Brave New Voices |3| Melissa Kavanagh

Ireland is sending a team to compete on the world stage at Brave New Voices. The team led by Stephen Murray features four teenagers who will be Ireland’s first International Slam Poetry Squad. Last week we featured Neasa, now it’s time to meet the team’s captain Melissa.

mel kavanaghName: Melissa Kavanagh

Age:  19



From:  Clondalkin, Dublin

Studying at: DCU

How did  you get into poetry, particularly performance poetry?

I pretty much fell into poetry with no expectation of taking to it. During Transition Year in my school we studied poetry in two modules, the first preparing us for learning off definitions of language to use in Leaving Cert exams, the next completely blew what we had learned out of the water. My teacher Ms Connolly introduced us all to the Brave New Voices through Youtube videos. She brought Stephen Murray to our school, and in his workshop I wrote “Winter’s Night”. From there,  I entered the piece into the All Ireland School Slam competition and came in 2nd place, and I haven’t put the pen down since.

Do you get stage fright and how do you deal with it?

I don’t think any performer can say they don’t get stage fright. Particularly poets, there’s no background music or dancers, everyone’s eyes are on you and your words, it’s a very vulnerable position to be in. When that fact has me panicking, I just remind myself that the stage is an empowering place to be. People really listen to what you have to say, it’s an amazing medium to convey a message.

What do you think of the poetry you’re taught in school?

Despite the stigma around poets studied in school, I enjoy reading the works of Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson and Seamus Heaney. I think people forget that something inspired them to write their infamous pieces. To me, even the most abstract poems reveal something about the poet and that can be forgotten. The curriculum does not capture poetry enough for my liking. One doesn’t need to know the dictionary definition of alliteration to appreciate rhythm. When speaking about the likes of Plath and Dickinson, there was a monotone discussion of the content of their poems. They wrote about their inner most mental suffering and yet we’re prompted to talk about the “structure of the piece”. It’s like listening to an Ed Sheeran song and only talking about how nicely he plays the guitar with a brief mention about his lyrics.

planetcabWhere do you see poetry taking you?

If asked that question back in Transition Year, it’d be a simple “I don’t see it going far”. But now, I’ve been on too much of a journey with it to let it go. Following the School’s Slam I’ve preformed in the Irish Film Institute at the premier of “We Are Poets”, I’ve been on shows on RTE Arena. In Dublin Castle speaking about my own work. I can say I’m published in a book New Planet Cabaret, I was able to lend my voice to the YesEquality campaign and now I’m going to captain the first Irish slam team in Atlanta this summer. These are all experiences I am so grateful to have and would not of been possible without poetry.

What are the things that you hope to explore and challenge through poetry?

I have great faith in the use of poetry to express one’s inner most thoughts and feelings, especially when they don’t have the opportunities to do so normally. It might sound clichéd to say but it can be a life changer.The way I see it is the further I progress with my own poetry, the greater potential I have to help others. Recently, Team Ireland performed at The Sunday Best Fest in support of the Green Ribbon Campaign. It felt so amazing to speak in a room full of strangers about my own struggles with mental health with such acceptance, but the highlight of the night was knowing that by doing so, I was helping others. I’ve been quoted before as saying “As a Spoken Word poet, I know that one voice can be enough. One voice can still be heard by hundreds. One voice can make a difference” and I stand by it.

What do your parents think of you becoming national poetry stars over night?

They’re really proud! They’re always the first to ask for updates and try provide help when they can. My dad joined Facebook just to keep up with all the updates, I think that sums up how busy we’ve been! Between travelling across the country to practice together and then to various newspaper HQs and such for interviews all of us have been really busy. I’ve always been a proactive person, but the hectic past few months has only been possible with my family’s support.

What would you say to other young poets that are too afraid to put their words out there?

To any budding poets, just know I was in your shoes, not only years ago but months. And whilst I have gotten to do so many great things with my poetry, it hasn’t been without its struggles. My early poems were never personal, almost all were abstract or simply about events unrelated to my own life. Over the years poetry became more than a hobby, it transformed into an outlet for the thoughts or feelings I was too scared or shy to tell people out straight. Through poetry I’ve been able to speak proudly about my sexuality, address the elephant in the room that is mental illnesses and tell the people I’m close to how much they mean (and only a few of those being cringe-worthy love poems, haha!). But the first step is not the only difficult one and falling is common. You could write the poem of your life tomorrow then have writer’s block for months. You could pour your heart into a piece but feel you’ll never have the voice to say it. That should not be the case. Make a video for Youtube, look up your local poetry shows or gigs, take your talent online! Poetry doesn’t need backup dancers or singers, you just need you and a voice and a message. You’d be surprised by how many people listen. All you have to do is speak.

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