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Beau Williams

08.03.2019

Meet Beau, a spoken word artist originally from Portland, Maine. He spoke to us about how you can use poetry to have a better understanding of your emotions, how hip hop informed his work and how Galway uniquely enables people in their art.

 

Generation 20 is a photo and interview series by Julia Monard focusing on the new wave of artists in Galway.

Tell us about your work?

I’ve been writing since I was about 14, but I’ve been sharing my work publicly, touring and publishing for about ten years. I moved to Galway about 8 months ago and I hope to be here for the next couple of years. Last year, I got my book Nail Gun and a Love Letter published and I competed in the All Ireland Poetry Slam. I won that and now I get to represent Ireland in the European slam next year.

 

You often perform your poetry live. How does the live experience compare to on the page poetry?

It’s just another way of observing, taking in and interacting with poetry. A lot of people who have read my stuff and then hear me perform it, say that they never expected it to be interpreted a certain way. It’s totally different on stage than it is on the page. Some people say it’s better live, some people say it’s better on the page, while others say you can’t really compare the two. It definitely gives a bit more energy and maybe you can connect a little better because it’s in your face. Still, some people interpret reading a little more intimately.

 

When does your muse show up?

It’s so random. There’s nothing to really pinpoint it; whenever it shows up, I have to write. A lot of people feel they have to write every single day to practice the craft, which is fine. I can’t do that. I write only when it’s absolutely necessary. They always say that the best artwork is made through you as opposed to you making it yourself and I totally believe that. Anything ‘great’ that I’ve written, I didn’t write it – I just happened to be the pen that it was written through.

Do you remember the very first poems you wrote?

Back in high school is when you find your first heartbreak, so of course you write about that. I never really read poetry until I was out of high school. My influences were hip hop artists; but I’ve grown out of that – they can be pretty misogynistic. I’d still like to think it gave me an appreciation for word choice, passion and the ability to go deep and be vulnerable. People tend to find rhythm in some of my work, though I definitely don’t write it with any intention of that.

 

How has poetry changed with social media in the mix?

It depends on what part of the world you’re in, what part of social media you’re on, what kind of poetry and what kind of poet. In Minnesota, they started Button Poetry and that really helped bring performance poetry to the main stage. They film spoken word artists and promote their work online. Poetry slam had been around since the 80’s, but this made it very public – it put it in people’s pockets and on TV. That’s the thing about anything that ends up being in the limelight, you tend to find what works and what doesn’t and you find a formula. I don’t personally publish my work online a lot. I get nervous, because they’re all my babies and I don’t want to give them up. Once they’re published in one place, you often can’t publish them anywhere else.

 

Do you self-publish or go through a publishing house?

My latest book Nail Gun and a Love Letter is by Swimming with Elephants Publications, they’re out of Albuquerque in New Mexico. Before that, earlier in my career, any work that I had I self-published. I went to school for graphic design, so I knew all about page and book layout and cover work. I have a book Rumham and that one was self-published. My friend Will and I had a very small press called Red Bench Press; we put out about four books on a very small scale. I love self-publication, because I know exactly how I want to make things look.

 

How does Galway allow you to be an artist?

Oh, it’s just in its bones! Galway is full of an artistic community – there’s musicians and poets and photographers and they’re all working together. I’ve never seen anybody bash anyone for doing well or getting a big gig. Every time someone gets a gig, everybody goes to it. And not just the artists, but their friends, people passing through and tourists. People that have never been here before and are only here for three days will know where to find art because everyone’s gravitating towards it and there’s something on every night.

beau williams

“They always say that the best artwork is made through you as opposed to you making it yourself and I totally believe that.”

How does Ireland play into your story?

It’s always been in my heritage – my grandmother was first generation American. It’s always been ingrained in us that we have Irish in our blood, to respect it and acknowledge it. I’ve always wanted to come out here and I’d spent the first 28 years of my life trying to get here. I finally got here at a Writer in Residence at the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan. That was my first concept of Ireland. I got to stay in the Burren for a month – they gave me a studio and I just wrote and read and wrote and read. No cellphone, no nothing – it was the most beautiful experience. That’s where I got hooked into Ireland – and then I came to Galway and I found out that you can have a community with it that’s integrated with everyone from around the world.

 

How has the vision of Ireland compared to the reality?

When you spend 28 years waiting to do something and then you finally do it, you have pretty high expectations and Ireland had surpassed those tenfold. It’s hard to put into words – that’s why I wrote almost a whole book of poetry on it. I wrote a good 100 pages of poetry while I was here and most of it is in Nail Gun and a Love Letter. I come from America where the culture is very fast and competitive and over here it’s not that at all. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. It’s a totally different way of experiencing life. The biggest trope is that the Irish are just the most welcoming people. It’s true. Enough so that I came here once, and I decided to come here four more times the same year until I actually moved here.

 

What is the most inspiring place in Galway?

It’s not as much a place as it is an atmosphere or a feeling. Some of the pubs here, aesthetically speaking, are some of the coolest places in the world, I am inspired just by being there. They’re a great inspiration for building a community. A bit like my living room where you’ll find 15 people that you know and love and there’s always a good band playing. The Burren in general – I got a lot out of that; it really hit me deep down. It opened up a big spot in my writing, in my learning and experiencing Ireland.

beau williams
How would you describe the literary scene in Galway?

Most of my literary experiences have been in Cork because that’s where I go to get my Masters in Creative Writing at UCC. I don’t know much of the literary scene in Galway outside of the open mics. I’ve only experienced it through the performance aspect of it for now. I run the open mic at Glass House in Electric. There was a nice build to that – I didn’t know what the draw was for that kind of thing to begin with. The first night there were 30 people and there were almost 70 at the last one, so it’s growing rapidly.

 

What’s guaranteed to lift you when you’re down?

A lot of my poetry tends to go down the darker side, and it’s not because I am a particularly sad or a dark person. I find it’s because when I’m happy, I want to keep doing what’s making me happy. When I’m sad or down or angry, I want to acknowledge it, because it’s a healthy thing to do, and that’s when I go the page – I can write and get it out. Then I’m in control of a situation that might have been in control of me; I understand more of what’s happening because I’ve built it in a world on a page. I can accept it and move forward.

 

How would you describe Generation 20 in your circles?

Here in Galway, most of my friends are in their early twenties and they’re incredibly supportive. The drive is high – almost everyone I know is working on some sort of project with their art and are helping each other with it all. There are a lot of cross-sections. For example, I see film-makers working with poets, musicians, actors and I work regularly with folk musicians; we do music and poetry performances together. Everybody loves to see each other succeed.

 

How do you combine your poetry with video?

I have always wanted to have my shows recorded. I’ve filmed a video with film-maker Conor Quinlan of my poem called Fear. The poem addresses the epidemic of people, mainly boys and men, not being able to understand their emotions, so they hurt themselves and commit suicide. It’s called Fear because of the emotion itself, but also about the fact that men can be a feared being and cause a lot of problems in the world. Fear is also Irish for man. The video will be out soon on my social media.

“I love cultivating poetry out of other people, getting them to get in touch with themselves.”

What are some of your plans for next year?

Right now, I’m booking a world tour. It’s starting in May and continuing in September and October; I’ll be performing all over Ireland, London, California, Hawaii and the eastern coast of Australia. I am my own agent; I didn’t even realise that I was booking a world tour until I was headlong into it. That’s probably been a life goal of mine.

beau williams
What do you think is missing in Galway in terms of culture?

I wish that it was more common and natural for men and boys to feel things and to speak their emotions. I don’t know where that begins or how to make that happen, but I’m doing my best to do it on a one to one level. I cry when I have to, I get mad when I have to and I’m happy when I have to be. I think it’s very healthy and incredibly important to feel and to not feel bad about feeling – to recognise your emotions. If you bottle it up, it becomes a really big problem. Self-harm is a big thing and harm against others is a big thing. It’s all stuff that can be avoided if guys could just cry in front of other guys, instead of using drink as a coping mechanism all the time.

 

How would you like to see your artform represented in 2020?

I like to perform my work; I think that’s the best way to have it represented. I love cultivating poetry out of other people, getting them to get in touch with themselves. I would book out a couple of different spots to have writing workshops in, I would bring everybody together, give writing prompts and discuss how to get intimate with your poetry and be vulnerable with your work. We would write and talk about what we’ve written. After that experience, everybody would have a nice bit of work and we could have a featured evening of poetry readings. That would be a good start.

 

When are you the most fearless?

When I’m on stage. I liked to be scared when I need to be. People always ask before a show if I am nervous or scared and the answer is always yes because if I’m not, it means I don’t have anything of substance to say. This is supposed to be trying and difficult all the time because I am shedding myself in front of everybody and we’re supposed to feel things when it’s done. I like to acknowledge what I’m scared of and hit it head-on. Rollercoasters freak me out, so I sit in the front row. Airplanes scare me, so I sit in the window seat, so I can watch the ground disappear and look out onto the clouds.

 

Is there a quote that most represents you right now?

I have lyrics tattooed on my back from Tom Waits, he has a song called Come on up to the House and the lyrics are ‘Come off the cross, we can use the wood’. I’ve always loved that line because it means all that energy that you’re putting to show everyone how upset you are – ‘woe is me’ – you can take that energy and use it to make something useful out of it. Make yourself better, grow, move forward, whatever the situation calls for. Tom really nailed it with that.

Generation 20

Generation 20 is a photo and interview series focusing on the new wave of artists in Galway. With each interview and portrait, we aim to uncover their motivations, aspirations and frustrations. To get the full authentic picture and find their common link, bring them all together and into the light. How does their journey relate to Galway and where would they like to see it in 2020? We want to see the people in the budding stages of their expression, those that are quietly grafting and doing wonderful things.

Open, bold and colourful, this is #generation20.

Photos and interviews by Julia Monard.

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