Sunday, 3 July 2011

The legend that is Stephen James Smith

This interview was first published on

Poet and writer Kate Dempsey speaks to the legend that is Stephen James Smith about his journey to poetry and the importance of spoken word.
Stephen James Smith is a Dublin poet. He has a collection called 'Pretending to be Happy?' coming out this year with Maverick Press. His poetry is included on an American University Syllabus and he runs workshops in schools. He is best known as a spoken word champion, winning the Cúirt Literary Grand Slam Champion 2009 and others. Stephen reads at many events and festivals and runs the hugely popular Glór Sessions.

Hello Stephen, welcome to Could you introduce yourself to the readers please?

Hello / Kate, thanks for asking me to take part! I am not sure why, or what I can offer the reader but sure here goes…

As for introducing myself, well I guess or hope I am a relatively simple man. I am from Dublin was born in ’82, I have an interest in poetry and it takes up part of my life on a daily basis. I wrote much more here but just deleted it as it sounded like I was writing something for a dating site….

 How did you get into poetry?
Largely by accident, I didn’t have the same affection for it in school as I do now. Basically I was learning guitar and I wrote a few songs, played them at an open mic; then I ended up writing a poem for a friend of mine. I read it out one night at this open mic session in Slattery’s Rathmines - it seemed to have an effect on the crowd there.  Then I heard of a poetry night, I expected it to be full of weirdoes, it was (!) but it was good fun and they interested me and they were very encouraging.

Next I heard of Rite & Recite which Gerry McNamara ran and I found friendship with guys the same age as me who were into the same things - and poetry wasn’t frowned upon the way it might have been if I chatted to other mates about it. So that was where it started for me, and thankfully I continued as it has brought me strange places and to meet interesting people. Poetry really does make folk act differently to you I find, it is not something I always feel comfortable with, but I can’t complain either.

What do you consider have been the highlights so far?
Poetry has taken me to Slovenia, Poland, all across Ireland and I have just recently been invited to go to New York, so the travel is really cool. I even have had 2 poems included on an American University syllabus, which I find very bizarre - I only agreed to this though as it wasn’t going to be beaten into them in the same way we might have had ‘Soundings’ beaten into us.
The making of new and brilliant friends is a real highlight  -  I have been inspired constantly. Knowing these incredible people (many of whom you know) enriches my life no end. I have won a couple of things too, the Poetry Slam at Cúirt and I won the first Writing for All Slam at The Central Hotel last year. The best thing is the meeting and sharing with others (God this must be exactly what you were expecting! But it is true)

Tell us a bit about the Glór Sessions and how did you get involved?
I have always had an affection for The International Bar (given I had my first pint down there when I was 14.) A friend of mine Jacqueline Tuck used to run an open mic evening  there on a Monday for musicians, for around 7 years. Before Jacqueline, Dave Murphy ran the night. Many famous musicians used to play there like Glen Hansard, Damien Dempsey and Damien Rice to name a few.


So there is a great history to The International Bar nights, and upstairs many Irish comedy greats (and many from abroad) have graced the stage.

So despite some of the madness that is part of The International, great things happen here. Anyway I was waffling there… I took over after Miss. Tuck around two years ago and decided as I was interested in poetry and the spoken word that it should feature on the night too. Thankfully many people with big reputations and egos have popped in along with some fine folks trying it out for the first time.

Glor_Session_posterI decided for want of a better term to brand the night The Glór Sessions, so they could become identifiable and I could take them beyond the confines of The International if needs be. Thus far The Glór Sessions (which means voice, sound or noise) has featured as part of The Electric Picnic, The Dublin Writers’ Festival, The Festival of World Cultures and a few others too - it gives me the chance to showcase some of Dublin’s best spoken word to a different audience.  You can tune in here every Monday at about 9pm Irish time: People all over the world do so and it is great to have that extra interactive element to the proceedings.  Here is a link to some past performances too:

Unfortunately it  remains the only regular weekly night in the capital city where you can find a space for poetry; I hope this changes soon. There are some other great nights that are monthly, like The Brown Bread Mixtape, Nighthawks, Seven Towers and Tongue Box -  you should head along to these too! All the nights have a different energy to them.

What do you think about the perceived split in poetry for the stage and for the page?
I think it is a bit of a myth, poetry is an oral art form - the printing press may have changed things or added to it, but for me a poem should be heard. The magic happens where the lilt of the reader’s voice brings the words to life, this is what excites me.

Some people say I am a performance poet. I find this strange as I never set out to do this, I just wrote poems and recited them in my own way. It may be true that I have my own voice in my head now when I’m writing, and I’m a bit more comfortable in my own skin with my style; I still need to develop massively but I think I am doing ok so far. I don’t care though if someone wants to pigeon hole me like that, once I have their ears in the first place; just as I don’t care what style someone else has with their poetry. At the end of the day any poet or person worth their salt should know when something of worth is being shared; they should have respect for others be they old, young, man or woman. I have heard poems that have brought smiles to my face and tears to my eyes. Therein lies the truth of poetry - not someone being branded a performance poets as they are shouting, or someone a page poet as they read, poets united I say!

What have you got coming up?
I will be reciting or ‘performing’ at a few festivals this summer, I have a CD coming out with old Irish poetry put to music with my friend Enda Reilly. Here is a sample of that:

I will continue with The Glór Sessions and am working on a book, a play and I will be hitting the Big Apple’s  Nuyorican Poets Café. I have also started a monthly night in Cork at The Roundy, on the first Friday of the month -  it will feature musicians and poets. It’s called Mutant Cabaret and is in association with Mutant Space:

I am excited about the future, but I need to get some new poems together too - I think that is the joy and pain of most writers existence, where is the next piece coming from, at least the next piece that is of some use!

Here are some videos of my poems:
The Gardener:
Signing Your Life Away:
Prozac Positivity:

Other links:

I am working on a website that will be lovely and shiny and sexy very soon! But if you must see it in the current state, go to:

Thanks for agreeing to do this.
Thanks for having me; I hope I offered the reader some food for thought. All the best now, and be good. SJS


Niamh B said...

he is a complete legend and very nice person too, great interview

Titus said...

Enjoyed this. Poets United indeed.

Emerging Writer said...

Complete legend and a seriously good poet to boot. Titus, when you ever get over here, you'll have to read at the Glor.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Stephen has one of my favourite poems of his in the forthcoming Poetry Bus Magazine PB2.Luckily it will have an audio CD so you can hear him as well as read him!