Matt Jacobson interviews local Poet and founder of ‘Give Poetry A Chance’, Dan Cullinan ‘Once I started to write, I couldn’t stop’.
When did you begin to have an interest in poetry?
I’m big into my music, and have been since a young age, so you could say it started when I was a kid, but to be honest it’s only in recent years that I developed an interest in poetry. Apart from seeing John Cooper Clarke in 2014 & 2015, I never read or listened to poetry, and it wasn’t something that entered my mind.
It wasn’t until early 2017 that I started to develop an interest, and even then, I didn’t know it. At that point in time, I was in a job that really wasn’t for me, and it was starting to bring me down. It was an hour commute over two train rides each morning, and that’s where my poetry journey began (Pardon the pun).
To pass the time on my daily commute I started to write down my thoughts and feelings into the notes section of my phone. Years of feeling isolated and alone stemming from being diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic, coupled with a lack of a career and a non-existent love life acted as a catalyst. Once I started to write, I couldn’t stop. My iPhone ramblings turned into stanzas, which then turned into poems. It was at this moment I realised the power of words and I’ve been interested in poetry even since.
And what was it about poetry that you connected with?
I connected with the cathartic nature of writing poetry. Like many young lads, I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about how I was feeling. I kept everything bottled up and my mind felt full to the brim. When I discovered poetry, I realised that if I couldn’t talk, then the words on the screen could do the talking for me. My phone became my therapist and slowly but surely, I started to feel better.
Poetry was my coping mechanism and it helped me on my journey of learning how to deal with my emotions. Reading poetry at the 2019 Give Poetry A Chance events was the final step in the process, as the events acted as live therapy sessions.
Dan Cullinan – Photo from Dan Cullinan Archive
Who were your first influences?
I’m influenced by music and the places around me more than poets and poetry. One of my earliest memories was lying on my back on our front living room table in Tuebrook with a CD Walkman and a copy of ‘Yellow Submarine Songtrack’ by The Beatles. That Walkman changed me. I learnt how to shut my eyes, shut out the world and daydream. Ever since then I’ve never been far from a pair of headphones.
In terms of writing, I owe a lot to Mr Lynn, my English teacher in seniors. Until I met him, I hated English. I struggled with my handwriting and because of it I was in the lower sets in school. That all changed when he became my teacher. He didn’t use textbooks, he didn’t single anyone out, he talked to the class and got everyone involved. He was like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. Through his methods of teaching, I started to enjoy English again.
Local musicians such as Nick Ellis, Mick Head, Bill Ryder Jones, and Ian McCulloch have had a profound influence on my writing. Their lyrics are poetry in my eyes and their songs have influenced a lot of my writing. I also love Leonard Cohen, but again, more his music than his poetry. I’m a romantic at heart, and I lap up anything that makes me swoon haha. The city of Liverpool is another source of inspiration. It’s a place that I cherish deeply and will always love.
How did you come to write a book of poetry and how did you find the process?
After a Wavetree pub crawl in April 2017, my mate Rob suggested that I leave my job and go travelling. I took his advice, and in September 2017, I moved to Vietnam for three months. While in Vietnam, I collated all my poems to form a book called A Collection of Poems. I ordered a small run of books from a Hanoian printing factory and distributed the books on my return to Liverpool.
In May 2018, I contacted Mr Lo, the owner of the Hanoian printing factory. I ordered additional copies of A Collection of Poems, as well as the first run of my second collection of poetry, called Second Edition. Rob was living in Hanoi at the time and brought the books back to Liverpool. In 2020, I decided to edit and combine both books to form The Vietnam Collection.
I found the process of writing The Vietnam Collection to be relieving. I was finally being honest to myself. Even though the poems don’t touch upon how I felt, the emotions are still there and they’re better off on paper than in my head. I found the formatting process bloody stressful though!
In 2021, I published a collection of my poetry called Accidentally Poetic, which features poetry that I wrote between 2018 and 2020. I much prefer this collection of poetry as I feel it’s closer to who I am now, than who I was before.
The themes within, could you expand on them?
There are many themes within both collections. I mainly touch upon mental health, politics, romance, surrealism, and general everyday life. Personally, The Vietnam Collection isn’t as strong as Accidentally Poetic in terms of writing and themes. It’s mainly lovely-dovey poetry as I’m just starting to find my footing as a writer. It’s probably why I avoid reading any poetry from this book!
Whereas Accidentally Poetic contains poetry about life experiences, such as my childhood, living in Vietnam, my love of Liverpool and its architecture. I feel I can relate to the themes of Accidentally Poetic a lot more.
When writing poetry, I struggle to pick a theme and run with it. My writing process involves putting a song on loop, ignoring the lyrics, and focusing on the instruments. I disassociate from the world and start to put my own scenarios to the music. I guess it all stems back from lying back on our dining room table. I did it with a David Gilmour YouTube video during lockdown. His granddaughter played a harp, and it resonated with me. So, I looped the 30 second clip and wrote a poem about kindness during lockdown.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years living in my head as I’m a bit of an introvert. These other worlds I create then become poems or ideas for poems. When listening to ‘Lullaby’ by The Cure I see a rainy garden, and when I listen to ‘Come As You Are’ by Nirvana, I think of skateboarders at an American petrol station in the nineties. Certain songs provide me with nostalgia for places I’ve never been to, like a backwards déjà vu… or I’m just weird and I’m being pretentious. haha
Dan Cullinan – Photo from Dan Cullinan Archive
Your poetry night, ‘Give Poetry a Chance’ is a great opportunity for budding poets to perform live – when did you have the idea for the night and how easy or difficult was it to put together?
The name ‘Give Poetry A Chance’ comes from a Glastonbury newspaper on my bedroom wall. At the time, I didn’t have the confidence to promote my poetry under my name, so I wanted an alias to hide behind on Instagram. I looked around my room for inspiration and saw the heading ‘Give Peace a Chance’ on the newspaper and thought it was fitting.
I’ll have to be honest with you, the poetry night itself wasn’t my idea! In early 2018, Dave McTague (Of Mellowtone Records) caught wind that I had put together a poetry book and he had mentioned on numerous occasions that I should perform live. At that time, I had braces and said I wouldn’t be going near a microphone until they were off.
In November 2018, I get a cryptic call from Dave, who said “I’ve got a great idea for you, but I can’t tell you yet. I’ll ring you next week when it’s all set in stone”. A week later he rang me and suggested that I start my own poetry events in Liverpool. I said yeah and off we went to look at venues in town. I ultimately chose The Jacaranda Club as it just felt right. Our first event took place in The Jacaranda Club record store on Wednesday 27th February 2019, and the rest is history.
The initial night was quite easy to put together, as Dan Waine from Your Art Worth provided me with a list of local poets to get me started. Apart from some on the night dropouts, and a couple of no-shows, the subsequent nights were relatively easy to organise too. I love a good spreadsheet, so I feel this helps when organising events.
I also believe people come because it’s not just a poetry event, it’s a social gathering. I’m a firm believer that life is about meeting people and making memories. For me, that involves listening to the life stories of others. I try my best to bring our community together, so we can hear each other’s life stories and learn from each other. The events are an extension of my personality, as they reflect who I am and what I believe in.
How do people contact you to perform?
The best way is via email: email@example.com
You can also reach us on the following: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/givepoetryachance/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/PoetryAChance Website: https://givepoetryachance.com
And what next for Dan Cullinan?
At the moment I’m happy to take each day as it comes. I’d like to dedicate some time to writing, as it’s been a while since I’ve wrote. In terms of events, they will continue to be a mixture of monthly and bi-monthly for the foreseeable future. I’ve got a few event ideas in the pipeline, but I’d rather wait until my private life quietens down before I start any projects. For now, all we’re saying is Give Poetry A Chance on Wed 27 July 2022
Thanks Dan and best wishes for the future….
With thanks to Dan Cullinan