Ash Wednesday Poetry Series – Stephen James Smith: Ticking Clock


“At the core for me there should be honesty, a willingness to want to share…” 


The Ash Wednesday Series takes its name from the following Leonard Cohen quotation:  “Poetry is just the evidence of life.  If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash”.  As a writer, does this ring true for you?

Poetry is the flame in my life, like any good moth I am drawn to it. It has set me ablaze on occasion, but the excitement it has brought into my life is worth being burned. I welcome the ash.

What makes a poem?

It’s so subjective, but at the core for me there should be honesty, a willingness to want to share by the poet. Perhaps it would make sense to describe why I like Pat Ingoldsby’s poetry so much given that he is my favourite poet, it possess much honesty and sharing, but he is playful, surreal and free from all the bullshit that poets and poetry and get bogged down in. He is the most refreshing poet I have ever read, toying with my emotions and he captures all the good and bad of Dublin in is words so they echo to my core.


Describe your writing ritual.

I used to use a pen and paper; I tended to write late at night, there are some bars, coffee shops and parks that seemed to give me the right ‘space’. However now with a smartphone I email ideas to myself. I have an online document with hundreds of ideas I need to harvest. I think it has runs to 5,000 words now! Maybe I need to find a ritual!

Is writing a compulsion, obsession or something else?

The best of my writing for me comes from a state of urgency, I can’t help but just write it, it is almost vomited onto the page. I don’t think I can say I am obsessed as I can go for a few months without writing anything; this could be because I also play music and take photos so there are other creative outlets in my life. But writing to me is a way of releasing, it’s a pressure valve and a way of connecting with my inner-self (as clichéd as that sounds) and also embracing others when I share my scribblings.



What makes being a writer in Dublin unique (to being a writer anywhere else)?

I have never really been a writer anywhere else, while I have been invited as a writer to other parts of the world and written about those experiences and written on holidays. It is hard to compare if it’s not been my true experience for an extended period. Clearly however Dublin is steeped in the literary tradition, no need to name the names you know them, they are looking over your shoulder the whole time, whispering to you on street corners and in the snugs they drank in, that I now drink in. Sure you can’t even cross the river here without treading on bridges named after these ‘greats’. More importantly though Dublin now is evolving a new voice that is exciting to me, my peers are a tremendous source of inspiration, and we are great at keeping each other’s feet grounded. I’d imagine the manic socialising in Dublin bars is a source of inspiration for many a writer though!


The nose provides a way for understanding the world and its first impressions.  The first smells of people and places, for whatever the nose chooses to capture can become a strong memory for the mind.  Smells have a way of lingering, taking up space as though they were bodies.  What does Dublin smell like to you?

Dublin smells of roses, that still have the lingering aroma of horse shit banging in the air. For it is the horse shit that makes Dublin vibrant.

Whose poems are you reading now?

The last poem I read was this morning, here it is:

A Star by Patrick Kavanagh

Beauty was that
Far vanished flame,
Call it a star Wanting better name.

And gaze and gaze
Vaguely until
Nothing is left
Save a grey ghost-hill.

Here wait I
On the world’s rim
Stretching out hands
To Seraphim.

I don’t normally sit down and read a book of poetry that’s not how it happens for me. Poems find me, I regularly get emailed poems by fellow poets or friends, sometimes just to share and sometimes for feedback. I am lucky to have plenty of brilliant poetry books, so if I find myself in a calm place or maybe need to find a calm place I can turn to poetry. The internet is a great source of finding new poems and via allthe social network sites people are constantly sharing things anew, so I click if I am interested.



Describe your coffee ceremony (i.e. everything that goes into a perfect coffee experience)

The best coffee for me is in Bewley’s, on Grafton Street, maybe because I know my granny used to take my mum there for a bun and a glass of milk as a treat if they were in town, or maybe because I have gigged there loads of times, I just always love the coffee and setting there. But for me I’d normally prefer a cuppa tea and shortbread to dunk in it!

A video of Stephen James Smith performing “Ticking Clock” in full can be found here:



Stephen James Smith is a poet, playwright from Dublin. He has won the Cúirt International Literary Festival Poetry Grand Slam and numerous other awards. His ABSOLUTE Fringe play ‘Three Men Talking About This They Kinda Know About’ (co-written with Colm Keegan & Kalle Ryan) was shortlisted for the Bewley’s ‘Little Gem Award 2011’.

In 2009 he proudly represented Ireland at the Vilenica Literary Festival Slovenia and in 2010 at Wiersze w Metrze Poland. Stephen is at the heart of poetry and spoken word in Ireland through his organisation of The Glór Sessions a weekly event of poetry and music.

In April 2011 he was invited by Culture Ireland to recite in the iconic Nuyorican Poetry Café New York. ‘Arise and Go!’ his debut album with musician Enda Reilly was selected by Hot Press as one of the best albums of 2011. In 2012 he was invited to perform his poetry in Frankfurt, Paris and in London where he was invited by The Irish Olympic House to perform for the Irish Olympians.

He has been translated into six languages and published all over the globe.  A regular contributor to RTÉ Radio 1’s Arts Show Arena he has also featured on RTÉ’s The Works.  The pinnacle of his career so far has to be reading alongside Roddy Doyle, Dermot Bolger and Seamus Heaney (well on the same TV documentary anyway).

Most importantly he likes tea, shortbread, ice-cream and feeding the ducks in St. Stephens Green Park.



Upcoming events / tour: Birmingham, Bristol, Canada and Switzerland

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