Poet, writer and spoken word activist Kathryn O’Driscoll, British Slam Champion and World Slam finalist, is launching her first book of poetry, Notes from the cliffat Raise The Bar’s regular poetry night in February.
The collection was developed with funding from Arts Council England and the mentorship of Rachel Long and Caroline Bird, for whom it exhibits “the alchemy of poetry: summoning the color of emptiness, the shapes of emptiness and bringing to life the very things that threaten it”. .
O’Driscoll’s concerns include the LGBTQIA+ experience, gender politics, disability, bereavement, mental illness, isolation and recovery, sexual abuse, function and dysfunction, reality and reality. unreality, and the extent to which we are formed from our experiences.
She participated in the award-winning spoken word show by TV Bafta life and rhymes (Sky Arts) as well as performing at the Edinburgh Fringe and regular national competitions – recently winning the UK Slam competition with his poem A letter to Parliament.
The launch event of Notes from the cliff will feature O’Driscoll performing poems from the collection, along with special guests Fay Roberts (from Cambridge) and local poets Cal Wensley, Raina Greifer, Tom Dewey, Sam Grudgings and host Saili Katebe.
A few coveted open-mic slots will be available in the first half of the evening for budding performance poets in attendance.
I sneak into a quarantined town,
slow like a lidocaine tongue in the hole of a pulled tooth.
A seagull howls its warning
in the echo of the deserted streets,
rushes through the cloud cover, frightened by its own noises.
The aimless drift of kebab wrappers through the cobblestones
makes the sound of a dry brush on the canvas.
I cough in front of a shop.
Jaw relaxed, I look in my eyes reflected in my eyes
reflected in my eyes,
I blink and it’s tomorrow again.
A tree has dropped its skirt of odorless flowers to the ground.
I find enough stumbling in my feet to keep moving
but all store names are blurry,
vague estimates of the shape
except the glass door of a quaint cafe
that I’m trying to read the menu through.
Desire. Desire. Desire. In all sizes.
I’m already full.
Spinning slowly in flowing silence,
arms wide enough to hold a city in a loving stranglehold.
Breathe in the crisp air of an empty city.
Eyes closed, imagine falling
towards the punch in the sidewalk.
Is this something I should mention to my doctors?
I open my eyes and I’m back
at the bottom of the silent market street
The seagull soars into the sky with a shared cry.
I bite my tongue so hard
my mouth fills with freshly minted pennies
and I’m lying in the middle of parking tickets and mulch.
Watch the seasons flow on the facade of the Hippodrome.
Bristol 24/7 asked O’Driscoll to share one of the poems from his collection, as well as shed some light on his thoughts in the run up to the launch of Cliff Notes:
What do you think of the publication of your first collection?
“Having dreamed of this moment since I was about 10 years old, I am so thrilled to publish my first collection with Verve Poetry Press. The fact that I can walk into the Waterstones in the galleries and pick up my own book is amazing.
“I’m also so proud and humbled to be able to launch this book with Raise the Bar, an absolute stalwart of spoken word in the UK, but also the people who gave me some of the biggest milestones in my early career.
“I am proud to be a Bristol Slam champion, to have represented Bristol in national competitions and will always consider Bristol to be my home of poetry.”
Could you give us an overview of the poems of Notes from the cliff?
“My collection is mostly about mental health and disability, and how recovery happens in waves rather than following a linear path. It also includes pages of my intrusive thoughts, to expose the reality of living with these to more people.
“I really wanted this collection to be more than a series of poems and to show the world what life with serious mental illness is (for me). For example, Catatonia (shared above) is a mental health poem told through the journey of walking down Corn Street, Wine Street and past Castle Park in Bristol.
“Notes from the cliff has a mix of spoken word poems that people might know from seeing me play, and page poems that move a bit slower and more cautious. It’s been amazing to have the opportunity to polish my work and the book has evolved so far from the manuscript I started with.
“I have loved working with Caroline Bird and developing this collection under her incredible mentorship, with funding from Arts Council England. As someone who grew up below the poverty line, I would not have been able to access this funding, and that really made all the difference.
What can people expect from the launch party?
“Apart from me, the launch will have an open mic to showcase a real variety of talent from Bristol, then feature performances from local talent Sam J Grudgings, Tom Dewey, Raina Greifer and Cal Wensley – all of whom played major roles in my trip. to find my bearings in the performing arts as someone with a severe anxiety disorder.
“Then we’ll have a performance by Fay Roberts from Cambridge, who’s been one of my biggest supporters on stage and who has her own book coming out of Bristol’s Burning Eye books in the next few months (which will be called Spectrum). Finally, I will share some poems from the book and generally be available to sign and sell.
Finally, what do you think of the poetry scene in Bristol in general?
“I love the scene in Bristol and hope now we can start hosting more in-person events. Milk Poetry is coming back this month and I hope this is the next step for all of us to find our place as a community – something we all desperately need.
“I’ve been shielding myself for two years to protect my vulnerable partner, so I can’t believe I can finally get back to an in-person event and, what’s even more exciting, is to celebrate my own book.”
Raise the Bar: Kathryn O’Driscoll + Open Mic’s book launch is at The Station, Silver St, Bristol, BS1 2AG on 8 February at 7pm. Tickets are available at www.headfirstbristol.co.uk. Cliff Notes by Kathryn O’Driscoll is available for pre-order now.
Main photo: courtesy of Kathryn O’Driscoll
Read more: Review: Raise the Bar at Reignite Festival
Listen to the latest episode of the Bristol 24/7 Behind the Headlines podcast: