Shay Hughes: The Day I Got My Big Break

I still remember the incident clear as day…

I was only 6 at the time, and I was eagerly waiting for the bell to ring so I could go outside and run about. The clock struck 12 and the bell rang through the empty halls, causing children to start pouring out of the classrooms. I shot up out my chair, grabbed my packed lunch and pushed open the classroom door. The noise was overwhelming. I gradually pushed my way through the enormous crowd of people as I looked for my friends, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Eventually we all found each other and walked outside. Instantly the blistering hot rays of Texas weather shone off my sunscreen glazed neck. I loved the heat. The air conditioning in my classroom was malfunctioning, so it was always freezing. We leisurely strolled to a seat in the shade and opened our lunches as we began to talk. We chatted for a bit as we ravenously munched down on our sandwiches and then a lively athletic boy named Pelayo asked if we would like to play tag. Of course, we were all brimming with energy after being locked in the classroom all morning and so we all jumped at the chance to run around.

After a while of running around in the heat I was exhausted and decided to stand in the shade of the climbing frame for a minute to get my breath back. While taking long, deep breaths, I glanced up and saw the chaser sprinting towards me. I frantically looked around and decided my only option for escape was the climbing frame towering above me. Panting, I hurriedly made my way over to the frame and started to clamber up the rope to the top. I looked back and my pursuer was right behind me, his outstretched hands barely missing my feet as I scrambled up to the peak. I reached the top and quickly realised I was trapped, as all the exits were blocked by the other children playing.

Panicked, I looked at the boy who was chasing me as he pulled himself up to the top of the climbing frame, stood up and started walking towards me. The only thing I could think about was not getting tug and so as I backed away, my eyes fixed on the boy as he stalked towards me, I didn’t see the railing and I slowly toppled over it.

For a moment everything slowed. It took me a second to process what was happening, as the air brushed my skin. For a fleeting second, I felt almost graceful, floating through the air. Then, my body cracked against the ground and a sharp pain jolted through my body. I tasted the blood in my mouth as a sea of faces swam above me. I felt dizzy and tried to sit up but as I did so it felt like someone had hit my arm with a hammer. I excruciatingly rolled my head to face my left arm and in horror looked upon a completely disfigured mess.

I laid there as two nurses came and cautiously lifted me and took me back into the eerily quiet school. They laid me down on a table in the medical room as one rushed to get bandages and the other rained questions I couldn’t answer down upon me. I flicked my eyes around the room at the torn wallpaper and messy floors. The nurse returned with bandages, and I howled in agony as my arm was shifted around and wrapped up. In the distance, I heard someone talking about ambulances and broken arms.

After what felt like hours of laying on the table feeling helpless, I heard sirens outside and my mum tumbled through the door, a worried expression on her face. I heard my dad talking with someone outside the door and then paramedics came in and gave me strong painkillers before uncomfortably hauling me on to a stretcher. One paramedic tried to comfort me telling me it was all going to be fine as I was loaded into the back of the waiting ambulance.

Blissfully, the medication took hold and I fell into a restless sleep as the ambulance roared through the busy streets.

I awoke in a strange room with beeping noises all around me. The air smelled unsettlingly clean and as I grudgingly opened my weary eyes, I saw people wearing doctor’s uniforms rushing in and out. I recognised that I was wearing different clothes, as I was now lying on a stiff mattress in a soft silky robe. I noticed that the salty taste of blood in my mouth was gone and as I curiously looked at my previously disfigured arm, I saw that it was strapped to a table in a big bulky cast.

Straight away, I broke out of my medicine-induced daze and started to panic and cry. A nurse bolted into the room and started to calm me down as she called someone from a phone mounted to the wall behind me. I heard her talking to someone, telling them that I was awake and that I seemed fine.

A few minutes passed, and I heard footsteps near the door and in came a doctor followed by my mum and dad, tears in their eyes. I started to shout in delight as I could not have been more overjoyed to see them. I started trying to get up, but as I did so I felt as if my arm had been stabbed with a dagger, and I let out a yelp of pain.

The doctor that had entered with my mum and dad walked over to me, crouched down and began to carefully explain to me that I had broken my arm and had to have an operation where they put pins in it. He informed me that I would have to stay at the hospital overnight. He must have seen the sadness growing in my eyes because he quickly told me it would be an exciting adventure. I perked up a bit when he told me that I would have to wear the cast for a while, but that all my friends could draw on it and sign it. I thought about how cool it would be to show my new cast to my friends and so I nervously agreed to stay.

A day and lots of X-rays and checkups later I was released from the hospital, and as I walked out I took a deep breath of fresh air and let out a sigh of relief. The following weeks at school were some of the most interesting I’ve ever had, as they were filled with classmates surrounding me, hammering me with questions and teachers pampering me. I was a celebrity.

6 years later, I am still having problems with my arm due to a rare condition I have been diagnosed with named “necrosis of the radial head”. (At the central hospital in Texas, only 8 people have been diagnosed with this condition.) This makes me severely regret not paying attention to my surroundings at the time and it constantly annoys me that all the constant pain and discomfort I feel in my arm could’ve been avoided if I hadn’t played that game of tag. This incident was my first big learning experience and since then I have become a lot warier of my surroundings and learned to take precautions, because safety is not a joke and you should always listen to warnings. However, I did get one good memory out of it all: I got to ride in an ambulance.

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!