Hazel Hogan’s work pulses with the considerations of a poet engaged with her city, its history, and its people. Her poetry crosses the divide between the spoken word and the canon, and can be found on the Junior Certificate syllabus, in the UNESCO project ‘Dublin: A Year in Words’ ,or where I first heard it at a fundraiser on Dublin’s North Strand.
When I met Hazel she was surrounded by friends and active performers in Dublin’s vibrant spoken word scene. The performance was being held in the Arts and Entertainment creative hub, All Out Design, and the aim of the gig was to raise funds for the Anna Liffey Drugs Project.
It quickly becomes apparent, to me at least, that goodwill towards the Ana Liffey Drug Project was not the sole driver behind the event. Many of the performers contextualised their contributions in a desire to make Dublin a better place for everyone to live.
The gig exuded a vitality echoing the cooperation seen at mass protests across Ireland in recent years. To top it all off the creative hub was adorned with candles providing plenty of atmosphere and what must be one of the coolest stages in Dublin – a half pipe. Surely this cannot be beaten?
On the night Hazel performed a number of poems and closed with ‘Grangegorman’ a poem about the squat in which she lived for 9 months. Residents of the squat raised awareness of empty buildings in Dublin while the city experiences a housing crisis and rising levels of homelessness. The squat was was ultimately shut down but not without drawing national attention to the issue.
In the UNESCO project ‘Grangegorman’ sits comfortably alongside work by spoken word poet John Cummins and poetry by the 2013 Ireland Professor of Poetry, Paula Meehan. On the night I see Hazel perform she takes to the half pipe after members of renowned Indie band Little Green Cars deliver solo performances. It is clear that neither the canon nor indie cool intimidate the young poet.
And why should she be intimidated? She has been writing since she was a child. Hazel wrote her first poem after teachers in her Educate Together primary school encouraged her to explore her creativity. She has has been in love with poetry since. She has also been in love with language for as long as she can remember and has memories of trawling through the dictionary trying out words for fit and sound at a very young age.
When we discuss her approach to writing Hazel mentions that each poem begins with a lyric or a core feeling. This will hardly surprise anyone who has already encountered her poetry. Hazel’s work bears all the hallmarks of a poet who can distill complex ideas into writing marked by its dedication to the ideals of equality and fairness. When writing she often moves from automatic writing into more structured pieces but ultimately she anchors each piece in images and lyrics giving each poem a core that resonates in memory long after you have heard/read it.
Images and lyrics work as interrelating filigree in ‘Grangegorman. The poem draws on the history of Dublin and the island to illustrate our capacity to cooperate when confronting and undoing of labyrinths of power. Parnell and the Land League are compared to contemporary landlords holding the housing market to ransom.
The audience at the Ana Liffey fundraiser is young. Someone makes a joke about having been born in 1982. This make me laugh “1982 – that person is a mere babe in arms” I think. Nonetheless, that young audience and people of my vintage are all affected by rising rents, rising house prices and rising frustrations.
Cooperation across artificial divides will empower real people with the might required to make a better Dublin and a better Ireland. In modest surroundings on the North Strand Hazel Hogan channeled the spirit of Grangegorman to remind us “People from our history proved that it is okay to disobey” while the delicate fall of pins dropping on the half pipe could be heard throughout the hub.