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 and composer based in London working in the area of improvisation, composition and physical movement and its correlation with sound. Awarded UK Vocalist of the year at the JazzFM Awards (2016), she performs throughout the UK and Europe as a soloist, a bandleader, and within several cross-arts projects. She sings and composes in many outfits including Snowpoet with multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson. She is a passionate educator and holds a principle lecturing post at Leeds Conservatoire. Lauren Kinsella is supported by PRS for Music Foundation and The Arts Foundation. She is the 2017 recipient of The Arts Foundation Fellowship for Jazz composition.
Irish composer Ed Bennett was born in Bangor, Co.Down. His music, which has been described in the press as ‘anarchic’ (Irish Times), ‘manic’ (Classical Music) and ‘thrilling’ (Gramophone) is often characterized by its strong rhythmic energy, extreme contrasts and the combination of acoustic, electronic and multimedia elements; it was recently described in The Guardian as ‘unclassifiable, raw-nerve music of huge energy and imagination’ and by Sinfini Music as ‘one of the most scintillating voices to emerge of late from the British Isles.’ His body of work includes large-scale orchestral works, ensemble pieces, solo works, electronic music, opera, installations and works for dance and film.
He performs with and directs his own ensemble, Decibel, which is dedicated to the performance of new and experimental cross-discipline work and with whom he has released three critically acclaimed CDs of his music. Dzama Stories (Quartz Music) was described as ‘a glorious addition to the contemporary canon…I haven’t heard a disc of Irish Composition as vital and as urgent as this in a long while’ (Musical Criticism, 5/5 stars) and My Broken Machines (NMC) was Chicago Time Out’s No.1 Contemporary CD of 2011. His most recent release ‘Togetherness’ (2018) was described in a 5 star review in Classical Music Magazine as ‘high-octane music that demands the listeners attention.’