Creator 2018: Hazel Hogan “People from our history proved that it’s okay to disobey .”

 

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Poet Hazel Hogan (January 2018)

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?

IMG_3221On 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.

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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.  

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Creator 2018: Emmet Fonzi O Brien “Poetry is a person’s life.”

It is freezing cold when performance poet Emmet Fonzi O Brien and I meet in Cabra. We make our way to the canal immortalised by Brendan Behan in ‘The Auld Triangle’ chatting along the way.

The locks in Cabra are an important site in Emmet’s development as a poet. It was here that he first started to flex his voice using poetry, to observe and to question what are considered givens in this life: power and identity.

Emmet certainly cuts a much more dapper figure than Behan but his work begins from the same point of bold inquiry. He is passionate about poetry and its capacity to facilitate the expression of his identity as a Dubliner with something to say. He also loves poetry because it allows him to bring expression to his own emotions, ideas and feelings.

Dublin is where his formative life experiences began. Consequently, the city is at the heart of his poetry. The young poet’s engagement with the changing town is evidenced in much of his work. Also being rooted to place and community is important to Emmet and this is clear in poems like ‘The North Side’ .

‘The North Side’ brought Emmet to the attention of social media and performance poetry circles in Dublin and beyond. The piece observes some of the stereotypes associated with Dublin’s northside and examines the courage required to not “fit the normality”.

Flashes of anger sit within the poet’s provocative voice as his observations purposefully play into and resist stereotypes. The complexity of the poem’s themes reflect the contradictions and caveats of living on Dublin’s North side while forging your own identity within a maelstrom of social pressure.

Emmet’s earlier poem ‘Dear Best Friend’ marks the poet’s departure from philosophical inquiry into performance poetry. He moved from being a contemplative teen writing by the canal and supping cans to a fully fledged performance poet at the age of 18.

In his own words his first performance was “the most nerve wracking experience of his life”. That performance however, taught him that “poetry was special”. He realised that the performance space between vulnerability and euphoria allowed him a very special experience which he continues to revisit.

‘Dear Best Friend’ is an outward expression of the love between friends and the deterioration caused by drugs when the aim of their use is a constant escape from daily realities.

The poem is a lament. It is brave. As it respectfully threads the lines of love. The poem also grieves for the time when friends were lads putting a band together and not a group falling asunder.

Inexplicable courage defines Emmet’s work. As we chat about poetry in a freezing cold spot Dublin spreads towards the sea behind us. This is his town. He grew up here. His experiences here have shaped him and he is adamant that will continue to be the case.

He admits to having faced many of life’s challenges alone. In those moments poetry has provided a refuge for him and a foundation from which he has continued to grow. And now it is no longer a ” hobby … it’s an obsession.”

Preparation for gigs does not just happen on the day of the performance. Emmet prepares each day whether he is gigging or not. It is part of his life and performance is part of the progressive preparation required to maintain a hectic schedule of writing and performing.

To Emmet “Poetry is a person’s life. The only reason I perform is to express my life, and to seek relation and send a relation, for relation and expression are the fundamental basics of human interaction.” Every part of this poet’s life exudes creativity and dedication to the creative processes of his art.

Making connections with people enables this Dubliner to write. Connections are what motivates him and it is also what shapes his style.

He carries this motivation through to his stage performances until the adrenalin takes over and he is alone on stage with “that deafening silence” bringing him to a point of sheer elation.

Through poetry Emmet connects with the past, the present and the future. His work with Youthreach allows him to make these connections with young people. He sees writing as a “powerful tool” allowing young people to voice pain and to show who they are in a safe way.

His commitment to poetry means who he is, his life and his writing are bound and are impossible to extricate from each other. I’m pretty sure he will continue to write, to challenge and to question where the likes of Behan has boldly gone before.

Creator 2018: The Poet Geoff “I was holding onto all of my words but now … I’m more rootless”

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Performance post ‘The Poet Geoff’ photographed in Dublin in January 2018.

When I arrive in Stoneybatter to photograph performance poet, ‘The Poet Geoff’, Walsh’s pub is closed. Geoff often writes in that old D7 institution, and  I had hoped to observe him at work there but Walsh’s is retired for another day.

There is a lot of low cloud hanging over a Dublin January and rain begins to spit down. Outdoor conditions are less than ideal for  taking snaps of poets or of anyone else for that matter. We spot an alley with whitewashed walls and a tunnel like cover.

IMG_3080In a rush to beat the rain we  take photos in the arch way and I try to use the whitewashed tunnel to bounce some light. This has a degree of success but in the end one of the alley photos that works best was taken without any extra light.

The poet’s expression in this photo is  both serious and contemplative. There are other photos of a more relaxed and smiling Geoff, but this particular picture reminds me of the reactions his poetry evoked in me on my first encounter with it.

Geoff’s work explores experiences of  Dublin where inequalities are openly visible, and can also be traced through the less visible but no less precarious negotiation of life lived by those on our society’s edge.

These negotiations are complex. They require people to juggle everyday life while navigating the endless folds of power and bureaucracy  obstructing their path to basic shelter and security. Geoff’s poetry gives expression to the nuances and precariousness such navigation brings.

In doing so his lines  stress the urgency surrounding social inequalities and the damn difficulty being faced by those caught between being homeless and being almost homeless. ‘Letter to Leo’ is urgent, timely and serious.

Rather than reading it, seeing it or hearing it, Geoff’s audience encounter his writing. They are exposed to the fluidity of his movements in sync with his words. In electronic environments the use of light and images support this synchronicity.

Once the alley way is exhausted of photo opportunities we progress to The Cobblestone in Smithfield. Geoff also writes here so the conversation naturally turns to talk of IMG_3023process. Interestingly, Geoff writes initial drafts of poetry on his phone. He writes with his headphones on both absorbing and blocking out his surroundings. Later poems are transferred into notebooks.

Geoff’s writing process moves from being an internal consideration of an idea to an external performance. He begins by exploring an idea until he has sketched out the narrative arc of the piece. The arc of the story is grounded in his knowledge of the chosen subject and the poet’s evaluation of  the narrative’s possible directions.

When Geoff writes from his own life he taps into his experiences  to create a structure for the narrative. His poetry is written from what he describes as an ‘honest place’ that helps  the audience to connect with him and the subject. Indeed, his poem Notes on a Canal certainly connected with the people of Dublin in 2016 and was widely circulated across social media.

When he writes pieces such as Letter to LeoGeoff spends time with people whose life experiences have been or are being shaped by the issues addressed in his poetry. He undergoes a process of immersion allowing him to build and access the ‘honest place’ from where he writes.

Once the morphology of  that place has been mapped he searches for the first line of the piece. The rhythms the poet draws on are influenced by many years of listening to hip hop which provides his poems with their individual flows. The first line gives each poem its overall rhythm and is fundamental to the poem’s structure.

Geoff compares writing the first line to searching for a ‘key in a pitch black room’. The first line is  to Geoff the key that turns a lock allowing the rest of the poem to flow. Once the poem is written Geoff records it on his phone and spends his walking time listening to and editing the piece.

Writing and performing has  contributed to Geoff’s skills as an editor. As he remarks himself there was time when he was “holding onto all of my words” but he is now able to approach his writing as a more objective and more “rootless” editor.

Once the text has been edited Geoff listens to it repeatedly and learns the poem  in blocks and by rote. The theatre of each piece is added while he  practices in his kitchen. Movements are clipped and changed, added and retracted.

When the fluidity of Geoff’s movements, the rhythm and words are all in sync the poem is ready for public performance. The honest place from which Geoff writes and the  importance of the themes he explores imbues his performances with the power of protest, of the street and of the people.  

Follow Geoff on Twitter @thepoetGeoff  and on Instagram @thepoetgeoff

Creator 2018: Briain O Lionnain “A lot of work that no one ever sees happens in the studio”

IMG_2967-2In the middle of a cold snap I arrange to meet artist Briain Ó Lionnain at the North Kildare  Club. Briain is working to finish a mural but the low temperatures are playing havoc with his schedule. Paint applied the night before is still wet and time Briain planned to spend painting is used setting  up a heater resembling  a jet engine. The ‘jet engine’ speeds up the drying process and when I return in the afternoon Briain is back working on the mural.

The North Kildare Club has been in existence since the 1930’s and is currently refurbishing an unused indoor  court. The heady heights of 1980’s squash have long since dissipated leaving room for a new gym. Briain’s reputation as an artist with a particular penchant for murals preceded him. His task is to transform the plain walls of the court using graphics befitting a contemporary gym.

We chat for a while about Briain’s work. We are from the same area and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know him however, we have  only ever had fleeting discussions about what he does. Today the extent to which he becomes involved in his work is immediately apparent. He is excited about the  paint he is using, about its quality and the depth of black it brings to the piece.

The fluorescent light is playing hell with my attempts to photograph him working  so I venture up onto the scaffolding to take some pictures. While on the scaffold I spy the sketch of a bear  he is working off  lying beside him.

IMG_2961The bear on the wall is an exact replica of the sketch. The mural itself has come about after a process of sketching and consultation with the person who commissioned it. Briain is also a tattoo artist and in his own words “A lot of work that no one ever sees goes on in the studio.”

In the studio he uses alcohol based markers, inks and colouring pencils and small bits of acrylic giving his drawing clean lines. He carries a ballpoint pen and a little sketch book that fits in  his pocket everywhere. Briain explains that he is ” trying to teach myself to be more deliberate with my line making and calculations, not being able to erase is good for that”. 

Ideas for his art come to him while out walking or in the dead of night and are somewhat formed by the time he reaches for his sketchbook. He uses his time sketching to break an idea down into its simplest form and then builds on the image.

Today’s sketch has undergone this process and more. All of the variables involved in painting  lead Briain to think of it as a jigsaw where all the pieces are opaque and stack on top of each other. His work as a tattoo artist requires a  different approach. When  inking a drawing he starts with the  the foreground and works back into the details. 

The more sophisticated the piece is the more limited the colour pallet he is using.  Today’s rich black paint stands out boldly against the white walls of the gym. The squash court has already disappeared behind the graphic!

Follow Briain here : blion_design

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Artist Briain O Lionnain photographed putting the finishing touches to a mural in January 2018.

When I arrived at the home of poet and painter Ingrid Casey  there was some housekeeping to be done before  taking pictures could begin.

Ingrid removed the cat retiring my phobia of felines to the innocuous place where it usually resides. She then set out to make tea so that we could talk for a while about why I was there. We met for the first time at a friend’s wedding about a year ago but I had already encountered her poetry in a number of journals and collections.

I was interested in her creative processes, in how she writes, where and ultimately why. Of course the why came to dominate the conversation. “Why do you write?” her answer was personal just as my answer to “Why do you take pictures?” was personal. She told me her story and I told her mine. The telling opened up a friendship and for me made me realise that at last I had found a comfortable place behind the lens.

Overall finding and forging your place was an important part of that conversation. Ingrid’s poetry explores and expresses emotions many may be afraid to face.

Interestingly, she began writing in her car in between school runs. Perhaps the inbetweeness of the car journey allows the examination of  feelings, emotions and the challenging of accepted states of being.  She writes in longhand into notebooks and then transfers into an electronic format.

Ingrid then edits, organises her poetry into themes and submits them for publication. Seems straightforward except that she is also raising her beautiful family.

I would ask how she finds the time but there is no time to do that. She is powering ahead with details of  the documentary she is making about families with mothers as single parents facing or dealing with homelessness in Ireland in 2018.

Ingrid’s remark “I have agency and I can do something” resonates with me. I think I can already  feel its reverberations years from now. Her early  poem ‘Single Mother’ ends with the line “Alone with no tribe, in the dark.” The poet in her has been working towards this agency for some time and I doubt the momentum she has gathered will dissipate any time soon.  She is a force.

We take a series of photographs and while we have tremendous fun doing so, I leave the house with much more than pictures.

You can read Ingrid’s poetry in Banshee Lit and in the latest issue of The Lonely Crowd here : https://thelonelycrowd.org/

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Poet and painter Ingrid Casey photographed at her home in December 2017.

Creator 2018: Ingrid Casey “I have agency and I can do something”

The beginning of Creator 2018

 

Feminist poet and painter Ingrid Casey, pictured here,  has a lot to answer for! Ingrid agreed to a shoot in December 2017. We took the photos in Ingrid’s home and had a ball doing it. We were both happy with the end result and the photos received a positive reaction.

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Hence, Creator 2018 was born. Had that shoot been any less fun I doubt I would have considered bringing coherency to the photos.  The images we took that day and the images from ensuing shoots would probably just sit  in one of the stuffed files scattered around my computer.  However, it was tremendous fun and it made me want to realize the agency of the lens.

So far Creator 2018 has grown into a project aiming to  document the creative processes of artists whose work considers and is motivated by  a desire for social justice and equality.  Over the course of 2018 I will post the photographs here on the Visuals, on Instagram, on Twitter and  on the dedicated Facebook page – after all where would any project be without a dedicated Facebook page?

And of course there will be a short blog on each shoot. Not because a dedicated Facebook page should have support content in a back up blog, but because the project is bringing me into contact with artists doing incredible work: expressing themselves,  developing  their craft,  reminding us that social inequality is injustice and  telling the stories of those whose voices have been muffled and silenced. In a small way Creator 2018 may help promote that work. Bang the drum!

*If you are involved in creative activities, would like to participate and you feel you fit the bill contact me on creator.project2018@gmail.com