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I met Anna Percy at last week’s show in Afflecks. Of all the acts I heard, her poems were the ones that felt closest to what I do. She has a seriousness and a lyricality to her verse that combine perfectly with its confessional subject matter to eat its way inside you and live there long long after. Her zines – Ghosts at the Dinner Table and He Is In The Stars – are hard to come by, but if you can find them, make sure you pick them up.
I’ve had the chance to swap e-mails with Anna since then and talk about, among other things, the gender imbalance of live poetry, and confessional writing. Take a moment to have a look at her website, and her award-winning poem here, and then I’ll hand you over to Anna.I’m going to lift her words pretty much unedited because I found them so inspiring. And the overlaps between what she does and what we do here are so many you’ll see why I was completely won over. I very very much hope to be announcing her on an eight cuts line up soon.
And once you’ve been as enthused by her as I was, you can head over to my other blog – the one that supports YouTube – and watch some readings.
On live poetry and creative writing courses
I finished my MA in Creative Writing in 2009, it was very academic which I was not prepared for at all but I adored being taught by the wonderful Vona Groake and reading more poetry than I had ever read in my life and this is when I was directed to start tuning my poems for sound. However at times I felt my work, which is often short and confessional was undervalued and to some extent I felt stifled, and that the course did not value live literature unless it was by ”proper published poets” reading from a lectern.
[she expands this last comment very tellingly]
”proper published poets reading from a lectern” were derided if they were female and confessional, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to live readings given by Jackie Kay and Elaine Feinstein (the latter with whom we had a workshop which I found helpful) and everyone enthused about on the night when the wine flowed and then when we were in the class discussing their work, they were torn to pieces for not being proper poetry or being simplistic.
[you can find some incredible confessional poetry of Anna’s in the Rift Cuts pdf downloadable here]
I have always used writing as a way to process my emotions, particularly grief, this is mentioned in my ars poetica in one of the books you have. Simply put, when my spoken voice fails me, I write. It has saved my life many times over. I have always described my notebook as the friend who is never bored of me. I am passionate about the power of poetry and other writing to inform others and heal, as mentioned I have in the past worked with adults with mental health issues facilitating writing workshops. I run workshops periodically up here and love helping others edit their work. I really enjoy helping other people find their voice and write unexpected work. I also like incorporating reading and working with or from other poets work in workshops as in taking a writers view of poetry rather than an english literature view. I find this approach is more open to anyone. I would still describe myself as a confessional poet even though that has fallen far from fashion.
On live poetry, women and Stirred
I started Stirred with co host Becca Audra Smith in October 2010 because I wanted a poetry night that tipped the balance somewhat I still find even in Manchester but even more so when I go around the country that some events are very much male dominated, especially open mics and this can be intimidating to women and sensitive men and really I wanted to create a feminist space without excluding men. I also wanted a night that did not share with music as I in my experience it can create a hostile atmosphere with music fans resenting the poets and heckling/talking over them. Stirred has grown and we last year did specials for Not Part Of and Chorlton arts festival and people have got into the concept of it, as in we have two female guests and one male and anyone can do the open mic as long as its feminist friendly but we like men to do women focused and/or poetry by a woman they admire. Stirred is named from a line from Carol Ann Duffy’s Oppenheim’s cup and saucer ”far from the laughter of men our secret life stirred.” The wonderful thing is lots of guests and open micers sharing women’s poetry, especially in a time when fewer people have the opportunity to study poetry. We like to think it has a supportive and generous atmosphere for both the guests and people new to performing.
On the process of writing
[One of the great things about Anna’s website is that she takes you through the process she goes through to arrive at a finshed poem. She explains] I think it can be unfair to people to pretend a poem flies to your pen via a mystical muse (of course sometimes something just comes out) I believe in editing and interrogating your poems.