First Fortnight preview: Born in Nigeria and raised in Longford, Felispeaks is a spoken word artist who has emerged from the college poetry slam circuit. She draws on personal experiences of love and life and the social concerns of young people to create work that will last long in the memory.
Felispeaks is performing as part of First Fortnight, Ireland’s mental health arts festival. Here, she explains how she explores mental health in her poetry…..
I’ve stumbled just recently on the thought that sometimes we do things, usually absentmindedly or through a form of habit without knowing exactly what we are doing. We perform certain acts, or practice a behaviour and we do not give it a name for we do not know what it is. This is how I came into exploring mental health in my poetry. I did not know what I was doing for a long time. I didn’t ascribe the action of jotting down my thoughts and emotions and weighing them up constantly through introspection, to be exploring mental health. In fact, I’ve had only come to this realisation after a much-needed poem I titled ‘Anxiety’, written and performed for the first time in November 2016.
I have been writing down the contents of my mind for as long as I can remember. However, after a sour season in my personal history, I was now intentionally dealing with a mental health issue in poetry form. In the summer of 2016, I experienced my first panic attack. Before this panic attack, I didn’t even know I had been suffering from anxiety. I wasn’t knowledgeable about what could happen to me if I piled on insecurities, inadequacies, worry and whatever else that impacted me negatively without actively dealing with them. After my first panic attack, came many more as I unlocked the door where I’d mentally stacked them all.
Listen - Felipeaks speaks to Louise McSharry on The Collective:
All my years of writing down how I felt and why I felt, didn’t seem to help in that time of my life. As previously explained, I didn’t know what I was doing and, so I couldn’t do it effectively. Eventually, after advice and comfort of my partner, I decided to inquire about getting therapy which did wonders for my mental health. I then continued my healing process by actively introducing it into my writing. The key was intention.
I wrote Anxiety, one of my mental health related poems, after I had started coming into a place of healing. I wrote it to help explain what myself and other sufferers of anxiety experience by personifying it, I gave it a voice. I wrote it, so I could hold the hands of everyone that has ever gone through panic attacks or anxiety with just my words.
I didn’t chose the society that I am a part of, but I can choose what to say about the issues we face and how we face them. Together.
It is my way of saying to myself, now that I know what it is, I can beat it. It is also my method of "shaking the table" of the African diaspora in Ireland, of which I am a part of. It is my way of beginning a conversation that we are both afraid and uncomfortable to have and to acknowledge. I want us to talk about mental health. I want us to give it a voice, so it can lose its power, so we can find others whose hands need holding and help each other heal effectively.
I use my art to draw on other social concerns because what concerns society, concerns me. I am a member, and this is the world I live in. I acknowledge that I didn’t chose the society that I am a part of, but I can choose what to say about the issues we face and how we face them. Together.