Don O’Mahony talks to John Cummins, who is bringing his unique poetry to Indiependence 2016
But first up Sweden.
Visualising a gorgeously floodlit Parisian pitch
Our back four neutralising a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
IN MARCH, Dublin poet John Cummins received a delightful email from a UK company who was filming pieces for a UEFA TV series titled Road to UEFA Euro 2016. A football nut, Cummins has penned many a verse on this cherished topic, and having come across his recitations on YouTube the company wanted him to compose an ode paying tribute to the Republic of Ireland’s qualifying campaign for the tournament.
Words duly written, a cameraman was dispatched to film Cummins recite his piece and capture some location footage.
“I would have written the poem anyway,” says the Coolock man proudly.
The package duly aired with Cummins prominent, intercut with the heroics of the boys in green. But to his disappointment he was never credited.
“I never signed anything. I never got anything for it. It was a bit of a mess. My name wasn’t even mentioned anywhere,” he reveals.
Fortunately, the BBC picked up on it and used it with an acknowledgement to Cummins prior to the Republic’s opening showdown with Sweden. Back of the net, as they say.
It’s deadly crack. It’s deadly serious.
Turning defence into attack
Top corner – delirious!
“It was a lovely reaction when I shared that then on social media,” he recalls. “There was a lovely warmth. So a lot of good came out of it.
“I wrote some football rhymes for the Ireland matches in-between the matches and that got a good reaction. Football was my first love I think.”
Football was more than just his first love. Cummins played in the League of Ireland, had a trial with Arsenal and was a semi-professional in the German Bundesliga. Injury changed all that.
When Downtown rings him up we find him making tea.
“You can fire away if you like,” he insists, “and I mean that very gently.”
His voice is very Dublin, but snuggled in a gentle burr. Cummins is so mild mannered it’s hard to imagine him running around a field, shouting, demanding the ball. One thinks of him as a more thoughtful player… dextrous, silky, Zidane like. Caressing the ball in the same way he caresses words.
“Words are there to be played with. Language is there to be played with,” he insists.
“There are funny moments in some of my poems but there are also very serious poems, perhaps. And the humour is there as much maybe as for the people who are listening or reading.”
“And everything rhymes,” he says.
“I used to write outside of the realm of rhyme and now I can hardly even fill in a form without rhyming. You know it’s ridiculous.
“So yeah, rhyme. Rhyme is where I kind of dwell. So The Cat in The Hat and Humpty Dumpty, I love all things like that. Rhythm and flow and things like that. Everyone has their own voice, you know. That’s the one that I speak in.”
After football, his other great passion ever since he was a teenager was poetry. But it was a private one.
“I was kinda very insecure about it,” he confesses. “Like if someone came in a room and I was writing I’d hide away the pen as if I was doing something naughty. So it took me along time.”
It’s hard to square that image with the unassuming figure who commands a room with his sing-songy delivery.
In 2010, he began performing at nights in the capital like the Brownbread Mixtape and The Glór Sessions from where he emerged alongside a wave of performing poets like Colm Keegan and Stephen James Smith to become All-Ireland Poetry Slam Champion. He has played festivals and rowdy bars and his approach is always the same.
“I just close my eyes and just offer up to the word and offer up to the poem and just deliver it. And take the talk for a walk irrespective of whether it’s the corner of a field, a big stage, or a rowdy pub,” he shares.
“You might have to fight to win the room so sometimes I bring little silly icebreakers. I might write something in particular for the occasion and start off with that, even to relax my own self. And tell the people, ‘Hello, I’m going to be doing this for x amounts of minutes. Come on along on the journey. If you don’t listen, sure, it’s just me… howling at the moon.’”
“But gently! Yeah,” he smiles. “It’s such a beautiful experience. Like I’ve been on both sides of it, speaking poems and listening to poems and it’s a gorgeous shared experience when it works. It really is a shared thing. You can feel it. The sense of listening in a space is a great thing.”
John Cummins plays the Spoken Word stage at Indiependence alongside Wasps vs Humans, Bubba Shakespeare, Abby Oliveria, and Julie Good amongst others.
Indiependence runs from July 29 to 31 in Mitchelstown.