Lingo is dead, long live the verse

The spoken-word festival is holding its final event next week, but its demise isn’t an entirely sad story

Shane Koyczan, a Canadian spoken-word poet, writer, and member of the group Tons of Fun University

Shane Koyczan, a Canadian spoken-word poet, writer, and member of the group Tons of Fun University


The Lingo spoken word festival has announced that it is hanging up its microphone. The spoken word and poetry scene appears to be booming, so it might seem like an odd decision by the organisers. But there are plenty of reasons for optimism as the festival spins its final verse.

Erin Fornoff, a bundle of artistic energy who came to Ireland all the way from the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, is one of the organisers of the festival. She admits to feelings of “half relief, half complete devastation” with the festival’s closure. But she points out that Lingo was never meant to turn into a cultural institution. “Even when we started it, we thought of it as something that would be creative and prove a point hopefully, and help build the culture,” she says.

The organising committee – of Fornoff, Linda Devlin, Kalle Ryan, Phil Lynch, Colm Keegan and Stephen James Smith – are all working writers and artists in their own right. As the festival grew in stature and the workload increased, it became increasingly difficult for them to focus on their own individual art.

“There’s also a danger when you are an arts organiser that you start being seen as the arbiter of taste or gatekeeper, [deciding] what’s included or not included,” says Fornoff. “I’m not sure how good that is for an artistic community. It also kind of sucks to be that person.” (That might come as a blow to arts critics.)

Even after its second year, Fornoff says she thought that Lingo’s third year would be its last. In a farewell note, the committee said “We ran the festival as a labour of love. We did this with minimal funding – minimal because we turned down ample opportunities for corporate sponsorship, which we decided (after much debate at the outset) would have changed the integrity and character of the festival. Poets say what has to be said, and we didn’t want to be told how they should say it.”

Key part of the roster

This might be the full stop for Lingo, but spoken word is soaring on several fronts. There are plenty of standalone events and dedicated festivals around the country, and spoken word is now a key part of the roster at most arts festivals. “Most spoken-word artists would be quite intimidated by poets and literary festivals – we think of them as tweed jackets with leather elbow patches – and I used to think that they would never want me there. But now we see a lot more spoken-word events at them. It’s not just a couple of people shouting poems in a bar,” said Fornoff.

Spoken-word video projects also seem to be the viral weapon of choice for online campaigns, and few Ifta awards were better applauded this year than when director Dave Tynan and writer/performer Emmet Kirwan picked up the best short film award for Heartbreak.

The more corporate, commercial world has also taken notice: Fornoff points out that advertisers are now working spoken word into glossy campaigns, and commissions are on the rise.

This leaves the field wide open for another group to step into the breach, which is something Fornoff would “absolutely love” to see happen. For now, though, Lingo will get the send off it deserves, with a literary wake next Monday, May 15th, at the Workman’s Club in Dublin, from 7.30pm. Shane Koyczan, a Canadian spoken word poet, writer, and member of the group Tons of Fun University, will be headlining a roster of Lingo friends and family. So long and thanks for all the verse.