Cork woman wins All Ireland Slam Poetry Competition

Drag queens, magic, and banshees are all included in the poetry of a Cork woman. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to prize-winning poet Shaunna Lee Lynch, who is also a playwright and actress
Cork woman wins All Ireland Slam Poetry Competition
Shaunna Lee Lynch by City Headshots Dublin

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. 

Shaunna Lee Lynch giving a reading.
Shaunna Lee Lynch giving a reading.

“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

celebratory approach

of love and compassion.

That was

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-

hashtag MassGoals.

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

we endorsed

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

There’s disassociation

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

shadow marionettes

of mysterious beings.

Gaia Wiccan energy,

black art feminists,

Inca mummy princesses,

No Elysian sleek ideals

here pal,

no siree.

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

about tax-brackets.

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

to poltergeists.

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-

it’s boring,

whip out a Ouija board

and see who’s trending.

No, no, click, click,

scroll, scroll,

eye of newt

and tongue of toad.

Invoke she-devils,

Brujería bitches

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,

talismans, fairies,

patience in belief

that people still aren’t recycling,

Astral projections,

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,

a connection,

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.

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