Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Come Join Me In Rhyme

At the risk of getting a lot more personal than I tend to like to do in this blog...

There's a place I go sometimes called The Hayloft. It's a tiny room (the bar takes up fully one quarter of the available space) in the upstairs of a pub in the city centre, and on Monday nights it plays host to O'Bhéal. (I'm supposed to know what that means, but I can never remember.) O'Bhéal is "Cork's weekly poetry event". The evening starts off with a silly poetry exercise, with a free pint for the winner, then a guest poet brought in for the night reads for about an hour, and then the rest of the time until close (usually around midnight) is an open mic. I've seen the crowd vary from less than a dozen to more than you'd think the room could hold, and ages range from twenty-ish to the 67-year-old who tried to buy me a drink last night. Many, if not most, are regulars.

I stumbled upon this by accident: They had a special event for Cork Culture Night in September, on a Friday instead of the usual Monday, and I saw it in the Culture Night listings and went thinking it was a one-time event. And it was love.

I forget sometimes that social science is not where I planned to end up. Four years ago the direction my life has gone, and more specifically the extent to which it sometimes seems I've turned my back on the arts, would have been unthinkable. The only literature courses I've taken since beginning my second attempt at college have been my French classes, and sometimes I'll sit down to write a French paper and suddenly remember that hey, I actually enjoy this, and I think this is what I meant to do once upon a time.*

I could go on about that for a while, but that's getting pretty tangential to the story, even for me. Anyway, I hadn't been to something like this in ages, and it used to be a huge part of my life, and it was really refreshing. And it made me really, really happy at a time (the semester had just started) when I didn't really know what I was doing yet and was trying to figure out what my life here was going to be.

I wound up not going as often as I wanted to. Sometimes I decided it was cold and I was lazy, and sometimes I was disappointed by my failure to get other girls to go with me (I succeeded twice, but that was it), but after a while I had to stop caring about both of those things because I was running out of time to say "Next week," so for the last few weeks I've gone pretty regularly. It's always a good time, and I've never felt unwelcome or out of the loop even when I'm there by myself. The guest poets are always great (the first one, on Culture Night, was a comic who recited, among other things, a very long poem that was a dialogue between Cathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights and was absolutely hilarious), and although the things read during the open mic sometimes vary in quality, everybody gets applause and support.

The MC (and, I believe, the guy who started all of this in the first place several years ago, and who kind of reminds me of Liam Neeson) always approaches everyone in the room with the open mic sign-up list, including me. For a long time, I just smiled and shook my head. Like I said, it had been a very long time, and I was a newcomer (and a foreigner to boot), and those two things together made me very uncertain about reading anything myself.

But also, and perhaps more importantly, it had been a very long time since I really wrote anything to read. I wrote poetry constantly in high school and my first semester in college, but after that it sort of stopped. I don't think it tapered off as I got busy with other pursuits, either, it just stopped. I'd written two poems since then that I can think of, and most of another that got lost because MS Word's autosave function sometimes fails to save automatically even though I'm pretty sure that's why it exists, which sort of sucked any remaining motivation out of me. That was it.

Now, I have a theory about this cessation of writing that involves my need to write a specific poem, and you can feel free to ask me about it sometime, but I'm not going to get into it here because I don't think it's really an appropriate topic for this blog. The point is, on my way home from Culture Night, I wrote a poem. I wrote THAT poem, in fact. And it was like magic: in the last two and a half months I've written more than I wrote in the two and a half years before it.

I finally read one of them last week. I'm pretty sure it's the best poem I've ever written, and reaction I got from the audience was more positive than I would have ever dreamed. There were actually spontaneous grunts of approval somewhere to my right, at least three people made a point of telling me in person afterwards that it was great, and the young woman who was MCing that night reclaimed the mic after I sat down and said, "Erica, you can come back anytime."

I don't think anything else I have to offer would measure up, but it was pretty satisfying nonetheless.

Last night I read the poem I wrote that first night. I wanted to explain it, the story behind the writing of it if not the subject, but things were running behind and so I just got to the point. But I read it.

What I really wanted to do was write something during the semester specifically to read last night, something about O'Bhéal; it would have ended with something like "I came all the way to Ireland to find myself again," but working backwards from an ending has pretty much never worked out for me and I never really found the time to work on it anyway.

Anyway, I'm going to miss O'Bhéal a lot. I walked away from The Hayloft last night very sad to know I won't be back again. It wasn't until the last couple of weeks that I really started talking to people there, but it's been really important to me all along, and I don't have anything like it back home to return to. I'd like to try to find something, or start something at Oberlin. Whether either of those things happens or not, and despite the fact that I didn't go as much as I intended to and kind of wish I had, I think it's always going to be one of the things that defines my life in Cork as I'll remember it.

* That's kind of an unintentional play on words that no one is going to notice unless you know that my primary French professor and I share a certain fascination with fairy tales and folklore.

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