Monday 25 March 2019, 7.30pm
Famished is a poetic sequence by Cherry Smyth that explores the Irish Famine and how imperialism helped cause the largest refugee crisis of the 19th century. Smyth collaborates with composer Ed Bennett and vocalist Lauren Kinsella to draw on the power of collective lament, using music and expanded singing.
Inspired by the current migrant crisis, which evokes the ‘coffin ships’ that crossed the Atlantic, Famished details the impact of the Famine on women particularly and how famine followed the Union Jack. As Smyth says, ‘If the Famine happened now, we’d be in the boats.’
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.
Cherry Smyth is an Irish writer, born in County Antrim, living in London. Her first two poetry collections, When the Lights Go Up, 2001 and One Wanted Thing, 2006 were published by Lagan Press. The Irish Times wrote of the latter: ‘Here is clarity and realism, couched in language that is accessible and inventive. The title poem carries all Smyth's hallmarks: precision, linguistic inventiveness and joy.’ Her third collection Test, Orange, 2012, was published by Pindrop Press and her debut novel, Hold Still, Holland Park Press, appeared in 2013. She also writes for visual art magazines including Art Monthly. New poems were included in the anthology 'The Female Line Anthology of Northern Irish Women's Writing', New Island Press, 2017. She is currently working on Famished, a long poem and performance about the Irish Famine and has collaborated with the Dublin band, Roamer, on a forthcoming album. See www.cherrysmyth.com
Lauren Kinsella is an Irish vocalist based in London. Her work as a composer, improviser, collaborator and performer has been described as “truly captivating” (For Folk’s Sake), “stunning” (BBC Radio 3) and with “inventive curiosity and imagination” (Irish Examiner). A regular performer at many of London’s celebrated venues and festivals including Kings Place, Cafe Oto, the Vortex, the Royal Albert Hall, Southbank Centre, Songlines Encounters and the London Jazz Festival, she has also performed at several European festivals including Unerhört Jazz (Switzerland), InJazz (Netherlands), Cool Britannia (Vienna), Klaeng (Cologne), Down With Jazz (Ireland), Ankara International Music Festival (Istanbul), 12 Points (Porto), Dublin Literary Festival (Ireland), European Jazznights (Oslo), Jazzy Colours (Paris), Belfast Literary Festival (UK), Südtirol Jazz Festival (Italy) and the Cardiff Poetry Festival (Wales). She specialises in improvisation and her unique style of vocalisation involves exploring the different types of vocabulary connected with vocal and instrumental sound. From singing to speech, utterance to lexicon, syllabic deconstruction to stream of consciousness, Lauren’s work celebrates the human voice in multi-faceted ways. “A modernist, Kinsella is pushing vocal improvisation into new areas” (AllAboutJazz)
Irish composer Ed Bennett’s music is regularly performed and broadcast in over 30 countries in venues including New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, London’s Barbican and South Bank Centres and the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels. Recent projects include ‘Psychedelia’ for the RTE NSO, ’Ausland’ for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Reinbert de Leeuw, ‘Song of the Books’ for the Crash Ensemble and four critically-acclaimed portrait discs of his work. He performs with his 10-piece ensemble Decibel who were described in the Quietus as ‘blending the coiled concentration of the best post-minimalism with the ferocity and dynamic range of thrash metal’ and plays live electronics both solo and in a duo with pianist Xenia Pestova. In 2019 Ed Bennett was awarded the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Major Individual Artist Award, the highest honour awarded to an artist from the region, his work has been twice shortlisted for the Ivor Novello awards. His latest portrait CD ‘Psychedelia’ (2020) was described in the Sunday Times as ‘Ebullient, deeply compelling music’ and featured in the New York Times as one of their recommended releases of 2020.