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"There are a lot of dead poets on tea towels in tourist shops - this is about live poetry"

Ireland’s a hotbed of activity in the spoken word and poetry worlds, as this new event proves.
Oct 15th 2015, 9:00 PM 6,516 3

IF ONE OF the world’s biggest spoken word stars – the inimitable Saul Williams – comes to Ireland for a festival, you know it’s a damn good spoken word event.

The lauded performer has been tempted to the country for the Lingo Festival, which brings a heap of spoken word and poetry events to Dublin this weekend.

This isn’t your boring poetry reading. It’s a weekend that aims to show the vibrancy, the fierce energy and the soul-shaking power of poetry, with a distinctly Irish element.

Source: Hollie McNish/YouTube

The debut Lingo last year exceeded all expectations. This second event – organised by Colm Keegan, Calle Ryan, Erin Fornoff, Linda Devlin, Stephen James Smith and Phil Lynch – wants to up the game, but not so much that it loses sight of things.

“Last year we were absolutely terrified,” said Keegan, a poet and writer. “You’d be biting your nails waiting for people to turn up.” But turn up they did, with the organisers feeling an “upswell of love and support for what we were doing”.

Lingo is run on a voluntary basis, to ensure that all the artists get paid. Keegan believes that the rising tide lifts all boats, and Lingo aims at bringing spoken word and poetry voices up and into the ears and lives of new listeners.

Historically, Ireland has always been the land of saints and scholars. There are a lot of dead poets on tea towels in tourist shops – this is about live poetry.

colm keegan Source: Colm Keegan

He said that today’s poets are reflecting what’s happening in Ireland: some have performed at water protests, or written about the housing crisis. They’re demonstrating a “direct emotional reaction” to what’s happening in the country.

“I think what’s happening with the arts in the country now is a real maturing,” said Keegan. “It’s very timely with 1916 celebrations coming in next year. I think poetry has a role to play in where the country’s going, and I think there’s a great asking rather than a great answering going on.”

Keegan described Ireland as having “begrudgery combined with audacity”. “That audacity bears out in the sporting field and in poetry,” he said. Poetry is “open to everybody”, it’s a flat playing field and not hierarchical.

What advice does he have for those who know nothing about the form, but are curious? Put the bias aside, he advises. “Every time you engage with a new piece of work, or every time you engage with a poem, you have to put your bias aside to let the poem in. Put your bias aside and listen.”

With good poetry, you “get a punch in the gut, get a flux in the heart, because the work is about us, it’s about humanity. It’s impossible not to be moved by it.

When something is live, you can feel the frisson in the room. It gives you goosepimples.

Words With Teeth

One of the highlights of Lingo will be Words With Teeth - this Sunday, 18 October - which sees Sarah Maria Griffin and Damon Blake joining forces to bring writers/performers like Tara Flynn, Dave Rudden and Jeanne Sutton to the stage.

The six writers involved will be competing by reading new material for a live audience, who will vote – by applause – for their favourite pieces.

Blake and Griffin both have a long history of event planning (Griffin founded ‘Scarlet for yer ma for having you’, a precursor to the likes of Mortified).

Words with Teeth is in part inspired by the pair’s time in San Francisco, a city to which they both coincidentally ended up moving at the same time.

They’ve taken elements from shows they loved in that US city, and combined them with a twist for this new show.

What we are trying to do is present a selection box of people who we think are hilarious, and within that it’s a night of world premieres.

“What that creates in a room or audience is a kind of a sense of excitement, a sense of trust with the performer. You are rooting for them if they are reading something they have never read before – you really want them to succeed,” said Griffin.

There’s a “certain energy” that comes with gently pitting people against each other. Each of the writers will read for five minutes about a subject that’s diametrically opposed to their competitor’s subject.

Excellently-kept secrets

Griffin cut her own teeth on live events, having been involved in nights like Milk and Cookies, and attended the Brownbread Mixtape and Glór. She’s watched as a scene has grown around these events, but described them as “in some ways [feeling] like excellently-kept secrets.”

Lingo is a way of bumping up such events’ profiles, agreed Griffin, who has noticed the scene having “grown taller” since her return home.

NotLost Source: New Island

Author of the essay collection Not Lost, Griffin is currently nearing the deadline for her second book, a work of young adult fiction called Spare and Found Parts. She also has another deadline for the spring.

Events like Lingo help to gather writers together, bringing them out of what can be a solitary craft. “Socialising with other writers is kind of magic,” said Griffin, who also credits Twitter with keeping the new breed of writers in touch with each other.

While in San Francisco, Twitter helped Griffin keep in contact with her Irish comrades at home.

I think the Irish writing world, though while all of us are unique and writing very different things, we are doing this together, we are doing this job together. And it’s a job we do alone, but it’s a job we absolutely do with one another. And I think the support that comes out – even if it’s a simple as a retweet – it’s a high five, it’s someone waving at you from across the cubicle.

For more information on Words With Teeth, visit the Facebook event page. The Lingo Festival can be found here.

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Aoife Barry

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