Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Sarah L. Dixon is The Quiet Compere of Quiet, quiet, LOUD! in Chorlton, Manchester, UK. She is presently between Arts Council-funded Quiet Compere tours and planning the 2015 tour.
Sarah has been published in Stare’s Nest, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Loose Muse, BOMP 3, YorkMix, Rain Dog and many more. She runs regular writing workshops.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I found Writing for Pleasure at Cheadle Library (run by Mary Bland) and through this group built the confidence to share stuff and to run a few sessions. I surprised myself. I wasn’t the girl who reduced her talk on the supernatural down to twenty seconds because of fear of standing at the front. This was a slow process and if you’d told me at fourteen I would be event-planning, promoting, booking performers and hosting/compering a tour, I’d have laughed or run.
My first performance with a mike was in a wet field with an audience of 8, a dog and 6 umbrellas, courtesy of Chorlton Arts Festival. Later, I attended a Tony Walsh Masterclass with Apples and Snakes in which we learnt how to “Get heard. Get seen. Get noticed.” At this afternoon applying for funding was mentioned, but I disregarded this at the time. I am not a performance or comedy poet and assumed these were the only kind of projects you could sell to funding bodies. Then I stopped and thought. How about touring the ten poets x ten minutes format I employed at my Chorlton night? I decided it was worth a punt. I put 35 hours into booking poets and venues and thinking about the details of touring and pressed send on an Arts Council England application. On 1st November 2013 I received a letter telling me my bid to tour The Quiet Compere around the North was successful. I received a similar letter in October 2014.
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT PROJECT?
I am presently planning a National Tour as The Quiet Compere.
With my own writing, I am keen to target the more highly regarded magazines, possibly but not necessarily paying markets, and I have two sets of poems in pamphlet competitions at the moment. The process of choosing poems for a collection has taught me a lot about words I over-use, themes that recur and links between poems that I hadn’t noticed were there. It has also taught me the importance of finding the right title, not necessarily just picking a poem title and using that.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
My home workspace is not ideal. The PC is on a desk at the end of the bed at the bottom of an unsealed chimney. In the winter I often decamp to warmer cafes when I don’t have to be at the PC. One day of each week I try to go out straight from the school run and meet up with friends for lunch, go to the cinema, museums, art galleries, do some sketching, walk. I go to Zumba twice a week.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
A typical day might involve waking up with a poem in my head clamouring to be written down, doing some promotional work, spending an hour on a closed Facebook group called 52 reading, posting, and critiquing, doing some more social media, sending out a newsletter, blogging, and getting things in place for the next event, then maybe a performance or hosting gig in the evening.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK PROCESS?
The Quiet Compere concept is that the compere plans and promotes events and introduces poets by their name and lets their poems do the talking, thus avoiding long and embarrassing introductions. I know dozens of poets who find long intros and bigging up really awkward. I always read a couple of poems at the beginning of each half as no one ever wants to go on first. I keep a flyer back for each of the performers and thank them a couple of days after the event letting them know some of their lines that stood out for me. I take photos on the night and post those either the same night or the next morning and then write up a blog within a couple of weeks after the event.
My writing process is a bit erratic. I am able to work well with the time I have and respond well to timed prompts and if a poem wants to be written, I manage to scribble it down on an envelope or the back of a receipt and only lose these sometimes. As a poet, I find I go through a couple of weeks of not being able to stop writing then a couple when maybe only one poem is written. I find walking, swimming and sleeping help consolidate my thoughts and after these three activities, poems come out almost complete and surprise me.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
I began writing poetry as a way to process life events as a teenager, and poetry is still a way for me to process the world. It is now also a record of my four-year-old son Frank’s changes and the way he thinks, and this feeds into the workshops I run locally. And being part of virtual groups drives me to improve and draft and redraft and gives access to a variety of styles to inspire me.
As The Quiet Compere, I get excited when a well-planned gig seems to effortlessly run itself. I had one outstanding moment on the tour last year when the Blackpool gig had only sold five tickets in advance but on the night, the event sold out! The audience were well up for it and enjoyed the raucous poems and humour, but were respectfully silent when the quieter more reflective poems were read.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Jo Bell, Canal Poet Laureate and founder of The 52 Project. Frosty weather. Clare Shaw, a page poet and performer who invests all of herself in every poem and writes well. Frank, my four-year old son. Poets who are performance poets and have the words—especially the storyteller style; the ones that can quietly take us there without bludgeoning with sound to make us follow. Poets in the 52 group whose poetry often stuns me into silence; they either come from a direction I’d have never thought to start from or tie down emotions with words that resound with human experience.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
Making myself rest. I am not great at stopping. Working at home and through social media makes it difficult to make divisions between home and work, and as poetry is both play and work, the boundaries often blur.
Loneliness. After having so many work friends the freelance style of living and working is strange and often lonely. It is a life of contrasts. I go from sitting alone in a room most of the time to hosting gigs where I am accountable to the audience, venue, performers and Arts Council. This switch is refreshing but a shock, and the silence of a hotel room in post-poetry buzz is a lonely place.
Also, poetry arrives at inconvenient times and my four-year old constantly wants attention. Sometimes I scribble enough notes to pick it up later. Sometimes it has just gone.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC VISION?
My aim is to keep pushing myself to write better poetry, taking critique and working with it, encouraging other poets and becoming more accomplished at performing. As The Quiet Compere, my aim in 2015 is to develop my skills with interview techniques and press releases, hone these into an easy style, and become more relaxed with these processes, especially live radio interviews.
On a broader scale, I think it is important to buy collections from small presses and to support them where we can, to appreciate their worth, and to buy poetry by the poets we enjoy. How else will the poetry market thrive?
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE FEATURED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Thank you, Sarah L. Dixon, The Quiet Compere!
— Nicole Melanson
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