As Co-Director of the Lingo Festival, it goes without saying that Erin Fornoff is at the heart of Ireland’s spoken word and slam poetry scenes. I spoke to her in the build-up to Lingo’s second year and found out her thoughts on what it is that gives Ireland’s poetry scene that special something.
After moving here a few years ago from the US, Fornoff was “a bit bereft and adrift” in Ireland. Through the poetry machine, she met Kalle Ryan, spoken word stalwart and now fellow Lingo director, who was, she says, “incredibly good at peer pressure. I started thinking I’d like to try more writing. I always surrounded myself with artists, and was drawn to the artistic life, but didn’t do it myself. This is a bad thing to do.” Fornoff is emphatic about the influence creative expression came to have on her life. “Once I started allowing that creative space for myself, immediately I was about 45% happier.”
[pullquote] Ireland is the only place I’ve ever been – possibly, the only place in the world – where a person can stand up in a loud pub and say a poem and the entire bar quiets [/pullquote] After witnessing the potential for full-time poets in the UK to thrive at festivals like Glastonbury, the committee behind Lingo “came together and decided to destroy our sanity, health, and personal relationships for a thankless, unpaid, niche arts job that grinds us ever downward with the relentless turning of its heavy wheel”, says Fornoff. Despite her best efforts at cynicism, however, the motivation for the work that goes into Lingo speaks for itself. “Ireland is the only place I’ve ever been – possibly, the only place in the world – where a person can stand up in a loud pub and say a poem and the entire bar quiets. The currency of poetry is not devalued here.”
Of course, moving in certain circles, writers in Dublin get to know one another. Fornoff, Ryan and their Lingo co-directors – Stephen James Smith, Phil Lynch, Colm Keegan and Linda Devlin – have been involved in spoken word for long enough that theirs was a logical team to form. And certainly, one of the great appeals of Lingo has to be the festival’s cooperative vibe, which lends an almost organic feel to how everything comes together. Music, rap and poetry in every incarnation are represented and it’s in this same spirit that Fornoff sparkles as she mentions “the new epics” of writing: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Orange is the New Black. Though her love of writers like John Steinbeck and E Annie Proulx goes without saying, it’s heartening to see that Fornoff is not precious about some more contemporary influences. Whether creating complicated, fleshed-out characters or stories that “just melt your brain a little”, she stresses that “audiences or readers don’t have to understand exactly what the writer is talking about – but they need to have a path to get there.”
A number of writers Fornoff lists as those with “something extraordinary in their poetry” – which is a good omen for things to come at Lingo 2015. John Cummins, Elaine Feeney and Billy Ramsell will all appear at the festival, and are part of a movement that Fornoff hopes will grow and yet maintain its “Irish uniqueness… There’s a tone and a style [to spoken word] that can get a bit monotonous, and people can start writing to it. It’s not so much here, and I hope it never comes to the Irish scene! I hope people’s ambition and creative scope keeps growing. And I hope everyone gets along.”