As an active member of Bristol’s poetry scene Sally knows how to make her poems memorable– she performs as if infatuated with every word. Her pieces are revealing, relatable, and powerful. Sally tells us about the importance of reading out your work and eavesdropping at every opportunity.
You’ve cited eavesdropping as an inspiration, do you find you get a lot of your poems that way?
Yeah, I work in a pub so if you’re the barmaid then you’re incidental. You get to hear all kinds of conversations: people breaking up and getting together and gossiping, and you just start thinking about other people’s stories and that’s how it gets going.
So, did you always have the confidence that you’d make it as a poet?
No, and also it’s not really a concern of making it or reaching a certain end goal. It’s really nice doing things like this, getting to meet other people and talking to them about their work and stuff that they’re reading. It’s a nice thing to do– it’s not a competitive process of trying to get somewhere. It’s just a lovely way to spend your weekend.
How long does it take you to construct a piece and what are the first stages of it?
Right, so, the first stages are always like mid-conversation, or listening to somebody else’s conversation, or watching something, or having read something, or…on a train– you got talking time and you got thinking time. Making notes, scribbling it down, notes of just words that go really well together, or a nice couple of sentences, but then they can sit for ages and not be made into anything else. Then there’s the editing process of getting them formed and gathering them into a proper structure. I have to do it at home or somewhere quiet– that’s the work. You can’t just scribble stuff down and it’ll be wonderful. It might be two or three months later that I’ll be like ‘right, I have to do some work on it’ and properly sit down and make it into a real thing.
So do your pieces go through quite a few drafts?
Yeah, loads. And also saying them on stage– that’s another important thing. Sometimes you think something’s great and you’ll say it on stage and realise it’s not. It’s not so much that peoples’ reaction matters, cus you’re not writing for an audience, but just having said it out loud or said it in the context of other people listening to it, you realise it’s not communicating the thing that you wanted it to. So that’s definitely part of the process. I’ll say it on stage and realise it’s not finished.
What’s the Bristol poetry scene like?
It’s great. There’s loads of brilliant things. I run an open-mic called Poetry Pulpit and we have two performers and some music and everything else is open-mic. We made it to encourage people to come who’ve never performed before, or if they’ve got new stuff and they’re not sure if it’s ready. It’s on a Sunday, everyone’s really hungover. I also work for a spoken word collective called Hammer And Tongue, which is national, so I run a night in Bristol, and there’s two in London, one in Oxford, one in Brighton, one in Cambridge. So when we book poets for that they get a national tour out of it. You’re more likely to get an experience out of performing in six different cities.
Where is your open-mic in Bristol?
It’s at The Left Bank, on Cheltenham road, which is on the end of Stokes Croft.
Any advice for poets just starting out?
Go to open-mics, just read stuff, see how you feel about it. And talk to other people as well, cus everyone is always as nervous as you. You think you’re the only one and you get talking to people and you realise they’re just as nervous and it means you can give each other a nudge, and you’ve got someone to give you a hug when you get off stage. You’ve just got to do it.
What do you think the image of poetry is for the average person today?
I think it’s either nothing, and they just don’t have an impression of it, or they have a memory of it from school. I had a great English teacher, so I remember it being an exciting thing, but I’m sure a lot of people just remember being forced to do it and not really understanding it, and that being the end of that. Sometimes you get people along to nights that I run that have never been before and they’re like ‘I thought it’d be shit.’ They haven’t been exposed to it and realised it’s not shit, but I’m sure if they were, we’d have loads more people getting involved and coming down to watch. People like films, they like stand-up comedy, and it’s just an extension of that. It’s storytelling and interesting language and entertainment. But for some reason it just goes under the radar of something you might want to be doing with your day.
Would you say your poetry had a particular aim?
Not an aim, but it’s definitely part of working stuff out for me, stuff that happens to me or stuff that happens to people that I know, stuff that’s interesting or affecting. Part of processing it and working out what it meant is writing about it and dissecting it. It’s not an aim; I just like language. I think it’s a thing to be explored in different ways by different poets. I like the breadth of different things that poets do with words that can be so…polarised from one another. I see other poets perform and I think ‘I wouldn’t have ever done that. I wouldn’t have been able to do that.’ So I think if there is an aim then I it’s to see what you can do with language.