In this dispassionate, intelligent work, Smyth teases out the under-examined role of colonialism in causing the largest migration of the 19th century and brings to it her trademark blend of emotional density and spacious compassion.
Soft white air blanked moon and stars.
Sleepless in the alcove
of turf light:
we were in death poses but didn’t know it.
Famished makes an important contribution to understanding a key historical event. Smyth was inspired by the maritime migrant crisis, which evokes the ‘coffin ships’ that carried the Irish across the Atlantic. Famished is the first long poem to examine women’s role in the Famine, interweaving often brutal historical facts with imagined lyrical voices of the 1840s. Richly unsettling, Famished is a polyvocal work whose richness lies in the variety of forms and registers it takes up. It offers an overlap of traditional lyric, historical quotation, stark facts, autobiography, nursery rhyme and lists.
One potato, two potato, three potato, four,
five potato, six potato, seven potato, more…
Through the collaboration with a composer and vocalist, Famished broadens the poetic text to a cross-arts performance. The commissioned score by Ed Bennett provokes the boundaries of Irish traditional music resulting in a 60-minute performance, with spoken word, music and expanded singing.