“I’m a bloody foreigner and you’re a bloody foreigner, therefore let’s accept that we are all bloody foreigners!” Performance poet, Colin Hassard, chats to us about his latest project and his personal protest through poetry.
Z. Colin, tell us about the latest project you have been working on?
My latest poetry project involves a poem which I wrote called ‘Foreign.’ The message of the poem is that we are all connected, we are all human. I have also filmed a special video over the past number of weeks which involves many of my foreign national friends who live in Northern Ireland. These include friends from Poland, Romania, India, Argentina, Finland, USA, Syria and many others. They have been holding a sign stating ‘I am foreign’ written in their native language, then a sign stating where they’re from, and then a sign stating the word ‘human,’ reinforcing the message of the poem.
Z. What motivated you to write the poem Foreign?
As a poet, I feel it is my duty to write about current issues and to use my voice to raise awareness. Many of my poems could be classed as protest poems as they comment on issues such as politics, violence, the NHS, sectarianism, or, in this case, the recent spate of racist hate crimes. I have an indirect personal connection to the attacks as I have many foreign national friends and during their time in Northern Ireland they have all faced hatred or xenophobia to varying degrees. There is also an extra personal connection as a number of hate crimes have happened in East Belfast where I now live.
Z. Have you done any similar work previously?
As I mentioned, the majority of my work has quite a strong message behind it. One of my most well-known works is ‘We Who Have No Flags’, which was a charity song released in 2013, in support of homeless charity Shelter NI. The song was written as a protest against the riots and chaos that was happening in Belfast and across the Province in the wake of the Union flag being removed at City Hall. The messages were not to repeat the mistakes of the past by having an ‘us and them’ mentality and to dream “beyond kerb-stone corners”.
Z. What do you hope to achieve with the poem Foreign?
I hope the ‘Foreign’ poem can follow on from ‘We Who Have No Flags’, raise awareness, promote thought and perhaps address some of the negative and false stereotypes levied at foreigners. At the end of May I was honoured to be invited to perform at the South Eastern Regional College for foreign students who are learning English. I know this poem really resonated with them and a few who weren’t camera shy agreed to help with the video. I met some lovely people but one of the most interesting conversations I had was with a Polish man who asked if I was worried about negative feedback or criticism. It’s not something that I was worried about as the truth is, as with ‘…Flags’ and other poems, I don’t care. That’s not to appear arrogant – I just believe that what I am saying is honest and true, and I hope people connect with it.
The problem is that for those who hear the poem at poetry gigs or watch it online, I’m very much preaching to the converted – the question is how do I, and we, as non-racist, liberal, altruistic people change the mentality of those who are aggressive towards foreigners? The Dalai Lama said that true change comes from within, meaning that change must first begin in our minds, but perhaps this can also be applied to change happening within schools to improve education, within homes and family units to create love and belonging, within communities to promote equality and collectivity, and within the government as Northern Ireland has suffered for too long with leaders who do not have the best interests of the population. I’m aware that one strongly worded poem won’t change the government, or won’t change the world, but maybe one person will hear it and it’ll change something within them. Then the message will have worked.
Z. How can people see the project?
I have organised a special first screening of the video in my home-town Banbridge on 2nd July. There will also be a screening in Belfast, in July. People can follow my facebook page to find out dates of the upcoming showcase of my work. The video will also be on my Youtube channel.