who are inspired, who have a drive to create, I believe there is no better atmosphere than this to help someone develop as an artist, to be part of a group who will help push you to create and be creative while enjoying every moment of it.

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 Alana Daly Mulligan

Going to university informed the way I engage with my artform right from the get-go. For one, I moved from Waterford to Cork, so I experienced an entirely new environment both in terms of the physicality of the city, but also the attitude towards art. People perform differently depending
on where you go, they use different words and live different lifestyles so that for one became a huge part of how (and sometimes who!) I began to write about.

“…every conversation becomes an opportunity to learn and engage”

Moving to a new city even gave me the chance to establish my own open mic event, learning that I could have two homes, rather than just one. Then of course, there is the huge smack-in-the-face obvious influencer which is the university curriculum itself. As an English and History student, I read, a lot! I found myself picking up styles, researching poetic techniques all the while trying to define my own style outside of it all. Finally, there is the university experience. The buzz of college bars, after class socials, the romance and heartbreak of my two years of study has given me not only new material to write about, but a new way to view the world I live in. I have met so many incredible people who study a colourful array of topics and hold even  more colourful opinions on the way our world works, every conversation becomes an opportunity to learn and engage.

Originally published in BND Magazine Vol. 1 Issue 1.
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