Liam Kearney: My Journey Through Poetry

I love poetry. I love writing poetry, reciting poetry and listening to poetry. It is like a language of its own. It can capture the most heart-felt emotions, or extraordinary experiences in the finest of details and in the fewest of words, whilst implanting a vision of beauty in the reader’s mind.  At times, the language used may seem incomprehensible, but if conveyed with passion and emotion, it becomes easier for the reader to understand the sentiment of the poem, and so becomes more understandable. Many people who recite or write poetry have a story to tell about how their passion for poetry was first ignited, and how it developed, and so do I.

Four years ago, I was sitting in class reading a book, when suddenly, our poetry and drama teacher burst through the door. With a voice as loud as a foghorn, she announced that “there would be a grand poetry recital competition”. Back then, I was not nearly as confident and as valiant as I am today, and whilst admittedly I thought it sounded rather intriguing, I was ambivalent about whether I should take part or not. However, the choice wasn’t made by me, but rather the drama teacher who automatically nominated me for the competition! Now, I was thinking ‘Say no, just say no and you’ll be fine!’ but for some reason unknown to me, I heard myself say “Yes, I’ll do it.” All the while thinking ‘WHY DID I SAY THAT?!’ In the days that followed I was still bewildered at agreeing to this and assumed it would something I would regret, perhaps for the rest of my life. I thought all my friends would laugh and tease me and consider this an absurd interest as they were all keen on sports, and if it turned out I wasn’t good at reading poetry, I was fearful this would make me look foolish, and that perhaps I would disappoint my family and teacher if I didn’t win the competition. I also feared it may impact my confidence for the future and put me off attempting similar events. However, contrary to those fears, it actually turned out to be something that would change my life, for the better.

Later that day, I received the first piece of poetry I would recite to an audience. It would also be the first piece of poetry that I recited in my life. So when I took a glance at it for the first time, my mouth slightly dropped. All these words in Scots Tongue didn’t look like words to me. It just seemed like a jumble of letters.  Looking at the lines made me sweat with panic. ‘How am I supposed to learn this?’ I thought to myself, with pounding heart.

It was a Robert Burns poem called ‘To a Louse’. And whilst it was only an extract that was 4 verses long, it still was enough to confuse me. A lot. It took me a whole week to learn this extract which was around 30 lines long.   I have since learned poems much longer than this and in far shorter time frames, which reflects how tricky I found it, but also that learning poetry, like so many other things, is a skill that improves with practice.

The competition itself wasn’t very difficult, and not as daunting as first thought.  I recited my poem, following this the adjudicator gave some constructive criticism. I really thought it would be extremely tough, like one of those situations that makes your heart race and your palms sweaty, and has moments of extreme tension throughout, but this was not the case.  

Unfortunately, I didn’t win. So you would think, ‘He tried, and he didn’t succeed. That must be really demotivating. This must be the end of his poetry career.’

Well, you would be wrong.

You see, I am the kind of person that is persistent. I try and try until I succeed. Later in the year, my school held a poetry competition which I entered, coming first place for the class round and securing a place in the finals. I was very presumptuous and designated a spot on my fireplace for my tremendous trophy. However, after hearing some of the other performers, I began to have second thoughts about whether I would win the competition or not.The standard was so high it would have been difficult for the judges to select a winner. So when I performed my poem, and the winners were getting announced, I could almost hear my heart beating, and felt it pound inside my chest. I felt like the room was becoming hotter than a sauna. Then when they announced each place and it wasn’t my name being called, I became slightly apprehensive. As first place was called and I heard “Liam Kearney!” I was both ecstatic and shocked, as it really could have gone either way as the standard was so high.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I saw the whole audience clapping and staring at me as I went up and collected my trophy. All the while I was thinking that perhaps I had been right to be egotistical and have faith in myself; after all as it seemed to have paid off. I felt accomplished, ecstatic, but most importantly, I felt extremely proud of myself.

Recital, of course, isn’t simply about reading words off a page, and I have a strategy that helps the learning and delivery of my poems: First, I learn the words, then I learn the hand gestures and actions that I want to incorporate into my delivery, and finally, I project the tone of my voice to suit the emotion I am trying to convey: In learning the poem I have to understand what it is about so I can deliver it well and this helps my audience understand the poem better. By engaging in poetry competitions it has given me various different opportunities to recite at other events, the most recent being the Linlithgow Folk Festival, an annual event I performed at last week. I was invited to perform two recitals and a song. However, the most enjoyable piece was most definitely the song. It was called the ‘Glesga Budgie’, and it was about a colossal Glasgow budgie. The best part about it was….my aunt was dressed up as the budgie! Everyone in the audience had a good laugh! Even I found myself laughing!

Poetry has changed my life for the better. From starting out as a timid young boy who was nervous to volunteer and participate in competitions, to become what I now believe, a confident individual who thrives in his deliverance of poetry and who now tries to participate in competitions wherever and whenever possible. Poetry has taken me to many different places; I have spoken at many different events, have addressed the Haggis on numerous occasions at different Burns’ nights, and it has made my life more enjoyable. It has also allowed me to meet new people, and participate in events, such as the Robert Burns Summer School hosted at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which is a truly great event.

Reciting poetry isn’t for everyone, of course; if you have stage fright, and there is a huge audience awaiting an amazing performance, you can be afraid. I have seen this a few times, where the performers see the crowd, and their cheeks go as pink as cherries, but practise makes perfect. I have practised reciting poetry a lot and I never get afraid; nervous is not a word in my dictionary.

I love poetry, and I believe that everyone should too. Famous poets have even inspired me to write my own poems. I believe that poetry will help me with my English literature skills, and give me a greater chance of improving my performing arts.  It also helps me with my writing skills.

You never know, I might even become the next great poet!

Eva Black: The Village Idiot

Dear Diary,

Wow… just wow. I had the WORST day ever today. After strain and excruciating pain, I eventually put together my speech for Bothwell’s annual, local village politician elections. I even put great, big, smart words in it, like boondoggle, idiosyncratic and narcissist… don’t laugh! They are real words, it even said so on the website www.100wordstomakeidiotssoundsmart.com! But these young, modernised, stupid millennials don’t understand these words like I do! They can hardly say them, never mind know what they mean. For example, they don’t know that spectacular means very, very bad, or that insidious means extremely happy, or even that tedious means really good! Who doesn’t know that?! Anyway, I’ll tell you all about my spectacular day…

I woke up at ten o’clock sharp, to the sound of my Thomas the Tank Engine alarm clock. I got out of my bed and put on my clothes; my bright red tank top, my sunny yellow trousers, my lucky, green socks and my matching green shoes. I strolled down to my kitchen, where my wife was making my breakfast. She looked at me, her face full of love and compassion and said, ‘Oh, it’s you… Are you sure you want to be the local politician? I mean, it is a very important job and you might not be able to cope with all of the responsibility and pressure.’ I laughed; this woman knows nothing. ‘I did not take one… I mean nine years of online university to back out of a huge election like this!’ I said. She sighed and looked at the floor. ‘Of course darling, I didn’t mean to offend you… now sit down, I’ve made you some breakfast.’ What a silly woman. ‘Lauren, you know that I cannot eat a big breakfast today! I have to go to the town hall to prepare my speech and election campaigns,’ I explained. ‘Now goodbye,’ I continued, walking out the door. ‘Make sure to vote for me, Neil Black at today’s elections.’

When I got outside, I breathed in the cold, crisp, new spring air. ‘Today,’ I thought, ‘is the day, in which I will become the greatest village politician of all time.’ I chanted my motto three times in my head – ‘Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again.’ – then walked down my driveway, opened my gate and strolled down my street, towards the town hall. Momentarily, I saw Mrs Moon, my neighbour sauntering towards me, with her small, white dog Coco. As I passed her I called, ‘Hope you’re feeling insidious today, Mrs Moon! Make sure to vote for me at the elections!’ She stared at me rudely and shook her head, which I thought was rather odd, but Mrs Moon’s always acting out-of-the-ordinary, so I walked on.

Soon I was at the town hall. I lifted my head and looked at the clock face smiling down upon me. I stalked into the town hall, and was greeted by my faithful assistant Bobby Jones. ‘Hello, Mr Black,’ he said. ‘Nervous about today’s elections?’ I rolled my eyes in disappointment. ‘Bobby, have you listened to anything I said in the past? Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failing is inevitable, as I like to say.’ I replied, full of wisdom. ‘But Mr Black,’ Bobby started, ‘it was Coco Chanel that said that…’ ‘Quiet Bobby,’ I commanded, haughtily.

After practicing my tedious speech three times, the election hustings was about to begin. I chanted my motto three times again in my head: ‘Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again!’ Suddenly, I felt a sharp tap on my shoulder. Bobby was standing, trembling with fear, pointing at something. I turned to see what he was pointing at: my arch nemesis, Tom Humphrey. Oh, how spectacular he was! Oh, how I wanted to beat him in the election! He smirked at me, showing me his perfect, pearly white, gleaming teeth. I felt an urge to punch him square in the face, but decided against it as he would probably get very, very hurt. So I smiled, through gritted teeth.

I felt another sharp tap on my shoulder. I turned around to face the most beautiful woman I had even seen. Her bouncy blonde hair danced like… dancers, her gorgeous blue eyes sparkled like… sparkles and her smile gave me buttercups. ‘It’s your turn to go on stage now; good luck!’ she breathed. Gosh, even her voice was perfect! ‘Thank you,’ I said, sheepishly, blowing her a kiss then turning away and making my way onto the stage.

I sashayed onto the stage, blowing the audience kisses. I strutted towards the microphone and grabbed hold of the sides of the podium. ‘Hello, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, old people and young people, fat people and thin people and tall people and short people. Why am I here today, you may be asking yourselves? That is a very good question,’ I started, looking around the audience for approval, although everyone looked confused. ‘Well, the question you should be asking yourselves is, why are you here today? Is it because you like going to elections or is it that you like hearing beautiful, amazing, talented people like me speak? Some of you may be sitting thinking, ‘wow, this man is a narcissist,’ but I cannot help being beautiful.’ I looked up and scanned the audience again, to see if they were intently listening to my speech. To see if they laughed at the joke I made. No-one was laughing, or even smiling for that matter. ‘Anyway, these are my policies…’ Then, I was rudely cut off.

‘You’re not the prime minister!’ someone at the back shouted. I raised my hand for silence and cleared my throat. ‘Here are my policies,’ I repeated. ‘Firstly, I want to build a wall.’ The hall went silent. ‘I want to build a wall, to separate us from Uddingston. For too long, they have brought their Uddingston-born dogs into out village! For too long, they have used our local Marks and Spencer’s! For too long, they have made boondoggles out of us! For too long, they have walked on our pavements, used our schools and have played in our play grounds. I say NO to Uddingston.’

Suddenly a couple of boos had turned into hundreds of boos, and soon the whole town hall was booing: even the beautiful blonde woman, even my wife, even Bobby! I nearly started crying there and then, but I didn’t. Instead, I raised my hand for silence again. ‘Secondly, I believe that people in this village should shower only once a week, to lower this villages water bills.’ Once again, the hall was silent. ‘Showering is not necessary. One time I went three weeks without showering and – ’ ‘Again I was cut off by the same person, shouting, ‘I vote No to Neil Black’ at the back of the hall. ‘Someone needs to take that idiosyncratic man away now,’ I demanded. Abruptly, the whole town hall erupted in booing, like a big, torrential wave crashing over me. I stood for a moment, not knowing what to do, then said, ‘Thank you for listening, and remember. My aim is to make Bothwell great again!’ I walked off the stage, and stood backstage, not saying a word.

Tom Humphrey strutted past me, onto the stage and gave this speech about charity and helping people less fortunate than ourselves… BORING! I was sure that I was going to win after that. Then people started voting. After around ten minutes, the votes were all in and counted and the winner was ready to be announced. I stood confidently, smiling out at the crowd.

‘The results are in,’ said the tall, skinny man at the podium. ‘And Bothwell’s new local councillor is… Tom Humphrey!’ I choked on the air. Spluttering, I ran up to the mean, tall announcer, pushed him and said, ‘I demand a recount!’ Security guards sprinted up and, taking me by the wrists, dragged me out of town hall.

Now, I don’t know what to do. I just feel… broken. But hang on. My story doesn’t end here! I can just move to Hamilton and be their local politician!

Your Sincerity,

Neil Black.