Telling a Story Without Using Words

Writing is about saying things, that much is true, the rest is up for debate.

What it means to tell a story, and indeed to have a story told to you, is different for every person. That said, there are some things we generally take for granted: plot; characters; dialogue; themes. But what does it mean to tell a story when you strip away the words?

Visual story telling is all around us; we see it in galleries and artsy cafes, in art-house movies; children’s books. But try for a moment to imagine a world without words. Would greeting cards work or would they just be postcards?  What about advertisement?

Words surround us so much now that it’s hard to think of life without them. But there is a space where Storytelling exists without words: Dance.

This week I went to see RAVENOUS in Dance Limerick. It’s a piece choreographed by Gary Clarke, and features Sarah Greene, Celina Jaffe, Niamh Kelly, Oran Leong and Bianca Paige Smith, as rave junkies seeking highs, both natural and designed, in the 1990s warehouse dance scene.

I’ve always found dance, and especially contemporary dance, to be extremely philosophical, artistic, and entertaining. RAVENOUS is more on the Dance-Theatre side than I’m used to seeing, but that’s what made it stand out.

Over the course of 45 minutes the dancers transport you back to the early 90s; to Thatcher on the waning edge of power; to council estate kids looking for kicks and finding empty lots; to music designed to blow the head off you and your neighbour’s windows.

With the dancers wearing black adidas tracksuits and looking like they’re about to get kicked out of Nancy’s, the audience is pulled into a tense relationship between storyteller and storytold. We’re given no room to breathe as the dancers fling themselves around the cavernous space of Dance Limerick; no time that is until the last ten minutes, when the plot grinds to its final conclusion in a mesmerising deconstruction of identity.

Telling a story without words is not only difficult, but often impossible to maintain as each viewer brings their own understanding to the piece. If you look to the art world, every hipster in a gallery has something to say on what the artist meant; but here, it is written in stone what Gary Clarke was harking on to. RAVENOUS deals with issues of place, of class, of identity, and power. Without words, he has managed to speak volumes for urban youth culture in the ’90s, and did it all while breaking a sweat on the uber-talented team of Step Up Dancers.

Everything in this kinaesthetic novel comes together; from light to sound, step to pause, to tell the story, and it’s a story worth hearing.

Stories have the power to move us, and in Dance, stories, themselves, move.


This article was written by Shane ‘I’m Up I’m Up’ Vaughan. If you have something to say and no where to say it, get in touch at

Telling a Story Without Using Words

Is ‘Slam’ Poetry?

You may have heard that Stanzas is branching out with a second event, called Slamzas, because the only thing we love more than words is fitting the word Stanzas into those words in some way.

We’re hoping for this to be a fun, but deadly serious, kind of an event. It’s a competition, not an open mic. There are strict rules, time limits, Dos and Don’ts. It’s got winner and losers – and that’s ok.

But, as we’ve been pondering this event, we’ve also got to think about the nature of ‘slam’, and what exactly is it compared to poetry?

Poetry, of course, is more of a catch all term than a specific genre. Songwriting is a kind of poetry. Movies can be ‘poetic’. There’s poetry-film, dance-poetry, and, the thing you’re most likely to see at Stanzas each month, page-poetry.

So what separates and unifies these elements, and where does Slam fit in?

Poetry, to us, is a sort of philosophy. It doesn’t demand clear narrative, it’s linked by themes or emotions rather than plot and characters. And it doesn’t always need or want to ‘makes sense’. Some poetry is just about getting an idea of a feeling off your chest. Some poetry is about delving deep into you and your place in the world.

Slam poetry can be all of these things as well, but we tend to find that Slam is often more politically oriented than other forms of poetry. That’s not to say Slam is devoid of Philosophy. It isn’t. But your less likely to find a musing on the self in a slam poem and more likely to tackle issues of identity, gender, sexuality, feminism, ageism, and class. These overtly political commentaries are rooted in the Beatnik tradition from whence slam erupted (though yes, slam-like poetry has been around for longer than the Beats,, but that’s another blog post altogether). The Beats rejected the emerging American culture post-WWII and sought to re-connect man with mankind. Their words were powerful bullets ricocheting against an increasingly capitalist and consumerist society.

In the ’80s, slam began to organise into competitive events. The rules were formed: get as close to 3 minutes as you can. Never use a page or a prop. Be a poet and also a performer. Be judged. Win, or lose.

For some, the act of judging poetry is scandalous. Poetry should be witnessed and felt, not critiqued and judged. And that can true or page-poetry (though again, there are many page-poetry competition, but, again, that’s another blog post). But as soon as you gather some poets, create rules, and pit them against one another, you demand for it to be judged. And judging things is fine. There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘This poem satisfied these arbitrary criteria more so than this other poem.‘ It doesn’t mean a poem or poet is better than another, it just means in that moment, that place, that time, you won.

So all slam is poetry, but not all poetry is slam. The reason why we’re starting Slamzas is because we want to give everyone both options: either to show up once a month at Stanzas and express themselves in a safe and open environment; or sigh up bi-monthly for Slamzas and have a crack at being the best poet of that particular night.

And if for no other reason, at least you might be able to make a buck out of slam.


Slamzas takes place on the first Friday of every other month in The Stormy Teacup. Our first event starts September 1st, and is 5 euro to come as an audience member, or free if you’re entering to perform. See our dedicated slam page to sign up at

As always, if you want to see your own words up here on our blog just send us your ideas to This article was written by Shane ‘Hasn’t a Clue’ Vaughan.

Is ‘Slam’ Poetry?

Things Fall Apart

Have you ever had one of those days/weeks/years when everything and everyone seems out to get you? Like the universe is plotting your personal downfall? Well, I’ve had one of them this week, and it’s been a royal pain in the rump.

Between dodgy printers and broken CDs, this week has been one hit after another. I wouldn’t mind personally, but all of this impacts on my ability to put on a fun-filled stanzas that is open and warm and welcoming and kind: because how the hell can I be warm and kind when I’m feeling like I could go Full Vesuvius at any moment?

But here’s the thing, and it’s a comforting thing: The universe isn’t out to get you. In fact. The universe doesn’t care. It’s indifferent. Barely knows your name. Couldn’t give a fiddlers!

And yes, that is fundamentally a comforting thing.

You see, this world is one of possibility, but you have to make those possibilities possible. Not the universe, not your friends or family, just you. People will, mostly, help you out, and every now and then you have to cut an asshole loose, but for the most part this life is about you and your actions trying to better yourself.

So this week I had a run in with a cartridge of ink and I lost; so I broke the CD that held the video I was going to show at the event; so I wasted so long folding paper I forgot about a deadline for another project – so what?

Each day is a new day. The sun goes up, the sun goes down, the sun goes up again. The universe isn’t out to get you, it doesn’t care. So stop whining, take that shower, and get the fuck over yourself. We live in the most prosperous, knowledgeable, and free society that has ever been crafted. Get out there. Make a life for yourself.

Oh, and tonight? Whatever else happens, there will always be poets and there will always be poems.

OnWords xx


This blog post was written by Shane ‘Full Steam Ahead’ Vaughan. If you’d like to see your words in print or online, get in touch at

Things Fall Apart

Serve – Alison in the Philippines

So my time is almost up and I will be on a flight home to our beautifully cold island on Friday. This trip has been filled with brilliant highs and a few lows. The lows mostly consisting of heat rash (absolutely everywhere)… a bit to much sun burn and generally just being hot and damp all of the time. The highs of course come from the wonderful people I have met here and the pure joy of the Badjao children have as we walk in each morning. The community here have been so welcoming and I will be sad to leave them.

We arrive every morning at about 8:45 after getting two jeepneys and risking our lives at least once crossing the road. Seemingly traffic lights and pedestrian crossings mean little to nothing here. Just like seat belts, they’re more of a decoration. Any time we have gotten a taxi I haven’t even been able to click mine in. After our jeepeny rides which are reminisce of a game of Mario Kart as they swerve around each other moving at top speed when they are given the chance, which to be fair is not often as traffic here is chock a block. Once off the jeepeny we then bored a trysikad witch is a bike with a metal side car type thing attached and we are brought to the school. The ride is pleasant for about one minute as we swoosh down a smooth hill and get a nice breeze on our faces something usually only received from a fan or air con. Then the journey becomes rather a bumpy one and sometimes dirty as we splash into puddles left by the rain from the night before. We now have no need to tell our trysikad driver “Badjao school please” they know where the white people go.

Once we arrive at the school we sometimes have a coffee and give ourselves a little bit of time. I often think about how strange it is to have everyone say “Good Morning” “Hello Mam” “What’s your name?” “Americana” “Hello foreigners” “You are beautiful” “I love you mam!” I’ll be glad of people passing without a word or simply a polite nod and “How yeah” when I get home. Once 9:10am hits we are in classes with a lot of still a little frightened faces looking up at the giant white people with the weird big blue eyes. (I am actually considered tall here!). But at this stage they warm up again quickly. The children vary in ages between the three montessori classes. Edweena has the babies from about 2 to 4. Annie then has 4 to 6 and Venerva has 5 to 7 year olds, and of course Junree has his adult educati9n classes ranging in ages from about 16 to 40 depending on the class. The teachers here are so brilliant, very calm and caring and incredibly welcoming. Annie and Edwina arrived at the school almost 15 years ago when it was merely a one room house and you can see that the people and the children here have really become part of their families. Venerva and Junree are then a testament to their work and the work of all those who help the Badjao community and Nano Nagle school as they themselves are Badjao and now are teachers to their community. The Badjao pride themselves on what they have accomplished over the years and only wish that other people would see them for their achievements and not for their pasts as beggars. The drive of the students I have been working with is inspiring and many wish to go into teaching, social care and health care. All these people want to do is grow with education and help each other and others outside of their community.

Montessori classes in the Nano Nagle school are run very similarly to those at home with an emphasis on learning through play and actions. The biggest differences here I think are that children must learn to use tables and chairs while at school as most Badjao home don’t have any, as well as this the little ones must learn three new languages before moving onto the public elementary. Yup you read that right three! The Badjao speak their own language so the young ones must learn English, Cebuno (the local dialect) and Tagalog (the national language) It’s really lovely to sit in on the classes and watch the teachers with the children they have such a calming presence and the kids really respond to that. However it is strange to have 15 or so children absolutely terrified of you. At first we were all trying to be as small as possible and to give them big smiling eyes like you would at home but turns out our eyes were one of the main problems because as is common in Ireland they are mostly blue, and the children were frightened by this. As well as our then porcelain skin (which for some is now a bit redder and for others a bit browner) Where the children were frightened by our pallor the adults and teens were jealous. At home we cover ourselves in fake tan to feel pretty and more confident and here they use skin whitener for the same effect, we see the beauty in them that they only see in us and visa versa.

Junris adult education classes are always fun with parents eager to learn and some young people unable to attend the high school. Yet again you can see how much respect students here have for their teachers the love is real. During one class I even had the opera unity to teach some Tagalog… I know, sure I can barely speak Irish not a mind teaching an entirely foreign language, but Tagalog is very phonetic which helped. The only sentence I fully remember now is “Malalaki ang mga puno” meaning “The trees are big”

We also had the opportunity while here to visit the Elementary school and High school that the Badjao attend and frankly it was a bit strange. The class sizes are massive with about 50 per class and the Elementary catering for around 3000 students and the High school around 5000 (6000 if you add the night class students) We were walked around both schools and presented with the Badjao children which for them as well as us was a bit awkward, and while at the High School there was a photo shop with every Badjao group. It was strange as we walked around the schools and were greeted by screaming/ cheering young people, not because we were famous or they knew us but because we were white.

It’s incredibly hard to sum up the wonderful experience I have had working with everyone here. The teens I have been doing drama workshops have been particularly inspiring with their enthusiasm and energy. I worked along with Cónoll ( a fellow volunteer, if his name did not give it away) to create an inclusive and varied workshop program for the week. We start the week with freeze frames to do with peer pressure and it was really encouraging as the teens began to understand the term that they were able to give us many different types and were really open to the work and creating freeze frames for us. On Wednesday we move onto our cultural exchange where we begin to bring in language by creating words and actions to describe Irish and Badjao cultural activities, ie spear fishing, Badjao dancing, volleyball, hurling, football and Irish dancing. I think that day was always one of my favourites as the teens get really into the Irish activities and inventive with explaining their culture. Then on Thursday the real play making begins with the story of Setanta it’s great to see the teens on their feet and really starting to get stuck in while recreating the story of Setanta. At the end of the first week of wrote a short play where Setanta meets the Badjao tribe and we began to work with that on the Friday. I had hoped to use a Badjao legend but the students weren’t up to sharing stories and liked the idea of Badjao meeting the Irish hero. “I Am Cu Cullen!” is now often shouted as myself or Cónoll pass by, it’s brilliant.

Saturdays have been spent working with adults and teens on cultural growth and having fun. We worked with the adults in the importance if having one name. It is common custom here that if a child falls I’ll the parents will change their name as if to dispel evil spirits but this can cause a lot of confusion when getting ID and applying for school, work, going to the hospital etc. We have also worked with the teens on their history and present and increasing their pride for their culture. And our last Saturday was spent running around the gardens of the Holy Family Retreat Centre (our accommodation when we weren’t with host families) for the annual sports day and it was absolutely brilliant to see everyone outside of the school/community, and I actually really enjoyed it even though my thing is more lifting things up and putting them down again rather than running around.

Though I feel like I haven’t done this amazing experience justice I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into the work I have been doing for the month. I am so grateful for all those who supported me on my way to this wonderful community I never would have made it here without your generosity and would recommend traveling with Serve to anyone looking to volunteer abroad.


This blog post was written by Alison ‘Superwoman’ McCarthy. If you’d like to see your words in print, just let us know!

Serve – Alison in the Philippines

There Are Two Kinds of Readers

There are two kinds of readers – those who use bookmarks, and monsters.

I, am a monster.

But before you send me neatly written letters of protest and burn down my place of reading, let me explain.

I love books. I love them for what they are: an imaginative experience. I love holding books (fuck you, kindle), I love how they smell, the au de nostalgia, I love the font (or, sometimes, I hate the font, which is also interesting), I love the covers, and yes, I judge them as a piece of art in themselves, I love when the title on Stephen King books are raised and you run your finger over the bumps and I love that it’s tacky but also appropriate, and I love re-reading books, and re-re-reading books, and I love remembering lines and I love seeing a book well-used.

And it’s that last part, well-used, that makes me the monster I am.

Some time back I was re-reading Watchmen, a most-excellent graphic novel, and if your only understanding of Watchmen is the film then put away everything you know because you need to read the novel, mmkay? Anyway, I was reading through it, and, as often happens at the end of a long year of working hard, I was getting sleepy. So, I thought, I’ll just finish this page and then turn over and get some beauty sleep (of which I am seriously lacking.)

And then, just then, as I turned the corner of the page up the top right-hand-side, something funny happened. The corner bent with ease along a crease I had made at this exact moment some five years previous.

I paused for a moment and pressed the corner down, raised it up, pressed it down. Suddenly I was a barely-young-man, reading Watchmen for the first time, still living at home, mostly, still split between the halves of my self that wanted to see the world and hide under the duvet.

I have books at home that I have bled on. Books where I was so tense, enthralled and raptured that I bit my lip and shed on the page. Sometimes, when things are very tough, I turn up that memory, of the little boy blue-eyes worrying over fictitious characters until he bled. I have books that I’ve read until the pages came off and the corners rounded out. I have books I’ve spilled juice on, books I’ve left in the rain, books I’ve lost and found and given away and the thing that unites all these books is my hand. Every press of thumb to the corner, every faded-ink stain, every rip and tear and crumple; they are my design.

A book is only a book, until you make it your own. And it’s ok if you want to use bookmarks and keep your treasures clean. But I’ve always been a blood on the page kind of guy.


This blog was written by Shane ‘Well That Was Macabre’ Vaughan. If you’d like to see your words go on our bloggy-wog, just send your ideas in to

There Are Two Kinds of Readers