SHE has only been writing poetry for two years, but Shaunna Lee Lynch is something of an overnight success.
The 28-year-old has just won the All Ireland Slam Poetry Competition, and also performed an acting role in a play she wrote, Wishful Thinking, which ran at the Cork Arts Theatre last week after being shown at the Dublin Fringe Festival.
Shaunna Lee, who was reared in Dripsey and now lives in Farranree, spent two years at Colaiste Stiofáin Naofa, studying theatre performance and classical acting. She then attended Dublin Institute of Technology, where she gained a level eight degree in drama.
Asked what drew her to drama, Shaunna Lee says she always loved film and TV.
“I was very much absorbed by TV programmes as a kid. I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer and comedies. I like being able to create worlds and make up characters.
“When I was 15, I joined Activate youth theatre at Graffiti. They give you the freedom to devise your own stuff. They treat you as if you’re an adult. I loved it and did a lot of devising and acting.”
Despite being lured by the stage, Shaunna Lee says she’s quite shy. “I’m probably more confident when I’m on stage than in real life. I tend to listen a lot in social situations.”
She spent nearly five years in Dublin. After studying at DIT, she was in a number of shows and gave workshops. She also worked in a bakery. When Shaunna Lee started working for a children’s entertainment company, it took her to Hong Kong for a year, where she taught drama.
“They really want English-speaking drama teachers over there. I got the job as I knew a couple of people who had worked for the company.”
It was a great experience, says Shaunna Lee. “I lived on an island off Hong Kong and commuted every day. It was a beautiful, remote island. I got the ferry to Hong Kong every day. Then I decided to move to Hong Kong island. It’s a very busy city but organised. I had worked in a secondary school there first. Then I started working full time for the children’s entertainment group ‘Rumple and Friends’.”
When she returned to Cork, she made friends with people involved in theatre who were also interested in poetry. She started to attend the weekly poetry gathering, Ó Bheál at the Long Valley in the city.
“I thought that what they were doing was great and I decided to give the open mic sessions a try.”
Reading her own poetry to an audience in the Hayloft bar of the pub was nerve-wracking initially. “It’s not like being on stage. There are no lights. You’re very close to people. After starting off quite shy, I got into it and saw it as performance.”
Shaunna Lee says a lot of her poetry has feminist themes.
“I use a lot of traditional tropes and mix them with modern pop culture. I get inspiration from what’s going on socially and politically. I wrote a lot about Repeal the 8th.
“When I was starting out writing poetry, I wrote about Trump and Brexit but it’s the same thing with that two. There’s nothing new there. I’m sick of Brexit and of Trump. So I started writing more about fantastical things, like turning a church into a gay night club.”
Every year, Ó Bheál picks two poets to go to Coventry, which is twinned with Cork. Shaunna Lee got to go there this year with another Cork poet, Benjamin Burns. “We got to perform there twice and met the Lord Mayor of Coventry and toured the city.”
Shaunna Lee has six poems in a chapbook that Ó Bheál published. She also has a poem published in an anthology called Autonomy, which has a repeal theme and is edited by Kathy D’Arcy.
The All Ireland Slam Poetry Competition was held in the Arlington Hotel in Dublin this year.
“It’s for performance-based poetry. It doesn’t have to rhyme but it usually does,” says Shaunna Lee.
She had to go through three rounds to win the title.
“In the first poem I performed, I imagined replacing priests with drag queens. The second poem I performed is my favourite one. It’s about replacing technology with witch craft, magic and older beliefs.
“When I got to the third round, I performed The Women of Ireland about the Belfast rugby sexual assault trial of 2018. The poem references the Tuath Dé Danann, mermaids, banshees and everybody being angry with Lady Justice.”
Having been docked marks at last year’s Slam Poetry Competition for going over the allotted time for a performance, Shaunna Lee says she was “really sad” she didn’t get beyond the Munster heat.
“This time, I wasn’t as eager in case I was going to be disappointed again.”
But her impressive talent has been recognised.
Is Shaunna Lee ambitious for her poetry?
“I’m going to take a month and really focus on my poetry and come up with new ideas. I’ve been consumed with the play since it was on at the Fringe in September and then at the Cork Arts Theatre. I want to tour around with my poetry. All the past All Ireland Slam Poetry Competition winners have toured.”
Getting published is difficult, particularly performance poetry. But Shaunna Lee is undeterred and plans to study “all the different types of poetry. I’d like to be able to diversify,” she says.
Her award means she has the opportunity to represent Ireland in the European Slam Competition in Paris next March. Watch this space...
Here are two of her poems...
Make the World Gay Again
Here ye, here ye-
after a catastrophic history
of conflict & sanctimony,
we’ve decided it’s time
to give something else a try.
A new proposal we instate
for all priests to be replaced
by flamboyant poets and drag queens.
Sanction Sunday mass a disco,
a DJ at each altar,
a monastery of mirror balls,
communions of joy and laughter.
Fine attire must be donned,
be ready to twirl for the Gods.
All that condemnation to hell
got quite exhausting
so we’ll try a more
of love and compassion.
of course our initial aim
but of it,
we’ve made a hames,
it’s high time for a change,
to spice up our lives as those girls say.
We’ll keep the wine,
encourage to be kind,
throw a party in the pulpit.
Fill the pews
with those for who
an apology is long overdue
for any humiliation
we may have caused.
We’ll keep the rainbow windows,
the stations of the cross-dressers.
Switch Adam & Eve with the snake
to Britney at the VMA’s,
exchange Mary Magdalene for Madonna-
‘Like A Prayer’ and ‘I’m a Slave 4 u’
will be sung wildly by the choir.
Let’s applaud divas, jezebels and whores,
thank those who came before
for no one here will cast stones,
we be out here living our best lives-
When the ceremony begins
this performer in heels,
taller than Croagh Patrick
will open her mouth with sassiness
and teach kindness on her tongue.
We’ll pray to patron saints
RuPaul and Panti Bliss,
all the Stonewall kids,
those wrongly persecuted
& those who dared to Vogue.
The world is hard enough
without being told
you are full of sin.
We’ve come to this realisation.
So we’ve decided to let that sit
for the time being.
The church will now be fun
and inclusive of everyone,
it’s been in the closet for far too long
It needs a re-vamp, perhaps a false lash,
a sequined gown
to stop all the moping around.
We hope fringe culture inspired glamour
can save us from our sorrow
we thoroughly regret the shame
and forced you to internalise.
Now go fourth and wrap yourself in light,
give yourself that ‘Ooh Ahh Ahh’
and let’s make the world gay again.
The Jazz WItch
The ice caps are melting,
it’s snowing in Melbourne,
the penguins are getting a tan
in a take-away nation
and the X-Factor still has an audience
Bring back the magic,
the spells and tarot,
the worship of nature
and fear of Earth’s karma.
Dead dancing darkness
of mysterious beings.
Gaia Wiccan energy,
black art feminists,
Inca mummy princesses,
No Elysian sleek ideals
You can’t buy a cauldron in Ikea
and a re-usable coffee cup won’t solve global warming.
Gis a shot of that old sorcery,
raw, visceral alchemy
October moon voodoo,
conjuring not contouring,
spirits into life.
Dread werewolves and vampires
not deposits for first-time buyers,
quell the never ending row
Send the corporate to the incorporeal,
afflict all the influencers,
resurrect the necromancers
to raise up dark mambo divas
on a Friday night,
fling bodies in forfeit
The unexplainable underworld,
pinch teenagers glued to phones,
shake them up, rattle their bones
and tell them stop Snapchatting
each other from across the same room-
whip out a Ouija board
and see who’s trending.
No, no, click, click,
eye of newt
and tongue of toad.
the Snow White witches,
not glorified yoga teachers
charging mandatory donations
for spiritual meditations
of internet incantations,
grocery store incense
and not a black cat in sight.
Give me maenads, banshees,
patience in belief
that people still aren’t recycling,
New Orleans Jazz saxophones
telekinetic temporal folds
psychics contacting the spirit world.
Nights spent supernatural,
not scrolling through Instagram
like a sugar junkie’s candy rush
stashing tinfoil fashion sites,
I’ll do rituals to protect the earth
from our destroyance.
I have insomnia in the witching hour,
I light candles for juju power,
I need a belief in something higher than me,
not charged by USB,
I’ll drum and dance,
offer a vegan sacrifice,
scatter Santeria stones
on my Scandinavian wooden floor
and say a prayer for when the tide comes in.