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Lift up your head, lift up your heart

Co Author:
Colm Keegan

Dublin writer and performance poet Colm Keegan on his work with Dublin adults, students, and teenagers as part of Dublin’s Culture Connects’ The National Neighbourhood on Dublin’s north city centre.

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Marino College – a circle of young actors listen as the musician I’m partnered with, Nick Roth, talks about the value of opening up to serendipity. A word we’ve started to riff off in pre and post workshop chats. He asks us all to listen, to tune in for what we don’t often hear. A dog barks as if on cue, as if the universe is on our side. We all notice that. Someone else hears footsteps, another hears whispers. Someone puts them together on a page. “Whispering-footsteps” and something new is made from the connection. Our attention brings the world closer, we focus our ears, open our minds, share from the heart.

Then the poems come and soon we’re all clapping and laughing. An Ode to the Spice Bag (about time one was written!), a lament for lost love, a piece that drags us from a break-up, into self harm and on to healing, a poem from a father to his son, and a glorious ranted rejection of a booty call.

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Colm Keegan with David Collins and Allison Sweeney from the High Hopes Community Choir. Photo by Linda Devlin

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NYP2 – a small group of teenage boys are asked by me to shout “lift up your head, lift up your heart,” and we roar it together, getting louder each time, stamping our feet and throwing our hands up, half football chant, half haka. We all feel like saps, but we do it anyway, for the craic.

Before this they’ve all just bared their souls, put words on paper about what it means to be them, what it means to be lost, different, alone.

One wrote about lying on his back in Fairview park and looking up at the stars.

Another admitted to losing it and throwing his controller at a wall.

Someone else remembers flying from Africa to Ireland, smelling perfume on the plane.

A raw story is shared about getting “smashed” by bullies when living in a different place.

The poems come thick and fast, once you ask for them.

We don’t critique the work that much, but I talk to them about what can be done. The value of swapping in a different word. The power of a line break. How the last word in a line before you hit enter or turn the page can be like the edge of a cliff, and how, if you’re open to it, inspiration can come and find you there.

The next step is to get them to perform while Nick plays piano. So the shouting is a good segue. There’s safety in polyphony. Security in feeling vulnerable together.

A few minutes later, we are both performer and audience, Nick improvises on the piano, nobody knows what’s coming next. In a beautiful moment we hear the words these young men wrote elevated by musical notes. For me it was gorgeous, ephemeral, unforgettable, if you ask the lads they’d probably say it was, ‘alright, yeah.’

I leave each of these workshops with a swirl of words in my head. I take the poems home and type them up. Streams of words run into an online folder like rivers into a lake, a store of Dublin life as it is lived is created. From all of this something beautiful can be made.

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The High Hopes Community Choir. The Complex. Photo by Linda Devlin

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The Complex, off Capel Street – I stand at the back of a packed out room. A sold out show has just began. HOME by the High Hopes Choir begins and I see the beauty and power of polyphony again. Then Paul steps out from the choir, stands alone, a moment of silence, deafening and terrifying theatrical silence, then a picture Paul has created is projected onto the walls and the faces of his choirmates and he speaks.

The days went so quick

Night seemed minutes away

Street lights come on

Straight in the door

Into PJs

Down to watch TV

Tea

Toast from the open fire

Cuddling up to my mum

On the sofa

The warmth of her love.

Paul stops reading and closes his arms around himself, a self hug, a small piece of direction, the picture changes on the screen, he steps back into the line, I raise my arms silently and fistpump the air, nobody notices as the crowd erupts in applause, all eyes on Paul – beaming, seen – first time he ever shared words he wrote with a crowd, my heart is like a bucking horse kicking inside my chest. I whisper shout YES! Three more poets share words – David, Lisa, Alison. This is how culture connects. I wanted to know how to write and was shown, I did the same for Paul, his words flew and moved an audience. Song after song and poem after poem, facilitator, performer, audience, we are all drawn closer together.

Colm Keegan, 2018.

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