In 2013 actress Sara Hirsch decided to give performance poetry a go. I for one am entirely thrilled that she made this decision because three years later we’re releasing her eagerly anticipated first collection Still Falling. Not even a year after her performance debut she became the UK Slam Champion and then went on to come third the World Slam Championships in 2014. She has recently returned from a tour in New Zealand funded by the Arts Council and is about to head off to the Edinburgh Fringe for a long run of her new show Made to Measure with fellow poet Ben Fagan.
Amidst her busyness, we managed to catch Sara for five minutes to talk about Still Falling, available from our webstore today.
As your first collection goes, Still Falling covers a lot of topics from social media to family relationships – it’s a great way to get to know you! How was the experience of putting the collection together from selecting the poems to the editing process?
I really enjoyed the process of making this collection. I knew from the start that I wanted the book to reflect me and my approach to life. I always find myself writing about people and found a common theme quite quickly of positivity in the face of adversity. So it was a real pleasure to pluck poems out that I wanted to include and also write new ones with that in mind to create the full book. I found the editing process a lot harder, it is really difficult to make a whole collection – who knew? So I spent a lot of time just messing about with the order of things until it fell into place. I really like that you say the book is a great way to get to know me. That was my aim from the start. To make something that expressed how I look at the world and how my experiences have made me who I am.
I took a lot of inspiration from other poets when I was putting this collection together. The best collections I read tell me about the poet through the work and also take me on a journey. I wanted this book to do the same thing, to feel considered and that each word is in the exact right place to help the reader get into my world. I hope I have achieved that, but you never really know….
How did you get into spoken word and performing?
I started off as an actress and never really gave my writing much thought. It was just something I did on the side really. But after a few years out of drama school I still felt as if something was missing. I decided to give spoken word nights a try as I had always enjoyed performing poems back at drama school and it was like everything just fell into place at once. It made so much sense and I loved the feeling of taking creative control of my work and performing my own words. After that first open mic I never looked back and basically wrote to Apples and Snakes and was like “hi, my name is Sara and I want to be a poet, how do I go about that?” and they were really helpful. I got some good advice, just started writing all the time and thanks to some good luck and being in the right place at the right time a career started to take shape.
What is your writing process like? Is there anything in particular that inspires you write?
My writing process is fairly frantic. I really wish I was one of those poets who gets up early, pours the coffee and puts in 4 hours before the meetings start but I am more like those poets who get an idea on a train to a gig, forgot her notebook so writes a poem on her phone and then remembers about it a week later. I get inspired by all sorts of things, the best thing about having a poetry brain is noticing the tiny things that often people take for granted and creating a whole world around it, blowing it up like a balloon and adding some similes. I write about everything and anything, although, almost exclusively I would say I have some kind of personal relationship or experience with the subject matter otherwise I find it hard to relate.
How does it feel to go back to the Edinburgh Fringe this year as an established poet?
The Fringe has been my favourite place since I first went when I was 14 and so returning there to do what I love is always the highlight of my year. I don’t think you ever feel like an established poet, but it is certainly really nice to have this yearly marker. Like, the first year I went up as a poet I was very starry eyed and saw all the amazing solo spoken word shows and just really badly wanted to be able to do that. Having taken my own one up last year and now returning with a new show, a late night slam and the book does feel brilliant, like I am on the right track with it all.
You’ve only been performing poetry for a few years – do you have any advice for anyone thinking about performing for the first time?
I put off doing it for so long because I thought it was scary. Turns out, the moment you find the spoken word scene you realise just how lovely everyone is and how good it feels to get up and perform your work. My best advice would be to throw yourself into it, not to compare yourself to anyone else but do read and watch other poets to help you find your own voice within it all and to write write write, all the time. The more you perform the easier it gets and so I would just say go to as many open mic nights as possible, get involved in projects that are happening and go to workshops as much as you can. It sort of just happens from there really.
Finally, what’s next for you and your writing?
I am halfway through my master’s degree so next year is all about the dissertation, I will be making a creative writing based one, so am looking forward to another year spent writing something big and intricate. I also have some interesting projects lined up and will be back in school as a spoken word educator in September, which I am excited about, but before any of that of course, is the Fringe. I am taking up a two hander spoken word show with Kiwi poet Ben Fagan called ‘Made To Measure’ as well as the Genesis Slam and guest spots across August, so am preparing myself for a month of no sleep. Once it’s all over I am planning a book tour for the collection, so watch this space! (If you run a regional night and are interested in booking me in the Autumn as part of the tour – do get in touch!)