I was prompted to write creatively for the first time by an English teacher. She was acting as the local agent of a schools’ poetry competition back in 1989, when I was thirteen. The teacher, a Mrs O’Sullivan, was as surprised as I was at how well, for that age group, I was able to put my thoughts into rhythm and rhyme. She enthusiastically praised me for my efforts. I wasn’t too used to warm praise in school, but I certainly took to it. Immediately I wanted more. A small but powerful light – a guiding light ever since – had been switched on for the very first time in my life. As long as the aim is the revelation of the artist to herself, and to others, competition has its use and its excuse inside the Arts.
The RTÉ Radio 1 show Arena and I designed the New Planet Cabaret project to uncover and encourage new writing talent. We did this through our monthly on-air writing classes and competitive on-air writing prompts. Tens of thousands tuned in on the first Tuesday of each month to hear discussion and debate about some of the factors that can go into making good, original creative writing. We received thousands of entries for the prompts and we broadcast selections from dozens of them, discussing their literary virtues. New Planet Cabaret is a compilation of seventeen of the very best entries together with over 40 commissioned writers, many of them are also new and emerging, some also appearing in national print for the first time.
We selected many of the commissioned writers on the basis of their established relationship with Arena and Arena’s listenership. Arena is beloved by listeners and contributors alike for its encouragement of emerging writers of all kinds. The Arena team has made a huge contribution to culture on this island by creating a broadcast outlet for a new generation of performative, audience-focused artists who are creating work across and between the disciplines of song, stage, and story.
Hundreds of songwriters, poets, rappers, storywriters, playwrights, (and some who are all of these things) have received a boost to their careers and a challenge to their talents by the invitation to try to make themselves heard and understood on Arena. Many have risen to the challenge, producing work – broadly speaking – in the proud vein of experimental populism, work that is often relevant and sometimes innovative and challenging, as well as comprehensible to Arena’s large, diverse, intelligent general audience. As a result of its commitment to fostering new work in the living arts, Arena has managed to post significant gains to the size and reach of its audience, a fact recently reflected in its move from a 7.30 p.m. to a 7.00 p.m. slot on prime time radio.
I felt, and Arena agreed, that it was time to reflect upon and highlight this very fruitful and perhaps unique collaboration between a popular radio programme and an artistic generation by the time-honoured means of an anthology. We would commission wordsmiths of all stripes whose work has enriched the airwaves through Arena to provide us with new work in the thematic ambit of New Planet Cabaret. Given New Island’s longstanding record of supporting new Irish writing across a range of genres, it felt natural to both Arena and I to approach commissioning editor Eoin Purcell to collaborate with us when it came to bringing the project to print.
Arena can’t cover everyone involved in such a large and decentralised scene. Other writers included in the New Planet Cabaret, such as Kevin Higgins and Paul Casey, were selected on the basis of their outstanding contribution as writers, as well as educators and organisers, to our thriving, live literature. I also included a small number of wild card and exceptional talents, such as Oisin Fagan and Claire Louise Bennett, whom I have encountered through my editorial work with The Stinging Fly, Ireland’s leading magazine of new writing.
The guide is not the territory of course, and, as is the case with all anthologies, there are talented writers who might have a case to be included here but haven’t been for a variety of reasons. I hope that New Planet Cabaret will provide a boost for all involved in the independent creative writing and live Arts scenes in Ireland.
I believe in the value and vitality of every piece of writing in this book. I hope you enjoy the whole array of it. I hope it inspires you, as the New Planet Cabaret always intends, to be excellently different yourself.
(c) Dave LordanAdapted from the introduction to New Planet Cabaret (New Island) in all good bookshops now and available online here.
Read more about Dave’s thoughts on trans-generation in Irish Arts here on his blog.