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"Art's job is to question the status quo, not to ever accept it" - Spoken word and social change

A spoken word festival will be held across multiple venues in Dublin this week.

5thE Ballymun rappers 5th Element. Source: Lingo festival

ART CAN OCCUPY a space in society where it reaches out and engages people, inspiring those on the fringes to raise their voices for social justice and to become involved with prominent issues in the world around them.

That’s what the organisers of the Lingo spoken word festival believe, and they’re putting socially engaged poetry at the forefront of their festival this year.

Spoken word and performance poetry has grown in popularity in Ireland over the past number of years, with open mic nights, spoken word gigs, and poetry slams a common feature in cities across the country.

Lingo Festival was started two years ago to try to bring these disparate elements of the spoken word scene together in one place for a weekend, and to raise awareness of the role of art (in this case, spoken word poetry) in Irish society.

It will take place this weekend in Dublin city across multiple venues. The festival – now in its third year – hosts homegrown and international spoken word acts in a wide range of events.

Art for change

This year, one the central themes is focusing on art (in this case, spoken word poetry) and how it can be used as a vehicle for bringing about social engagement and change.

“The theme is to show how this artform and others can be used to affect real social change,” Linda Devlin, one of the festival organisers, told TheJournal.ie.

Linda is the only person of the festival founders who is not a poet in her own regard. Her background is in community involvement.

“At the start I think we all saw the transformative effect poetry could have on people and were thinking there was more we could do with this,” she said.

This year the festival will feature the likes of Blindboy Boatclub from the Rubberbandits and Panti Bliss, as well as other performers and poets who have used artistic expression to highlight prominent social issues.

Sarah_Clancy

Questioning the status quo

Sarah Clancy, a poet and community activist from Galway, will feature as this year’s festival poet laureate.

“They had this idea of the theme of this festival being about the power of poetry or the power of raising your voice for social justice this year,” Clancy told TheJournal.ie.

And I suppose that’s something that I’ve spoken up about on various different occasions in the past.

Clancy said that her poetry is “political”, not in the sense of party politics, but more in always questioning how things are.

“Art’s job – if it has a job – is to question the status quo, not to ever accept it,” she said.

Source: Stanzas Limerick/YouTube

She said that since the economic collapse, social movements – like the water charges protests, the marriage equality referendum or the recent Repeal the Eighth campaign – have had a strong artistic element to them.

“In some ways poetry is the perfect vehicle because it can deliver a message in ways that really affect people,” she said.

There’s a reason why people who have no use for poetry in their daily lives suddenly find themselves using it at funerals, or using it to mark ceremonies or quoting it.

Clancy said poetry can stand among other forms of expression in that it can be used effectively to inspire or mobilise people.

“People borrow messages in poetry all the time, even without realising it,” she said.

International

Last year, the festival played host to top international acts like Saul Williams and Holly McNish as well as a wealth of homegrown talent.

This year will be no different, and will see acts like US hip hop and spoken word artist Sage Francis (supported by Ballymun rappers 5th Element) and Canadian-Palestinian spoken word artist and activist Rafeef Ziadah take to the stage.

sagefrancis_coppergone_pressphoto_470px Sage Francis.

For Clancy, the poetry of Rafeef Ziadah encapsulates what she says about poetry being able to highlight social wrongs and inspire change.

“Probably one of the most powerful pieces of spoken word poetry ever heard is her We Speak Life Sir,” said Clancy.

The poem focusses on Ziadah’s experience in Palestine and the anger and sense of injustice she feels about the state of her homeland and the world’s reaction to it.

“It’s been seen close to a million times so it’s probably better than any news article,” said Clancy.

“You can read all the news reports you want but I think when you see a young woman reacting like that you can’t help but be touched by it.

It changes you somehow. And I think at its best that’s what powerful poetry can do, it can leave you a little bit changed.

Ziadah will be performing at an event on Saturday with Clancy herself. The event will also feature an extended original piece of work by Irish poet Sorcha Fox.

Source: sternchenproductions/YouTube

What’s on

The festival features a range of events across Friday, Saturday and Sunday – some will be free and some will be pay-in.

Four top poets from the four corners of Ireland will be speaking tomorrow night at the Workman’s Club, followed by a poetry slam featuring the best artists in the country; there will be a workshop specifically for young children on Sunday; and there will be open mics for anyone willing to stand up and say a few words.

“This festival is about bringing together all the elements of spoken word in the country and the talent on offer,” said Devlin.

We want to get as many people as we can to come down and enjoy it.

A full festival programme and tickets for events are available here

Read: ‘One way of healing yourself is to own your story’: Growing up in an abusive home

Read: “There are a lot of dead poets on tea towels in tourist shops – this is about live poetry”

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