If you know our live shows, you’ll know Lucy Ayrton.
That’s her again, performing at the 2011 Not the Oxford Literary Festival. Lucy is one of the most enthralling, crowd-pleasing, engaging, intelligent poets you could hope to meet. And a lot more besides.
One of those besides is that she co-hosts Hammer & Tongue in Oxford, just about the number one slam around. Whatever you do do NOT miss this coming Tuesday’s event featuring the one and only Kate Tempest.
It has been my absolute pleasure to get to ask Lucy some very intimate question about her poetry, her life, and her ambitions, and I can’t thank her enough for her insightful, honest, and inspiring answers.
1. Creatively speaking, what one thing is it that Lucy Ayrton does?
I tell stories.
2. Things break a lot in your poems. Not just relationships, but actual, physical things. I often think listening to a set of yours is like being with this lovely person you want to hug who has brittle bone syndrome.
My Mum has this story about me when I was very little. She claims I was helping her with the washing up, and she handed me a glass and said, “Careful Lucy, if you drop that it’ll break.” And I, very deliberately, threw it on the floor, and when it shattered I burst into tears. I’ve always been fascinated and horrified by moments of destruction. Possibly my favourite scene in all of culture is the moment in The Snowman where the little boy wakes up the next morning and the snowman’s melted away. It conjours up this kind of sadness that’s almost ecstatic in it’s intensity. And sadness, unlike, say, anger, or joy, is a slow burning feeling. It’s difficult to shake, it’s like it’s sticky. That’s why I like working with it so much. But at the same time, I never write directly about things that I feel are broken in my own life until the issue is firmly, safely resolved. I left a rubbish job last spring and I only started performing a poem about it a couple of weeks ago. When I’m genuinely unhappy, I don’t write anything. I’m maybe happier right now than I’ve ever been, and my major current project is a show about disappointment.
3. And wistfulness. If I had to say a word other than fragile, it would be wistful. But I never quite sense if you’re wistful for something that’s lost or something that never was.
Probably something that never was. I feel that culture sells us a lot of ideas about the things we should have and the things that we should want to have, and they often directly contradict each other. As a woman in my mid twenties, I feel there are so many things I’m “meant” to want – to be single, to be married, to have a very high powered career, to stay at home and bake cupcakes for my adorable toddlers … and not only do I don’t have any of those things, it would be impossible for me to have them all. So I think in poetry I indulge those “what if” feelings.
4. You don’t have a website. You do make little booklets of your poetry. What does that say about you?
That I’m obsessed with paper. We have a family friend who’s an artisan printer, and when I was seven, she showed me how the press worked – the kind where you put little wooden blocks in a massive machine and everything smells of ink and stories. It was just like how books were made in my head. Later, I worked in a second hand bookshop with a book bindery upstairs… I’ve always loved books, and as soon as I worked out that I could make them in any small way, I wanted to. Having said that, making a website is still very much on my to do list, and I did start a blog recently – lucyinthepubwithcider.tumblr.com
5. You’re also a singer. Have you consciously chosen poetry over singing and if so why?
I didn’t actually choose poetry at all, it was a complete accident. I was doing an MA in Writing and very much focussing on fiction, I wanted to be a novelist and still do. But there was this extra evening course on called The Apprentice for Artists, where we tried out a different art form each week. So, one week radio plays, the next cartooning, we even tried stuff like experimenting with telepathy. The idea was to try as many different forms as possible in a year. And one week it was poetry slam. They showed us a load of youtube stuff, Adrain Mitchell through to that year’s international champion, and announced that we were holding a slam the next week. And that was it. In love. I’d already stopped singing really by that point because I was uncomfortable that I wasn’t writing my own stuff. I’m starting again soon actually! There are songs in next summer’s show.
There’s a huge amount of crossover between singing and performing poetry. From technical stuff like rhythm and using pauses to knowing what’s the right amount of eye contact and how to make the microphone not do that screechy thing, there are tricks that I carry across. Also structure, story and use of refrain are lifted directly from traditional English folk, and I think blues has had a lot to do with the way I express emotion onstage.
6. “Fabulist” is a bit of a buzzword at the moment so I try to avoid it, but it does seem apt in the context of your work. You take us on the most wonderful journeys, and you have a very distinct style, even when you write in the first person, which is definitely that of a narrator leading us on that journey. Is this something you’ve consciously chosen to do?
It was once I noticed that I was doing it, but that took me a while! I’m a big fan of a three act narrative structure, and I think especially in performance poetry, using a familiar form of can be helpful to an audience – it’s easy as a listener to get lost. I think a sense of journeying anchors the audience more firmly into a piece and makes it more accessible. I hope.
7. Which leads to whether you’ve chosen the style because it effectively gets right to the emotional core, or whether you’ve chosen it because precisely because it keeps the audience at arm’s length from you emotionally.
Oooh. I had not thought of that. I’m inclined to say it’s because it keeps them at arms length. I know a lot of performers thrive on creating discomfort in a room, but I always want audiences to feel they can relax. It’s much more comfortable for them, and me, to pretend that these difficult emotions aren’t happening to me, myself, it was some other person, obviously fictional, no need to get embarrassed. I am quite English in this way. But at the same time, I want to reassure people (I say people. I probably mean myself) that these are universal feelings, and there’s nothing wrong with having them, it doesn’t make you damaged.
Emotion and performance is a very interesting subject. I think there has to be a balance. On the one hand, if it means nothing to you, why say it? On the other, if you let it overwhelm you, you’ll get too thrown by the feelings you stir up and, on a practical level, start crying, which will totally screw your diction.
8. Poetry and politics….
Yes. Cracking combination, but one I really struggle with. I only have two overtly political poems. I start them all the time, but it’s a bit like the emotion thing – it’s almost too important to me, so I get overwhelmed and stop. But in a way my politics run through everything I do. My core political belief is that things should be fairer. I hope that comes across.
9. What one thing would you describe as your creative goal?
To get good. Then, to get better.