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Discovering My Working-Class Voice – On Accents In Poetry

When we think of the arts, we may think of the privileged, of those who can afford failure. This is the reality that working class children grow up with – while you might aspire to be a writer, realistically, bills need to be paid. Even if you can ignore the piles of bills gesticulating at you, the stories that working class people are allowed to tell are of a certain type. It can be difficult to find somebody that represents your voice in art as it is, but even more so when it is a voice that you’re told is inherently unworthy. The working-class story should exist as more than a giggle or a gunshot wound, but often doesn’t. 

My perspective shifted once I walked into the spoken word tent at Electric Picnic to hear Colm Keegan’s poem ‘This Voice’. It was art. It was poetry. He spoke with the accent that society had taught me to hate. 

“This voice became something to be judged, the sound of the scanger, the scummer. This voice once tried but couldn’t rise above those titles, internalised the tribal jibes that might bounce off a thicker skin.” – Colm Keegan, This Voice

This was the voice that came from where I came from and carried with it the hearts of those I loved. The poem worked to unravel years of notions about what art was and who had agency to it. It was self-reflective. It knew what it was doing in that tent that day. It knew that it had that power to change minds. 

“This voice hopes to make a difference.” – Colm Keegan, This Voice. And it did.

Colm Keegan

Emmet Kirwan’s play ‘Dublin Oldschool’ gifts this same representation of the accent that shall not be named to the big screen. Kirwan envelopes his voice in subtle beauty that doesn’t ignore the systemic problems that people from working class backgrounds face, but rather gives them a chance to be heard. It can be easy to typecast people when we meet them on the street as the fella who does drugs, or maybe the poetic lad with a way with words. Kirwan’s character transcends these barriers, because he is allowed to be the guy with that accent, the guy who is caught up in a drug culture but also the guy who has this innate ability to put beautiful words to complicated experiences. He has that accent you’re told is ugly, but doesn’t he speak beautifully? 

His narration speaks for itself, illuminating the reality of Dublin in this delicately gorgeous and equally visceral way that points to the fact that if we’re trying to look at the experiences of working class people, maybe it would be a good idea to listen to them. As somebody from a working-class background, it was through art that I realised that the accent I was taught to hate had the ability to be intelligent, beautiful, but most importantly, necessary. 

“So make sure when you tell your story, you lived it like it was a novella version of a war and peace style work of Dublin fiction…epic in small ways.” – Emmet Kirwan (Dublin Oldschool)

 

by Savannah Murray 

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