Q&A with Stephen James Smith

  • Mon, Apr 24, 2023

  • Stephen James Smith is an Irish poet, spoken-word artist, and playwright. They have performed all over the globe including  at Glastonbury, the Nuyorican Poetry Café in New York, the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, and the Palladium in London. As a recording artist, Stephen’s work has been critically acclaimed nationally and internationally, and led them to be called “Dublin’s unofficial poet laureate”. Abi Willock catches us with them about all things poetry.

    Abi: You recently held a workshop on writing about home, what’s your favourite thing about your home city?

    Stephen: Oh no, that’s a tough one! There’s so much that I love (and hate) about my hometown of Dublin. I also don’t wish to go down the romantic route of talking about all the sessions in pubs (although some of them are amazing). So I’ll say, I love walking down Dún Laoghaire pier with ice cream from Teddy’s. Going to the theatre and seeing something unexpected. The irreverence people have for almost everything but in a loving way. How it’s not lost its soul (just yet) to the roll of gentrification. The more I travel, the more I realise what a special place it is, despite its flaws.

    Abi: You’ve travelled all over the world performing at various different locations, which city do you think lends itself best to poetry?

    Stephen: Oh no, another tough one! Haha! Well, it’s obviously Leicester, that’s why I’m going there and can’t wait for the gig next week. But aside from that, in 2011 I got to attend the annual poetry slam final at Nuyorican Poetry Café in New York and it was EPIC, to see about 400 people crammed into a room to engage with poetry, and there was a queue around the block of others waiting to get in, even when it was sold out. That will live with me forever. On the flip side of that, I love Listowel, Co. Kerry in Ireland where during the Writers’ Week Festival there are impromptu sessions with just a handful of people that just spring up naturally, there’s no ego involved, there’s no money involved, it’s about the sharing, that for me is so special, it’s like going back to the source. I’m sure I can think of many more moments over the years. I've been pretty fortunate that poetry has taken me around the world, I’ve to pinch myself all the time.

    Abi: What is the greatest achievement in your career so far?

    Stephen: You’re not making any of these questions easy Abi! Hard to know really, a lot of luck has played its part in my ‘career’ although I don’t really like the idea of being a ‘professional poet’, it feels like an oxymoron. To date, I’ve toured with a book I wrote, a play I wrote and with a band for an album I made, I also found a poetry festival. All of these things happened because of connections I’ve made along the way, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of others. So I guess the greatest achievement is the sense of community that comes with creating your art.

    Abi: Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?

    Stephan: Vaguely, it was in primary school. However, the first time as an adult that I sat down to write a poem was about 21 years ago when I was 20. It was for my friend’s (Jenny) 21st birthday, I had it framed and gifted it to her.

    Abi: What advice would you give to aspiring poets, artists and performers?

    Stephen: Everything I say here is probably going to sound really cliché, you know… be true to yourself, don’t worry about the begrudgers, comparison is the thief of joy, etc, etc… but it’s all true. You need to create for yourself first and foremost, and whatever follows after that, try and enjoy it. Make sure to celebrate other people’s ‘successes’ and don’t let the envious little green monster take over you, that’ll only make you bitter and make you, make shit art. There’s so much joy and fun to be had in creating anything, it’s important to remember why you first started all this, and acknowledge the gratitude you have for it being part of your life.

    Stephen James Smith will be headlining WORD! this Thursday, 27th April, 7.30pm at Attenborough Arts Centre. You can book tickets by ringng 0116 2522455, by visiting the theatre website www.attenborougharts.com - or by doing so in person at the venue.