... a moment of art
A moment parked in a car that sparks a poem or even just a flow
Is worth more than half the world will ever know
Paul Curran, 'Drive'
I wanted to write a piece about my late friend Paul Curran's art. But in doing that, I've had to think about compassion, about the nature of poetry, the realities of working class life, and about a generation trying to shore ourselves against a constant barrage of shocks. Because Paul's work contains all of these things. Paul Curran, who died this February, was a spoken word artist, an important writer, a talented musician and a wonderful man. If it's true that art is inextricable from the artist, this is especially true in Paul's case. His work is all about his voice, both in the literal timbre of vocals in his spoken word and music, and in the sense of his unique outlook on the world. As a spoken word performer, he never failed to silence a room, and to fill that silence with a unique energy. His poems are full of pride for his area, his family and his friends, but his outlook was universal. Influenced equally by the radical Romantic poets and by the voices of modern hip hop, his work holds an incomparably diverse range of artistic influences on an equal footing. Paul's reading took in everyone from Keats to Mayakovsky, but at its core his art was forged in the oral tradition. When I was trying to crosscheck lines for this piece I contacted a few friends and colleagues, and found that, despite not having written printouts of his poems, they could tell me any line I wanted because they know them all by heart.
Even as I write this, there's a dozen remembered lines pushing themselves against the front of my head wanting to get out; "He makes a thousand ten minute friends a night, under the glow of his taxi light", from ‘Taxi’, a poem that uses something as simple as a taxi trip home to speak about class, compassion and human nature. "Moment maker, record breaker, world's best under 10's set-piece taker", from a sunny childhood recollection of the incomparable highs of a Sunday league. And "I could've been a boxer, but I married your ma instead", from one of Paul's most loved poems, one that became akin his ‘Lake Isle of Inisfree’, given the number of times it was requested at spoken word events.
One line in particular has resonated with a lot of people since Paul died, "The art that never gets made". This is from a piece that explores the difficulty of making art, not from a sentimental perspective, not for any lack of "inspiration", but from a practical outlook. There is a material reality of trying to live as an artist that rarely reaches the mainstream narrative. Paul loved Dublin, but it's a hard place to try to make it, to make art, to make ends meet. "You get 50 quid to do a gig/ the 50 quid goes off a bill/ a bill that never gets paid". And soon, “Your brain turns to mush/ You lost your touch/ you don't do what you love as much/ the art that never gets made."
As well as spoken word, Paul made music and films with his friends in a collective called Burnt Out. Their work seeks to reflect the working class experience and acknowledge its reality; equal parts searing beauty and deadening brutality. The fields and housing estates of their monochrome videos become the playgrounds and boxing rings where a young man learns how to be. "And the fault felt my own/ In the barren of the back field/ I had watched the cowboys roam", Paul intones in their song, 'Joyrider'. In his lyrics as in his spoken word, Paul imbued every line with multiple meanings. 'Joyrider''s desperate refrain of "settle down, settle down for me", is both a plea to a desperate young man "in a place where you have to be as stern as any man could be", and a stock phrase a paramedic might use to calm someone who's witnessed the trauma of a joyrider's crash.
But where there is difficulty, there is community. All of Paul's poems harbour joy and hope with an honesty that doesn't deny life's darker side. In 'Drive', Paul crafts something as simple as a drive to Tesco with his friends into a reminder that even the smallest moment can contain all of life. From the first line his voice tumbles out a cacophony of playful rhymes: "As a pile of us pack into the back of Balfey's box of a chat Renault Clio". And in the course of the piece, a car ride with friends becomes a meditation on the life affirming nature of art. For those who loved him, the work Paul left behind is not enough. We miss him. But there's some comfort in knowing that there are still people who haven't heard his voice yet, and that for them his work will make their lives better, in the same way that everyone from Shelley to Skepta did for Paul. In his own words,
From the first time I saw Michael Owen ruining a goalie's clean sheets,
Or read When I Have Fears by John Keats
Or put Disorder by Joy Division on fifty times on repeat
I knew there was a reason,
A great upheaval,
Redeeming a feeling so primeval to my very being
That I burned to do something great.
You can listen to Paul's work in his own voice on his Soundcloud here.
And find Burnt Out's videos here, with a new album coming soon.
Image by David Balfe« Return to listings