Roamer: ‘Three cheers for beards’ wins battle of the bards in all-Ireland poetry final

Rory Jones, All Ireland Poetry Champion 2015-2016
Rory Jones, All Ireland Poetry Champion 2015-2016

Many regular or occasional Roamer-readers admit to being lovers of poetry

Many regular or occasional Roamer-readers admit to being lovers of poetry.

Such was the quantity of ballads, rhymes and sonnets being offered to this page down the years that at one stage, a few decades ago, there was a suggestion that poetry should be temporarily culled!

Fortunately this never happened and readers’ poems are still shared here frequently.

They’re appreciated by folk of all ages from all walks of life, like those who enjoyed Friday night’s all-Ireland poetry competition in Belfast’s Crescent Arts Centre.

The sneak-preview on this page last week explained that the then imminent nationwide Poetry Slam Final was the outcome of multiple heats held in cities, towns and villages around the island of Ireland.

Friday’s late-night event was a literary Olympics organised by Poetry NI, stated to be “a multimedia, multi-platform showcase and resource provider” for poems and poets.

“I drove seven hours to get here,” said Munster-competitor Cormac Lally, illustrating the drive and determination of organisers and poets alike!

Poetry NI nurtures poetry through readings, ‘open mic’ performances, published writings and workshops.

Friday night’s Grand Finale was the epic conclusion to a burgeoning build-up of 10 preliminary heats in Ireland’s four provinces, one each in Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and six heats spread across the north - culminating in a seventh all-Ulster contest in Fermanagh.

Most of the poets were in their 20s or 30s.

On Friday night in the Crescent, two finalists from each province “slammed it out” for the title of All Ireland Live Poetry Champion 2015/16.

It was the ninth annual Slam in succession, and true to form it was a deftly organised war of words!

Each of the eight contestants in the knock-out had a maximum of three minutes to deliver their poems from memory.

“The rules are brutal,” Slam-veteran Brian Bailey told Roamer. “If they go over their time by even one second they are disqualified!”

A computer screen displayed their timings and a bleeper blared ‘time up!”

The order of contestants’ names in round one was drawn from a hat by Slam-founder and master of ceremonies Colin Dardis, an award winning poet, editor and writer.

He was one of five judges who gave marks out of 10 after each contestant’s performance at a single microphone on a lonely, upright stand.

“No props or musical accompaniments are allowed,” Brian Bailey told Roamer, “just the spoken word.”

The eight original poems in the first round, vigorously presented and immaculately honed, contrasted from brilliantly sublime or ingeniously ridiculous to pensive, powerful and passionate.

There was high-octane blarney about a beautiful Dublin girl whose “eyes sparked turquoise green.”

There were heart-rending, parent-child feelings for an ailing “little one”.

Ulster’s Rory Jones gripped his audience with a poetic reflection on “soppy and sober aspects of love, told through the words ‘wondering’ and ‘wandering’, which sound slightly similar,” he later explained.

The judges huddled for intense deliberations around a table spread with sheets of notes, numerical scores and scribbled summaries. And a bottle of wine!

With the five winners’ names in his hat, Colin Dardis drew them out for the second round.

Five more original poems were delivered in five styles and formats that invited gusts of laughter about “a tuk tuk in Bangkok” and thoughtful smiles about a young man’s “quarter-life crisis” as opposed to his mid-life crises!

Ulster’s Rory Jones mused majestically about his new iPhone, taking “a satirical look at modern dependence on technology, and how the relationship of consumer and product blurs inseparably,” he admitted later, adding “but that sounds quite pretentious. Really it’s a poem about my funny talking phone and funny talking phones are very funny!”

In the third and final round three surviving poets, their order of performance drawn from Colin’s beleaguered headgear, faced a tension-filled auditorium.

Munster’s Paul McNamara hushed the audience with plaintive, thought-provoking lines about listening, ending almost inaudibly “you’ll be safe my dear”.

Leinster’s Clara Rose Thornton delivered her powerful proclamation “inclusion is leaving out the fear.”

Ulster’s Rory Jones won the Slam title with his poem called Barbarossa.

Munster was runner up. Leinster came third.

Part of 22-year-old, ginger-bearded Rory’s poem ends today’s Roamer page:

“My beard is probably

my own best friend.

That’s not to offend

other strong contenders,

But who can pretend that

anything or anyone

Has been so close,

So warm, so long.

I was fifteen when we met,

You were shy and reticent;

Soft at first and hesitant,

but present all the same.

We could claim a lot in common;

Fluffy, patchy, unimpressive,

Neither rugged nor aggressive,

But to me the thing was blessed

(Brian Blessed to be precise).

Because you came when I needed change.

I was broken-hearted when you started,

and your patchy presence parted

My present and my past.

You were a comfort blanket

wrapped around my face,

there in case of emotional emergency.

Because when you’re fifteen

On the violent ocean of unrequited love,

God knows you need all the help you can find.

This guy came right on time.

And now a little older,

hair no longer down to shoulder

and receding at a rate of men

Twenty years my senior,

My best friend still hasn’t

abandoned me yet.

So for the good times

and the bad.

For past and future years,

Here’s three cheers

for beards.