Poetry Slam Madrid

Share this

On the first Wednesday of every month, Poetry Slam Madrid invades Bar Intruso for a few hours and a poetry slam event takes place. This reporter met with one of the organizers to find out a little bit more about the emerging art form.

In a bar in the La Latina area of Madrid, Jonathan Teuma sits across me from with his eyes wide and full of ideas and his goatee tufting out like two fingers to the powers that be. He very much puts me in mind of Gustave Courbet’s “Desperate Man,” and Jonathan, much like the painter himself, lives his life under no regime save for the regime of liberty, and he comes from a socialist agitator stock. When I first met this affable Gibraltarian, he had tucked under his arm book called “My Grandmother was an Anarchist” and we had a discussion about the pointlessness of nationalism, with me for and him against. This man, literally and figuratively, from between two worlds has travelled extensively this big world we all share, from Angola to England, and now to Madrid. Jonathan Teuma, as one of the coordinators of the Poetry Slam movement in Madrid, shows himself as a passionate promoter of the group.

The tenor of the poetry slam is generally a leftie one, with artists shouting, acting, musing, and condemning through the performance art of poetry slam. Every month, a guest poet opens proceedings by doing a reading and this is followed by local poets vying to win that night’s competition, as voted for by the crowd. It’s like Eminem’s 8 Mile but less depressing, more political, and equally as socially conscious.

“My poetry is a look at what is around me, it is mental digestion of what is around me, and a comment on that.”

Any prop used by a poet automatically disqualifies the poet and so the poet must solely rely on their voice, their body, and their passion. In my time observing them, the economic recession, forced evictions, abortion, religion, and a whole host of hot-button issues have been adapted into the poetry slam format. It is quite an experience to witness a slam as many of the poems are poor enough when read but when spoken are animated through the vocalizations of the modern equivalent of ancient poets passing down myths.

Jonathan is the embodiment of all aspects of Poetry Slam. His actions are theatrical and his voice seems catapulted from center stage. His family, on both sides and from both sides of the Civil War divide, escaped the increasingly intense conflict for the refuge of Gibraltar. His Great-Grandfather evaded Franco’s troops and was smuggled over by a reluctant fisherman and, for the second leg of the journey, by an off-duty policeman. His Great-Grandmother was smuggled children over into Gibraltar on one occasion, and other members of his family distributed anti-Franco propaganda in the south of Spain or were strike leaders. This lineage has had an influence on his poetry, with Jonathan stating that, “I have been put squarely on the left by my family,” and that, “My poetry is a look at what is around me, it is mental digestion of what is around me, and a comment on that. It is impregnated with a Leftist ideology.”

The Poetry Slam movement is quite international and it is arguably at its strongest in Germany. The movements around Spain are interlinked and they share poets for workshops up and down the country while poetry slammers from around the globe are invited to perform or sometimes eve ask on their own volition to participate. Starting this month, there will be a monthly English poetry slam that hopes to widen the net of the slam over the heads of new and aspiring performers.

It is a growing movement and if you want to witness it or participate, then call in to Bar Intruso, C/ Augosto Figueroa, 3. Its biggest value for me, after absorbing as much as I can, is that in a country such as Spain, where free speech is limited and protests harder to implement, the Poetry Slam Madrid movement is one way to verbalize and debate, the two key parts of any healthy democracy that are now essential in this democratically sick country where there are those trying to stop people using their voice.

By Enda Kenneally

From Requiems to Republics: Seamus Heaney, Pablo Neruda and 1916

Seamus Heaney
Share this

Easter Monday in Ireland will mark the centenary of a failed rebellion against British rule in Ireland, while April will see the anniversary of the birth of the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Two events that, at least for me, are connected and both are essential facets of how I see myself and my country. Though Oscar Wilde meant it as a slight, sometimes my passions are a quotation. Other times, a passport.

During the Rising, key buildings were taken over by Irish nationalists and bullets rained down on Dublin streets. The leaders and signatories of the 1916 Proclamation – people (and writers) such as Patrick Pearse and James Connolly – were captured and shot by the British government after the failure of the insurrection.

It was an uprising that occurred during a World War, an armed stand-off watched from afar by Lenin in Moscow, it was more than just a local affair. Indeed, Indian doctors studying medicine in Dublin joined the resistance, as did many Jews who had immigrated into Ireland throughout the 19th Century. All told, Irish nationalism – as it usually does – enjoyed an internationalist dimension, a sentiment chorused in our national anthem Amhrn na bhFiann, and underlined by the outward looking human rights advocacy of the State from the 1960s onwards.

The Poets

Though this is not an account of the 1916 Rising per se. Exiled as I am by the failure of the Celtic Tiger and my own wanderlust, this significant memory in the collective Irish soul gives pause for reflection on my sense of Irishness and how it is wrapped up in Seamus Heaney and a Chilean – Pablo Neruda. I do, of course, identify with the men and women who gave their lives for a free Ireland, but this a more personal account of what Ireland respresents to me – an Irish nationalist safe from British guns and a writer who, hitherto, has not been recognized with a Nobel Prize for Literature.

13th June 1966: EXCLUSIVE Chilean poet and activist Pablo Neruda (1904 - 1973) leans on a ship's railing during the 34th annual PEN boat ride around New York City. He wears a cap. (Photo by Sam Falk/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

I grew up on Heaney and Neruda. I also grew up on Capri-Suns and Batman, but that is a reminiscence for another day. The two men were quite political in their writings, the former lamenting the ravages of Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the latter forlorn over the destruction of the Spanish Civil War and the legacy of empires. They both shared a need to preserve ordinary people an ordinary objects. Heaney celebrates his mother and ‘her white nails… raising scones against two ticking clocks’ and another poem speaks of the wallets and keys strewn across the road, exploded from the pockets of the recently blown up by the bombs of paramilitary forces. Neruda, for his part, catalogued plants and rocks, mountains, books, and food until he fell in exhaustion into his poem Too Many Names, a poem where ‘time lost its shoes’ and the poet breaks the fourth wall and obliterates his structure. Think the Coen Brothers and Barton Fink, but less playfully and more with a whine.

Right now, aside from watching the official commemoration of 1916 from afar, I am reading – and listening – to Heaney and his epic translation of Beowulf. The New York Times called it a better Beowulf and went on to tease out the irony of man with a dislike of the dominance the English language had over the Gaelic tongue translating one of the defining texts in Anglo-Saxon culture. You can read the superb analysis of the translation here.

It is a work that links me again to the words of Neruda, particularly his work And How Long? Both texts focus on atempts to give life to things – ideas, nature, nations. If Beowulf dies, and if Neruda tires, what are we to do? If the Irish State is turning a 100 soon, where do we go? Time is the knife that cuts all our imagined and realised hopes into successes, failures, and missed opportunities.

Seamus Heaney
Dublin on the night Ireland becomes a Republic

In general, they shared more things. The equality proclaimed by 1916 extended to how these poets wanted their poems to be transmitted and to the audience they hoped to reach. While Heaney called Eminem a modern poet and showed himself adaptable to the evolution of the artistic use of language, Neruda busied himself with writing poems that could be recited out loud and to everybody. No child of poetry would be left behind.

The role of nature ran through the different periods of Neruda, from the ‘tomatoes, stars of the earth’ of Ode to the Tomato finding roots in Heaney and his Death of a Naturalist, where little children observed frogs to see the weather ‘yellow in the sun, brown in the rain’.


A recent opinion piece in The Irish Times was titled – Our independence sprang from more than violence alone, and it is true. We had a democractic mandate from the people, an organized government staffed with brilliant men and women, and a cultural breath that gave life to the nascent organs of the emerging State. There was also an internationalism that bridged the geographical synapses of different peoples and nations that shared a common sense of how a nation should be organized and how the people within should be protected, an internationalism that has defined Ireland throughout its history.

In this Easter weekend and centenary of 1916, I doff my cap to two men so connected to my sense of self, to my Ireland. To Neruda, the poet hailed by the people as their voice, and Heaney, ‘whose passport green… never toasted the British Queen’ – two men who turned their back on imperialism and their souls and pens toward a common humanity. A common humanity hoped for by 1916, with the promise of universal sufferage and equal rights. We come full circle, like all the arcs of all the poets that reach in themselves and find the world.

Requiem for the Croppies by Seamus Heaney 

The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley…
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp…
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people hardly marching… on the hike…
We found new tactics happening each day:
We’d cut through reins and rider with the pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until… on Vinegar Hill… the final conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August… the barley grew up out of our grave.

The Forasteros Interview – Music To Make You Dance, Laugh, Sing, Meditate …

Share this

The Parque del Buen Retiro is home to the imperial statues of a lost Madrid and the heaving throngs of the present day Spanish capital, from the puppeteers to the balladeers, this great oxygen bank has opened its gates in much same way that they city has opened its metaphorical ones – to people from all over world

Read more

Conor McGregor: Irish pride

Conor McGregor: Irish pride
Share this

This Celtic warrior personifies Ireland

Conor McGregor is the white Muhammad Ali. I say this because of what the American boxer represented to his people. He was always cognizant of what his success meant to underprivileged African-Americans in the USA. McGregor embodies something similar: his Irish red beard, ripped UFC torso, his cutting mouth and his fixed mind obliterates opponents and stereotypes alike. He is arrogant, trenchant, and he is our’s.

Read more

Madrid is a city of experimental art

Madrid is a city of experimental art
Share this

A new photo exhibition opens this week

There is a new photo exhibition running in the centre of Madrid. It is sponsored by El Arpa English academy and the idea of the event is to showcase photos taken on smart phones. The subject matter can be anything and everything and it takes in the urban and the rural, the personal and the panoramic, the morning and the night. It is these transitions which give the exhibition its name, “Transiciones.”

The blurb expounds on this by saying “less is sometimes more” and continues its hymn by saying:

“See images that have been captured as they lurked incognito to the naked eye as the photo was taken… see the indistinct matte of colours that bleed into each other and the sharp relief of building and nature against the light, a light that affects the image as day transitions into the night and, as it does, the filter that affects the image changes with it.”

In an interview with Maria, a tall and stunningly attractive archaeologist by trade, she explained, that as the event coordinator, the exhibition was part of a larger theme. “Last year we had a poetry exhibition in Diego de Leon and it was called “En Transito.” The theme was of poetry that was scribbled or written while on the go and the articles upon which poetic musings were inscribed included napkins, metro tickets, magazines, tissues and an assorted mix of things that are usually stuffed into pockets or bags. This exhibition is a spiritual successor and its function is to celebrate how the tool defines the art but also, more importantly, to make art accessible to everyone.

Over 30 budding artists have made submissions. In addition, some photographers gave details regarding where, why and how the photos were taken. Rachelle Toarmino, one of the submitters told this interviewer about how, on the Santiago route, the light was astounding that the image looked like it had been taken on a real camera while another photographer, Samuel O’Neill simply put a pair of red sunglasses in front of his camera and the results are spectacular. It is this kind of low tech approach that this exhibition is keen on.

Jonathan Kates, another submitter, added about one of his photos:

“Taking photos at nightclubs with cell phones is very hard but this one was sheer awesome luck, and was taken at Mondo Disko in February during an epic Maceo Plex extended set. It’s hard to capture an entire night in a single frame but the composition and the outstretched hands really highlight the mood.”

Madrid is currently in the throes of Easter processions and the marching of men in pointy hats that are there simply to bring the wearer just that little closer to heaven. Madrid is also passing deeply unpopular laws that have caused the United Nations to sit and baulk from their headquarters in New York. Quite simply, Madrid is a city of multifarious events. But if there is one event that that cannot be missed, it is the photo exhibition in Taberna San Jose. It runs for the next two weeks and the friendly bar keep Jorge will assist you with artistic or alcoholic replenishment.

If you wish to see the exhibition, it is in Taberna San Jose, metro Banco de España.

By Enda Kenneally

Sri Lanka: Why foreign investment should come

Sri Lanka: Why foreign investment should come
Share this

Sri Lanka: Why foreign investment should come

The end of civil war brings fresh opportunities

Foreign investment is a hot topic at the moment. The idea mostly, in the current climate, invokes criticism and anger, such as the recent Guardian opinion piece that lamented the selling off of British and London infrastructure to foreign investors. To compound this, there has been general ill feeling from some quarters due to a view that European, and particularly British, condemnation of the conflict in the Ukraine and Russian aggression has been diluted by the noueau-riche Russians investing and blowing their money across London and other trendy cities.

Nevertheless, foreign investment is capable of garnering some positive headlines with the case of Sri Lanka. Understandably, Sri Lanka does not immediately jump to mind when you are trying to think of where best to spend your money. While it is difficult to compare the post-civil war situation across different countries, it is generally true that institutions weakened by war usually do not have the capacity to handle investments. The economy of Northern Ireland, after a significant period of general peace and stability, is weak. This is partly due to much of the political focus being on identity and violence rather than the economy. So why is Sri Lanka different?

One easy example is that of tourism. A long civil war deterred tourists from flocking to the region and so its rich natural beauty and its breath-taking array of flora and fauna was never truly tapped into. This is now changing. It is also on the door step of India so Sri Lanka can be an attractive pit stop for westerners touring the region. This has a follow on for infrastructure and, as well, Sri Lanka has a view on the long-term as it tries, backed by Chinese money, to become a maritime hub in the region.

Sri Lanka’s proximity to India is another boon because India is enjoying the fruits of heavy foreign investment itself and India has a good trade policy with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka and India are both under stable governments and, thus, there is time and energy to direct towards improving their respective economies without the disraction of a destabilizing civil war in the region.

In addition to the analysis from Forbes, CNBC called Sri Lanka the ‘darling’ of investors as the economy continues to grow and inflation continues to decrease. The economy grew by 8 percent last year.

To temper this positivity, it is important to note that Transparency International has stated that funds earmarked for reconstruction and investment have been misappropriated and the systemic corruption in Sri Lanka is a stumbling block for future investment. It is a common problem in post conflict zones and one Sri Lanka is not immune from. Transparency International used Bosnia-Herzegovina as an example of inherent corruption making investors more wary and reluctant. This is the fate that awaits Sri Lanka, Transparency International fears.

HSBC are another group who are not entirely convinced by Sri Lanka’s economy, citing an over dependence on foreign fuel and a lack of consumer spending as reasons for remaining doubtful.

Overall, Sri Lanka is a place remarkable for its readiness for investment and for the stability of its government. There are obvious problems which persist but, with elections on the way, Sri Lanka can epitomize how foreign investment can be a good and positive thing at a time when this concept of  is receiving a lot of bad press around the world.

By Enda Kenneally

Photo: Dhammika Heenpella

How to find a real Irish bar

Share this

And why a good bar is special

One of the national newspapers in Ireland hosts a blog called Generation Emigration and it reveals insights into the whos, whats, hows, and whys of the people who choose to leave Ireland. There are those who wish to return and those that don’t, those that miss it and those you are happy in a new life in a foreign land. As we approach St. Patrick’s Day, I would like to nominate an Irish bar that, for me, represents the best and the real of Ireland.

The James Joyce bar on Calle Alcala is the best Irish pub in Madrid. Indeed, it is the only true Irish bar in the Spanish capital and I could wax lyrical about it for hours but I shall do my best to contain my love for it within the limits of these pages. It is distinctly Irish because it is the only Irish bar in town that is owned by an Irish man and actually has Irish people behind the bar. I am sure they are only months away from being able to issue and reissue passports for Irish citizens in the wood lined and artistically hued walls and bar tops of this Irish watering hole.

Any reader of Joyce — or anyone who has pretended to read Joyce — will know that the dispensers of spirits were dubbed with the name of the people who dispense the Holy Spirit. Thus bar tenders were curates or seminarians if they were assistants in the bar.  The picture of Joyce dominates a wall in the bar there in much the same those round spectacles dominated his face and the visages of other great writers of note are noticeable between the vicissitudes of the indecently sober and the inarticulately inebriated. This is because the bar sits on the site of an old Spanish bar that was famous as being a meeting point for different Spanish writers, such as Benito Galdos. A cafe not too far away bears his name. On this point, too, the bar represents Joyce and an innate facet of being Irish: celebrating one’s Irishness while also being influenced by the outside.

The spiritual needs of an Irish person abroad can be met here because it is the only bar in the city that is adorned with the flags of the 32 counties and it broadcasts GAA matches of hurling and Gaelic football. It is possible to learn Irish, or Gaeilge, and the Irish Business Network meet in the pub quite regularly. Other bars are staffed by Russians or display pictures of the English cricket team, much to the chagrin of many an Irish person who has to live with an identity that many do not understand.

A twee statue of St. Patrick is rolled out on St. Patrick’s Day but a little bit of vice is alright; we’ve always been able to indulge our stereotype side and live up to the expectations we sometimes put on ourselves as much as others put on us. The descriptions of other bars in the blog speak of knowing nods and the craic of an Irish bar and the James Joyce exhibits the same qualities but, what is more, it is a hub where high-flying Irish business people, Spanish dance troupes that do Irish dancing, and lowly teachers can intermingle with each other and the world in the name of self-improvement, for home, for the horizons inside and out. If that sounds trite, I’m just deliriously happy that the bar hasn’t been discovered by stag parties. Probably because the pub is just outside the centre… that’s the luck of this Irish bar.

In the words of Flann O’Brien, a writer who also watches from the walls:

When things go wrong and will not come right,

Though you do the best you can,

When life looks black as the hour of night –

A pint of plain is your only man 

Wise words for a group of people seeking succour and solace when the burden of being away from home becomes too much. That is the real value of a real Irish pub.

By Enda Kenneally


The Irish Times


Political murder of Boris Nemstov a continuation of a grim trend

Political murder of Boris Nemstov a continuation of a grim trend
Share this

Despite news reports, this is not a new development.

Boris Y. Nemtsov was slain on Friday by an unknown gunman. He was a prominent opposition leader and he had been at the forefront of fighting for democratic reforms for over two decades. Russian President Vladimir Putin did was expected of him and offered his sincerest condolences and vowed to find the killer, in much the same way as many vows are made by politicians when public anger and shock are at their most acute. The other constant, in Russian political life at least, is that such high-profile murders are a regular occurrence. Another view of Putin’s official grief is that he is developing a siege mentality in a country already beset by enemies, if the official narrative is to be believed.

To some degree, it is not shocking. The intimated reason for the murder was that Nemtsov had access to explosive information about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. While it remains unclear whether the Russian President ordered a hit, it should be obvious what designs Putin has over the place and also it should be clear that a mixture of short-term opportunism, historical rifts and Putin’s general strategy of transfiguring the Russian bear into a war hawk are forces that drive a belief that he was somehow involved. The ins-and-outs of another Russian whodunnit may stay unsolved, like the case of Dr. David Kelly, the British doctor found dead at his home. He was another prominent figure linked to the government who had potentially embarrassing information for those in power. The official coroner’s verdict was suicide but others believe it was murder.

The general consensus around the murder of Nemstov is that it sets a new kind of precedent. This journalist disagrees. While it is true that political killings have decreased under Putin, the fact remains that significant murders have occurred while he has been in power. The most high profile – until now – was of the courageous journalist Anna Politkovskay who, in turn, wrote about the murder of human rights advocates and other agitators for democratic change.

Today, supporters of Nemstov will march in mourning but also as an act of defiance that states opposition figures will be not be cowed by the State. It may never emerge that Putin sanctioned the killing of one of modern Russia’s most honest politicians but he has directly contributed to a climate of fear and persecution where the strong-arm tactics of a mafia state terrorize and, sometimes, murder its citizens.

Analysis by Enda Kenneally