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'A brave, dignified and skilful exploration of a harrowing Irish and human experience.' Philip Lynch, publisher

Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre is delighted to announce that Cherry Smyth's Famished, a collaborative performance that explores the legacy of the Irish Famine is coming to Skibbereen.

Smyth is considered one of Irelands most accomplished poets and in this dispassionate, intelligent work, she 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.

Smyth has developed Famished as a collaborative performance with composer Ed Bennett and vocalist Lauren Kinsella. A key part of the project is the translation of the text Famished into Irish by poet Aifric MacAodha and writer Aoife Casby.

Famished is touring the UK and Ireland in 2019, participating in the Dublin Literature Festival in May and the Belfast Book Festival in June.

Soft white air blanked moon and stars.

Sleepless in the alcove

of turf light:

we were in death poses but didnt 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 womens 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.

The symphonic lyricism of the poetry is powerfully amplified by harmonic vocalisations by Lauren Kinsella. The shape of the words is occasionally deconstructed and transmitted into a language of sound and noise. This approaches a kind of garbled rage, emphasising the tragic progress of famine and the silence and suppression that followed it.

Ed Bennetts haunting score, commissioned for the piece, breaks the skin of the text itself, moving subtly between eulogy and elegy. Bennetts music develops a dynamic interplay with the voices of Smyth and Kinsella to create an arresting and cumulative whole.

The spuds ran out.

The pig was sold.

The wheat was shipped

To feed the English.

As there is still considerable shame around the Famine, the performance aims to initiate cross-cultural and cross-generational exchange. By addressing the legacy of British colonialism and anti-Irish racism, Famished explores how colonial power structures continue to disseminate racism in a devastating and urgent way.

The Times, London, 22 Sept, 1846

It is the national character, the national thoughtlessness and the national indolence. Alas, the Irish peasant had tasted of famine and found that it was good. We regard the blight as a blessing.

Famished will be published as a book-length poem in spring 2019 by Pindrop Press,

'...the highpoint was Famished. It is so passionate, so personal, so painful. And so powerful - you held a roomful of people in absolute thrall, in silence and stillness, for over an hour. I loved the wonderful mix of myth and memory, history and imagination, nursery rhyme and statistics.

Cherry Smyth

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.

Lauren Kinsella
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.

Ed Bennett
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.

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