Alan Cooke, AKA the Wild Irish Poet, is a gifted young artist with a bright future ahead of him. Cooke is a writer, stage actor, film maker, voiceover artist, photographer, and (of course) a poet. At 34, Cooke has already received his first taste of success. In 2009, Cooke won an Emmy Award for Best Writing for a Documentary for this collaborative film Home.
Over the course of the last few days, I have had the opportunity to exchange Facebook messages and emails with Cooke. I was interested in learning more about this thirty-something artist. In particular, I am interested in the artist journey. I’m fascinated with artists, activists, thinkers, and generally movers and shakers of all strips. I want to know what makes them tick. I want to know about their childhood, the places they’ve been, and the adventures they’ve had. I want to know their stories.
Cooke’s writings delicately laces (sometimes a bit sentimentally) the seemingly instinctual desire to understand one’s own home and the journey one takes in the mysterious adventure of life. Often his work is an exploration into what we already know of ourselves (our past) and what we can only image as possible for our future. All the while, Cooke meticulously observes his surroundings with eloquence.
When reading Cooke’s poetry and prose you will often image yourself walking next to the artist as he is engaged in a conversation with his audience. His writing is often delivered as a monologue, yet you feel like he is talking directly to you. When listening to his audios, you don’t want to say a thing, for fear of interrupting him because he is spilling his soul out to you. Somehow, Cooke’s narratives often come out both reflective and inspirational at the same time.
Cooke’s audio reading of Naked in New York, based on the narrative from the film Home, can be purchased at www.wildirishpoet.com. In addition, for the holidays, at the same link, Cooke is offering a fantastic download of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, in which Cooke uses no less than 15 unique voices to narrate the story. But now I’m giving too much away. I’ll let Alan Cooke tell us his own story.
DW: For those that are not familiar with your work, the places you called home play a huge role in your poetry and prose. Please tell us a little bit about your background. Where were you born? Where did you grow-up? What was it like for you growing up?
AC: I was born in Dublin , Ireland, a place called Kilbarrack. A working class area close to the ocean. It was filled with character and light and many memories. I forget that I had a childhood filled with the streets. Filled with so many extraordinary moments wrapped in ‘normality.’ I played for many hours everyday. No computers ,no phones, no internet, no distractions. Only friends.. nature.. the sky.. the ocean.. the smells and sights and sounds of a childhood. We did not have much. But I never thought about what I had or did not have in terms of materialism. It is like an infection in the world now. Measuring my material worth and gain. I had football and cycling and climbing and walks. I always loved to walk for hours. Anywhere. Even the same places over and over again. I think I got my love of wandering as a child. The idea of your feet guiding you into the unknown. The idea of your senses as a boy touching the universe when you lay down on the grass in a field. Or walked up a hill. Looking back now I see and understand more the notion of freedom. The idea of no responsibilities. The world is around you but not like when you are an adult when the world, its darkness and sadness starts to seep into your soul. As a child I was filled with joy. I sometimes wonder if a child could see what life is like as an adult would rob them of their innocence? Being Irish growing up and looking back was something special. I feel the Irish with all their inner strife have some boundless quality of play in their hearts and I have tried to retain that as an adult.
DW: I understand you have worked as a stage actor. Was acting a dream of yours as a kid? Did you formally study theater in college? Can you tell us about some of the plays you most enjoyed performing in?
AC: I never dreamt of careers as a kid. I was too much enjoying being in the moment. I studied acting when I was 23. I saw a notice on a board and went and read and something clicked. I was always good at being funny and doing voices. I did not realize till later that I was a keen observer of the human condition. So all these qualities lent themselves to me finding acting something I could express myself very deeply in and easily. I have done Shakespeare and some one man shows and shows for kids and some heavy classical stuff. I do not have a favorite. Each one brought out something deep inside me. Acting on stage is like sculpting in 3 dimensions. It aligns all these deep and dark faculties within. It can be like a live alchemical explosion in your veins that bursts out through words and movements. It is as once simple and utterly complex and mysterious. The idea of pretending to be a human is in itself an oxymoron!.
DW: Other than home, the journey seems to be a central theme in much of your work. Can you tell us why you decided to go to New York? What did you learn from your experience in New York? Why did you leave the Big Apple and go back to Ireland?
AC: I had just finished a play. I went to New York to visit a friend two weeks after the towers had fallen. I arrived on the A train. I arrived in the darkest hour. I was naive but that is a beautiful thing when you cross the ocean to do something new. I feel looking back something within me was calling out to leave home. Something within was laying out an unknown road. Looking back even though I wrote my book Naked in New York about my experience there I still find it remains a mystery as to why I packed my suitcase and just left. I think it is all part of an ancient human yearning to explore and tread over boundaries into the new. New York broke me many times. The grand eloquence of 10 million people and all their woes and dreams and fears and energies shifted my spirit into places I could not even comprehend. New York is a tough town. For those who have lived there we know. For those yet to try I say… beware but dive in. It has all the most beautiful and ugly aspects of the human condition. I learned an enormous amount about my limitations, my expectations, my ideologies, my fears and my dreams. I strove for greatness, I fell to the depths of my own shame and weaknesses. I learned to be fearless and also when to respect something more powerful than you. New York can be a city of rough hewn dreams of a hades and a nightmare. It depends on the roll of the dice. I left New York because I felt I had experienced 40 years of living in 6. I was burnt out and exhausted. I need to go back to Ireland and lick my wounds. I was a changed man. I was filled with so much of the city, I needed a place to come to write it all out. The madness, the wonder, the joy and the moments, the billion moments that still resonate with me today. So I came back. I live in the west of Ireland and there I wrote three books. One about New York ‘ Naked in New York’ One about Ireland ‘ The Spirit of Ireland, an Odyssey Home.’ And a dark thriller which I just finished.
DW: Your 2009 film Home , which you collaborated on with director Dawn Scibilia, was a grand success, winning two Emmy’s. Essentially, the film is a montage of interviews with immigrants and native New Yorkers woven with your own thoughts and reflections of life in New York and strikingly beautiful images of the city. This is a two part question, (a) how did you approach interviewing your guests on the subject and (b) can you please explain your writing process during the making the film?
AC: HOME was a collaboration that was borne out of frustration from a newly graduated film maker and a frustrated actor ( me). We just set out wandering the streets of New York and with no script or firm idea we created a landscape of moments. It was like painting blind on a canvas. But the canvas was an enormous metropolis filled with the most diverse nationalities on earth. I wrote the text as I went along. It poured out of me. Sometimes I would see an image. Some fragment of a second, like a man weeping along in the cracks of the sidewalk or a small bird bathing in a bath of oily water that would inspire me to write long and sometimes metaphorical monologues to tie the whole film together. We approached famous people as well as ordinary people with no expectations. It was not too long after 9-11 and the city was an open wound, yet it was still filled with spirit. We wanted to create a homage to the city. An uplifting poem. We were led by our instincts, innocence and maybe some kind of destiny to many beautiful people from all walks of life. But on the star front we really never expected to get Woody Allen or Liam Neeson, or Mike Myers and people of that caliber. But it happened because I believe if you are following your path doors will open. Many doors of wonder and possibility. And that was HOME. It was a dream realized and unfolding as we went along towards some predetermined fate.
DW: Since your return to Ireland you have been busy. I believe you recently you finished the film The Spirit of Ireland, which you describe as, “an epic new film about all what is beautiful, sad, powerful, poetic, and heroic about Ireland and its people”. The only thing I might add is “political”. Certainly your piece The Rising’ Speech for Ireland and The World reads like an Occupy Ireland manifesto. Can you talk about the current political conditions in Ireland, including the economy, your own views, and why you wanted to write this piece?
AC: Well sadly I began making the Spirit of Ireland but it remains unfinished. It still needs funding. I wanted to take another odyssey around my own country. I was lost coming back to Ireland so I took to wandering again. Ireland was ‘booming’ awash with cheap money and cheap souls. It was filled with snarling greedy faces and a rush to become materially seduced and hypnotised. It was a dark time. Though soon all that would break apart. We are now left with a shattered nation. There was and is some very dark forces at work in the economic world. Men who create fiscal revolutions with the pen. The gun is no longer needed. Lives can be devastated with the flick of a pen. Ireland fell foul to I believe terrible corruption. There is a flicker of light. I think and I hope there is still something in the Irish that is mysterious and noble and grand and poetic. We have lost our way but I think there is still light in our hearts. We just need to face our past, our wounds, our shame and our hardship and stand tall as warriors. I have had some extraordinary experiences here in the west. A white horse coming to my door. Hawks following me. Wild birds living in my letterbox. Hard white winters and lonely evenings and summers filled with rain and wind and endless sunsets. I have been transformed again here. And I believe when you come back you see your old home for what it truly is.
DW: Your podcast interviews on The Wild Hour Show are fascinating. Can you share with us how you go about preparing for an interview, how long have you been doing these shows, and what do you want to accomplish with these podcasts?
AC: The Wild Hour Show started with the idea of trying to create original culture and to bring back conversation and non corporate radio. It is amazing what you can do with a MAC and some strong ideas. I started the first podcast with a 2 hour conversation with a novelist and it grew from there. I have done ten of them and they have travelled around the world. It is another outlet of expression for me. The response has been amazing. I get to exchange words and views and passions with other artists and to shine a light on what is I believe important subjects that was not in the mainstream media but also to give people a break from the endless corporate messages of the modern world. We are all burned out to some degree and people like to come to a programme or radio podcast that is like listening to two people in a bar talking about life.
DW: Can you please share with us a little bit about your audio recordings. I believe earlier in the year you read Edger Allan Poe’s The Raven and recently you have released the complete audio presentation of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. Is it true you used 15 unique voices to tell the famous holiday tale?
AC: Well it is like I have come full circle. The very first creative project I did was when I was 16. I recorded a funny story making my own sound effects and doing all the voices. Now we come to my life many years later. I have recorded a lot of poems, audio books, audition pieces and narratives I wrote with my Mac book. I always need to be expressing myself. It is in my heart and soul. Then last year I started recording A Christmas Carol. I found it to be deeply creative and fun. I got to play all the 15 voices in the play and to edit and create the entire story myself. It felt very empowering. I self directed it and created my own vision of the story. I have always been a very strong mimic and have a powerful and flexible voice. So I got to unleash all of those talents in one sitting. And I think A Christmas Carol is very timely considering the enormous greed and selfishness in the world right now. It is a timeless morality fable to remind us of what is important in our lives.
DW: Finally, I know this question is cliché but I’ll ask it anyway, what advice would you provide to other writers, actors, and aspiring artists? What are your thoughts on the mainstream avenues to get your work out verse the alternative media avenues like blog sites and YouTube?
AC: I would say, Expect hardship and mild insanity. But also expect extraordinary moments. Expect poverty and maybe wealth. I would say do it if you heart yearns for it. I would say never give up and never compare your success of lack of it to others. I would say carve your own road regardless what others tell you. It can be an amazing ride. Sadly a lot don’t make it. But if you have talent, heart, and courage it is possible. It is always possible…I have launched so much of my work alone. My main website you can download my audio book, watch all my Youtube narratives. Order HOME my Emmy winning New York film. You can now also download and listen to A Christmas Carol. I think as artists we all need maximum publicity and exposure. It is the most important element. Most struggle to market their creative projects. But I think one can feed the other. I think the advent of blogs and Youtube and other types of self-marketing have enabled those without a voice to finally have one. You can write a book, market and launch it all sitting in front of your laptop. That is a form of power and democracy. Art is power. History is filled with The Chaplin’s and the Picasso’s who were great self-promoters. They would probably love this era. I think amazing things are coming to us in this world despite the doom and gloom. There is an beautiful era arriving soon. I think an old way of living is dying and I think artists will regain their proper place in society again. No longer marginalised but actually as bardic poets and dreamers leading us to a better place in ourselves and our humanity. So I keep pushing forward with all my crazy dreams till that day comes.
You can buy and downloading or CDs of Alan Cooke narrate A Christmas Carol and Naked in New York, a literary odyssey memoir at www.wildirishpoet.com. Buy the Emmy winning film Home at www.homethemovie.com. Also, to support or donate to Cooke’s most recent project go to www.thespiritofirelandfilm.wordpress.com. To listen to his podcasts and make a donation visit www.thewildhourshow.wordpress.com.