The room is spacious, airy, and very unclassroom-like, though I am here to teach creative writing. I like that it’s not a traditional classroom, with me at the head of the room with a big board behind me, but rather, me and the students sit together on chairs, in a sort of circle, on the same level, eye-to-eye so to say.
The walls of the space are covered in paintings, sculptures and drawings from current and past students of RADE – that stands for Recovery Through Arts and Drama Education. There are many photos also, from plays performed by RADE, and formal gatherings with artists, patrons and politicians. President Michael D. Higgins can be seen there among the smiling faces.
It’s a bit cold in here, says Trevor, a 40-year-old drug addict with youthful eyes. He rubs his hands together as he says it out to the room in general.
It’s always a bit nippy in this room isin it, I say in return.
The room slowly fills up, and seats are taken. Mostly men, only two women in the group, all but two of the group are inner-city Dubs, the others are working-class country folk living in Dublin, all are addicts, some for many years, some are still young, all are in this programme, trying, hoping to go through the process of recovery from drug addiction.
By now, a few weeks into the classes, I know them and they know me, we have a rapport built up, some of the lads were here last year when I taught classes too. Another member of staff will sit in with us, sometimes they will get in on the class and partake of the exercises, sometimes they will just observe, offer assistance or encouragement.
For the first exercise of the day, I read a poem by American beat poet Gregory Corso, who had a number of poems that had one-word titles that he would then riff off, so to speak: Bomb! Power! Marriage! I choose to read aloud Hair, a humorous poem about hair loss. I have a bald patch and shaved head, so this is apt. The poem ends triumphantly denouncing hair as a thing that clogs up sink holes and belongs to poodles.
I give each person a word with which they can write their own poem: love, hate, drugs, life, death, and so on. The room goes quiet, but the activity is furtive, creative, mindful. Pens scrawl, and dig, and mark the paper of the notepads, a music is playing in the room, a music made of poetry and feelings, and memories, and dreams.
The rain is falling on the window at my back, I look at the clock, time, we read, and listen, and applaud the poems; it’s time for the break, half hour, for tea, coffee, and smokes.
RADE, was started by its director, Mick Egan, an actor and playwright, in 2005. Situated off New Street in Dublin 8, the programme aims to fuel the creativity and well-being of drug users in various stages of addiction, from those still using street drugs to those who’re in full-time recovery, through mind-body work systems like tai chi and yoga, and through the arts of creative writing, painting, drama, and film.
RADE has won awards over the years. Their latest film was shown in the Irish Film Institute, Irish Light vs. Tony; all the actors in it are from the programme. It’s a parody and comical satire on the government’s Irish Water fiasco, and on modern-day bureaucracy, that endless torture of form-filling and departments and managers, and overseers, and the wrong office, and the wrong building.
Over the years, many well-known artists have worked with RADE to produce films, plays, pamphlets, comic books, and art exhibitions: Tony Curtis, Paula Meehan, Pat Boran, Lenny Abrahamson, Stuart Carolan, and a host of others.
I’ve worked there for the last two years as a teacher, a job that is rewarding on many different levels. I get to see how creativity and expression can have an effect on the lives of people living life on the edge of society, and help them somewhat in their struggle; this must surely be one of the true and useful aspects of art. Let’s hope RADE always keeps its funding.
I read aloud the ancient song-poem “The Song of Amergin“.
“That’s class,” says Billy.
Right then, let’s write our own song of ourselves, let’s have a go at writing some lines on who we see ourselves as, who we are, what are our metaphors, go on so, I say.
Pens start to move, songs start to come through from the deep well within. I can’t wait to hear them.