The inaugural BETTY MULCAHY POETRY SPEAKING COMPETITION was held in the Barn Theatre on 20th June, 2013.
Betty Mulcahy was training in mime at the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama when World War II interrupted her studies. However, her interest in poetry led to success in the English Festival of Spoken Poetry; followed by collaborations with poets, broadcasters and educationalists at the Midland Arts Association, the BBC, Anglia Television, the Poetry Society, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama; and she was inspired also by Rose Bruford who encouraged her to become a professional verse speaking artist. Betty performed to audiences across the English-speaking world and spent the decade of the 1980s touring the UK with the Michael Garrick Jazz Trio. She established the Speak-a-Poem competition in 1984 and created a show based on the life and poetry of Stevie Smith which she toured throughout the 1990s. And, she wrote two books: How To Speak A Poem and To Speak True: The Art of Speaking Poetry.
In 2011 Betty came to Rose Bruford College to take part in a poetry recital which was part of an event to celebrate the institution’s Diamond Jubilee. Cicely Berry CBE, Patron of the Rose Bruford Centre for Voice and Speech, opened the rose garden dedicated to the College’s founder and joined students, staff and invited speakers to participate in the evening’s recital. Here, Betty spoke two poems, Stevie Smith’s “The Galloping Cat” and a sonnet by e.e. cummings which, even at the age of 91, was a passionate and inspiring performance for all those privileged to hear her. At the end of the evening she was presented with a Bruford Green Rose for her services to poetry speaking.
Betty came to the event with her friend Jane Boston who wrote a year later:
“My last contact with Betty, only days before her death, involved discussion about poetry matters. It was important for Betty, as a tireless campaigner for the spoken word and the oral verse speaking tradition, to know that her work would go on. This was not only because it had provided her with a lifetime of both pleasure and intellectual nourishment, but also because she wished a similar experience for as many others as possible.”
Betty Mulcahy died at the age of 92 in December 2012.
Early the following year Kate Dyson, a member of Betty’s poetry speaking group in Brighton, wrote to the Principal indicating that she, her colleagues, and members of Betty’s family, wished to donate an annual poetry speaking prize open to all students of the College. Thus the Betty Mulcahy Poetry Speaking Competition was inaugurated in June 2013. The judging panel comprised Kate Dyson, an accomplished poetry speaker in her own right; Jane Boston, Director of the International Centre for Voice at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama; and Sally Grace, former Head of Voice at the College and now one of its Visiting Professors. The speakers were required to select one of the six compulsory poems on the theme of Summer, and spoke another of their own choice. The prize was won by George Pelham.
The date of the 2014 Betty Mulcahy Poetry Speaking Competition will be announced on this year’s National Poetry Day, Thursday 2nd October.