Monday, 6 August 2012

Sara Humphrey (poet)

I met poet Sara Humphrey on Twitter. Someone had shared a link to one of her poems and I felt a real connection to her words as I read. Sara is also a talented photographer and her work is illustrating this post.

Sara is twenty-five, lives in Eastbourne, and is a published poet. She is also an award-winning poet having won the Brighton Festival Peacock Poetry Prize in 2012. Her work is dark and provocative and uses powerful imagery. She is not afraid to broach traditionally taboo subjects, but does so with great sensitivity and understanding.  I was very happy when she agreed to be interviewed for my blog and she has given fascinating insights into her approach to poetry. I have linked to the poems that are named in the interview and you can also listen to Sara performing three poems on her own blog.

Beach Comber
tE: Do you remember what first drew you to write poetry?
SH: I started writing poetry when I was really young. I have some schoolbooks that my family have kept from primary school and there is one poem I have written in there that starts " I would like to paint a moving image" It's the first record I have of my writing, but I wrote all sorts of songs and lyrics when I was a kid. There are lots of embarrassing home movies of me singing them too! 
I studied English Literature and Philosophy (amongst others) at college, but didn't start seriously writing until I first moved out at 21. I was living in a flat-share that was pretty depressing at times, and that’s when my work got more gritty and dark. I'd just retreat into my bedroom and write for hours. You can definitely read the story of my mindset through my poetry, even if most of my work doesn't relate to personal experience, although most people assume it does. If I'd really lived through all the situations I have written about I'd be in counselling. There's a lot more contentment in my work now.

tE: Do you set aside time to write or does your muse strike at any moment?
SH: I've never really written in the way you are supposed to, drafting, editing and refining your ideas. I write so much about capturing 'that moment', that I think too much editing stifles it. I write best on trains and bus journeys, often while listening to acoustic music to drown out any background noise. Poetry quite a quick process for me, with most written in under 20 minutes and then uploaded instantly. I tend to write straight into Evernote, an app on my phone, which makes editing really easy and you don't have to work around the scribbles. It also means I can write wherever or whenever I want. If I can't get it right first time, allowing for a couple of tweaks, I'll scrub it out and start the whole concept again from a different angle. Saying that, I have had writers block for a fair few months now, mainly due to starting a new job, but I've just started writing again, which is a relief. I write the most when I am unhappy; it's a way of coping with my feelings. I went through a really bad time when I lost my Nanna and was tracing my birth parents at the same time. The work from March 2011 is some of my best, and there is one there that I wrote about 20 minutes after I was told she had died called 'Loss of Inspiration'. She was the person that most encouraged me to think independently and form my own opinions; she was writer too and a fiercely passionate person.

tE: What other poets have inspired or influenced you? 

SH: I'm a really bad poet….I don't really like poetry. That may sound stupid, as I love writing it; I just don't really like reading it. John Donne's 'Twickenham Gardens' will always be the poem that inspires me most, I even have a tattoo starting "Take my tears which are love's wine," on my forearm, but it goes back to the capture the moment thing. It means a lot to me because of where I was in my life when I came across it; it just resonated and never left.
One thing I learnt quite early on when approaching publishers was that if you want to be successful you need to read the work of your contemporaries so I have made a real effort to do this and do have a lot of anthologies at home. My favourite modern poets are Jack Underwood who writes for Faber and Bukowski, as I love his very no-nonsense style. My friend Chris Gill, who I studied at college with is also amazing. He has just published his first collection, Verses, and it's great to know that someone with a similar background to me can get there. To be honest though, most of the similarities I see in my writing are more with artists like Damien Rice, Ray Lamontagne and Kate Rusby, musicians rather than just poets.

tE: How did you get involved with Performance Poetry?
SH: I first got involved in performance poetry through a local man called Damian Barr. He was compering an short story writing event at the Charleston Festival, where you write a 3 minute piece and read it aloud. I didn't get to read, but showed him my piece afterwards and he said it was more poetic than prose and that I should come to the poetry event he was running. I did, and read Dawn Chorus and Enigma, but soon realised the other readers had a far more performance like style. Some poems are meant to be read alone, and others performed. It's two very different things.

tE: Has speaking your poetry to an audience changed the way you write? 
SH: That was when I first started really experimenting with writing, I'd already broken past the conventional rhyming scheme, which sounds like it should be easier but there is so much more freedom writing with rhythm than rhyme. I had also just been rejected for a job I'd applied for on the basis that I don't have a degree, so just outpoured this massive complex and fast paced poem, Passing Paper Judgement, on the train to work. I was so excited that I'd actually written it. When Sex Was Wild will always be the best to perform though, the intonation has to be there, and if you listen to the recordings on my blog you will soon see how the line structure changes from the text version to the spoken word. It can be awkward when you have a mixed age audience though. 
Performance poetry really allows the poet to convey every intent to the reader. I have still to get the hang of using my body for more expression, but at least I can recite from memory and hold the gaze of the crowd now. It's good to know there are still things to learn. Poetry evolves as you do, and that keeps you excited about what direction your work will take you in next.

tE: Unfortunately, I don't think we have a regular Performance Poetry venue in Eastbourne so Sara travels to Brighton in order to perform her work. However, if you would be interested in setting something up, if you do know of a local event, or if you'd also be interested in getting involved, please shout about it in the Comments below!

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