Cara Kursh: “I Sit Down and Wait to See What Pops Up”

There are many strings to the bow of Cork-based Galwegian Cara Kursh. Mike McGrath-Bryan sat down with a poet, a singer-songwriter, and a promoter of the arts in the city.

Since opening its doors over two years ago, the Friary pub, situated at the corners of Shandon Street and North Mall, has become something of a hub for Cork culture, hosting gigs, open mics, film screening, exhibitions, DJ nights, and even full-on festivals. A great amount of this eclectic nature and grassroots work is down to the venue’s events collaborators and curators, among them Galwegian singer, poet and creative Cara Kursh. Speaking on the topic of what brought her to the city in the first place, Kursh speaks of an affinity for the city’s civic pride and creative community. “I moved to Cork nearly two years ago. I really like living in the city because it feels very accessible. Everyone is friendly and open and if you have an interest in something, it’s a lot easier to get involved in what you like doing. It’s less cliquey than a lot of places and I feel like people have more of a community spirit here which is so vital to have”, she says.

The venue’s diminutive stature belies the growth it’s taken on in the past few years, mostly down to the openness of landlord Mike d’Arcy to new ideas. Kursh was immediately engrossed. “I was there for a Ska night, and saw that there was a beautiful little space upstairs that would be perfect for an acoustic night. I helped out with (music night) Sofar Sounds, so was on the lookout for lovely spaces to put on gigs. I was talking to Mike about it, and he asked me to come in that Monday. When we chatted, he was really open to all my suggestions on what events could be done in the bar, and I’ve been really lucky to have a creative input in what goes on here.” Kursh’s creative work with the Friary in a full-time events capacity carried on until late last year, at which point a change in pace was undertaken to diversify her own interests. She remains involved, however, and the aforementioned openness of the venue to her ideas continues to be a challenge and a muse. “I really like that all ideas are welcome and considered. It’s great being able to come in with a mad idea and not have it laughed at, but encouraged! It’s a lovely pub, it has no airs and graces and when I come in I always feel as if I’m almost popping around to a friend’s house. When I helped put on The Friary Cork Festival, after all the preparation, it was so rewarding seeing how much people enjoyed themselves at it, I was really proud of our little bar.”

Since changing roles over at the Friary, Kursh is now primarily in charge of matters pertaining to Sling Slang!, a monthly poetry and performance event held in the venue’s upstairs space. Kursh goes into how the spoken word entered her creative processes and how the night came together. “I love words! I’ve written poetry for a long time. I’ve been songwriting for the last few years, so my poetry has been sung as opposed to read, until very recently. I went to O’ Bhéal a few times last year, and recited some poetry for the first time. I loved the atmosphere, the platform it gave people as a creative outlet, and I felt encouraged and inspired to write and perform more. During the Summer I started creating raps. I love the way words can be percussive, and feel so powerful when you speak about things that are important to you through rhyme and rhythm. I have friends who are rappers, but everytime I hear them out at gigs, the lyrics are a lot less decipherable over music. I wanted to create an event that focused on word appreciation and host all different varieties of wordsmiths to come and be their creative selves. I love seeing people go up on stage and perform their own poetry. To be able to create a platform for people to do that in a nurturing environment is a really special thing.”

The effort ploughed into Sling Slang! has cemented the monthly night as another reliable outlet in the city for poets and writers, and helping further establish the Friary as a safe haven for creative endeavour in a city under pressure for those exact spaces. “So far, we’ve had some beautiful nights with a different variety of guests. To name a few: Dave Rock, Spekulativ Fiktion, Cormac Lally, David Jackson, Stanley Notte, Julie Goo, Ben Burns… all magic in their own way. Every Sling Slang there is a new host, two guests, an open mic and a communal poem made by the audience. We have a group on Facebook called ‘Sling Slang!’. I’d encourage anyone who writes or performs spoken word to join and share their mind-mumblings with us!”

Supportive of the wider cultural scene in the city, as many of Cork’s cultural practicioners are, Kursh enthuses further about the state of the spoken word, Leeside. “It’s amazing! There’s so many people who are so passionate about poetry and spoken-word in Cork. They are a beautiful group of people who are so welcoming and open to anyone who wants to become a part of it. O’ Bhéal is on every Monday from 9.30pm in the Hayloft at the Long Valley Pub. The Garden Collective, which you can find on Facebook, will be releasing videos of Cork Spoken Word artists very soon! Spotlight Poetry, ran by Mathew Moynihan, ended recently unfortunately, but it was a beautiful night.”

As mentioned earlier, Kursh has also been performing around Cork the last while as a singer-songwriter, and explains the importance of her art and process to herself personally. “Creating songs and singing them to people is the most important thing in my life. Any time I feel I’m caught up in some feeling or if I feel I’m in a place where I can’t think properly, I sit down with my guitar and wait to see what pops up. Usually something I didn’t realise had been plaguing me just comes out as a song. When the song comes out, I usually then have a lot more clarity of mind. When I sing my songs to people, I feel like I’m giving them a snippet of myself. It’s scary singing in front of a lot of people because my songs are extremely personal, and you’re always afraid that people won’t like them, but doing it is so cathartic.”

This twin experience of catharsis and trepidation fed into the creation of her debut record, an extended-player due to release soon. A mix of her songs and spoken-word pieces, Kursh found a way to involve the wider spoken-word scene in the creation of her first collected body of artistic work. “I decided to make a booklet to go along with the E.P. that will include lyrics to my songs, and it will feature some poetry by some of my friends from around Cork and Galway. I’ve asked if people could write poetry around the themes in my songs, as I would like the E.P. and the booklet to have a story in it that the listeners and readers can come up with the meaning themselves.”

It all points to a busy 2018 for Kursh, between her roles in the creative community via the Friary and her own creative explorations. The Tribeswoman is starting the year as she means to go on, and makes as much apparent when conversation turns to what’s next. “The E.P., and more Sling Slang! I’ll also be organising a fundraiser for DAWG on the 3rd of Febuary in the Friary from 3pm until 7pm. There will be vegan snacks by Cool Beans, some music, and a raffle!”

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