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Sara Hirsch at the Pub Poets

Sara Hirsch

When it comes to spoken word performers Sara Hirsch is as big a talent as you can get. UK slam champion 2013; Winner – Farrago award for best slam performance 2013; European slam semi finalist 2014; 3rd in the world slam championships 2014; runner up in the Hammer & Tongue national slam finals 2014 and winner of best survival solo show  – PBH spoken word awards 2015.

Now she has a book out. “Still Falling” is a wonderful collection of work that celebrates people, positivity and the power of perspective. Her writing is strong, witty and honest and covers all of life’s little stumbles that we all share from time to time. On Sunday the 6 November, her book tour brings her back to Blackpool as she revisits the Pub Poets at the Bootleg Social.

I first saw Sara when she was resident at the wonderful regular London night ‘Band Said the Gun’. I was blown away by her confident, engaging performance delivering words that connected with the audience. These were poems that observed modern life without being pretentious or patronising about it. She was not trying to convey hardships she hadn’t lived, nor was she trying to educate anyone about the wrongs of life. Simple statements for Sara’s own take on things, woven with rhymes and metaphors that place images in your head and emotions in your heart.

I managed to catch up with Sara and ask her a few questions.

Colin: You’re coming to Blackpool to visit the Pub Poets on Sunday to promote your new book “Still Falling”. Can you tell us a little something about it, how it came about, that sort of thing?

Sara: I have been working on the book in one way or another since I started writing poetry really, but officially I was putting it together for Burning Eye (the publisher) for about 8 months or so before it went to print. It is a book about people and positivity and really just represents how I feel about life – that stuff will happen and then we’ll get there!

C: Does the book act as a companion to you CD “What a way to make a living” or does it tackle completely different subjects?

S: The book isn’t a companion to the CD but definitely is an extension of the sentiments within it. It is a very stand alone collection but considering it is full of old and new poems, a couple of which appear on the CD, it does kind of link. Like most of my work the CD and the book are full of poems about people. I really enjoy people and find them fascinating subjects…..

C: You are have been the UK Slam Champion, a semi-finalist in the European Slam and came 3rd in the World Slam Championships. How do you prepare for such high level events like these?

S: I think these events sound a lot scarier than they in fact are. I would get super nervous before each one and worry myself silly and then, as soon as I turned up, it would actually just be loads of fun and the nerves would sort of fade away. On a practical level I try and be as organised as I can and as familiar with my poems as possible to avoid panicking on the day but other than that I think my preparation has been to get excited about the opportunity and not really mind how I do in the slam. I never expected to do well, I was just happy to take part and so that helped keep me calm and allowed me to enjoy the events for what they were – loads of awesome poets in the same room sharing their work!

C: Which do you prefer, shows or slams?

S: Honestly I prefer shows I think. I love watching slams and think they certainly have a place in our scene as they are fun, dynamic and exciting arenas for poets to strut their stuff but nothing beats the challenge of crafting a full 20 minute set or sitting back and indulging in your favourite poet without the time pressure or the competitive edge of a slam. I think I like that both exist as it keeps things varied and interesting. I would hate to only perform at slams but similarly really value the time I spent doing them as it taught me so much about my art.

C: I first saw you when you were resident at Band Said the Gun in London, then I saw you as the guest at the Word War slam final in Manchester. I also saw you the last time you performed at the Pub Poets. How would you describe the difference between the Northern and Southern Poetry scenes/audiences?

S: I think any scene is just a reflection of the people that make it up so actually any differences I have spotted are really only differences between the people at each event I have gone to. I haven’t noticed a huge divide between scenes at all and often the subject matter or style of poems can be really similar in the North and the South. If anything, the scenes out of London that I have experienced seem a little more cohesive, simply because London is so big that the scene can feel a little more dispersed. So I have particularly enjoyed the community feel of events in Manchester for example. But really what I love about spoken word is that wherever you are in this country, you can find passionate, talented people talking about stuff. It’s great.

C: A lot of your work seems to move between different characters all of which are observing life’s annoying oddities like the anger and love you show in “My Best Friends Just Got Engaged” to the whimsy sarcasm of “How To Be Better”. Do you actually write these as different characters or do you see them as different sides to your personality?

S: I don’t deliberately write myself as a character but I think with any writing there will always be a degree of fiction that enters into the process and I certainly enjoy exaggerating aspects of myself and the things I would say, if I had the chance. But I think that really my work is ultimately fairly honest and so definitely plays on the different sides of my own personality.

C: This will be your second time at Pub Poets, why do think it’s such a good night?

S: Pub Poets is a great example of a night which has a real sense of community. I think that’s what makes it a good night. The venue is fantastic, the poets were all really friendly and I love the theming idea, it keeps the night fresh and unique which is really important. I am really looking forward to returning!

C: Clichéd Question now. Who are your influences?

S: I have so many influences it is hard to pin them down and often it changes, depending on what I am writing and who I most recently read. I would say, at the moment, I am hugely inspired by Sarah Kay, Warsan Shire and Cristin O’keefe Aptowicz as their collections hugely inspired my book and some of my biggest influences in general are writer Jasper Fforde and the theatre practitioner and clowning master Jaques Lecoq.

C: Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into performance poetry and Slams?

S: Do it. That is my main advice. To be honest, I kind of just did it, I threw myself in and had a go and ended up getting completely swept up in it all. I would say to go to as many open mics as possible and have a go at performing your work, do slams for the fun of it, not for winning and read and watch as much poetry as you can. Never stop reading poetry. That isn’t a subtle way of encouraging book sales, (although it would be great to sell some copies on Sunday!) but just the best way to explore your own tastes and keep the ideas flowing.

C: OK, the floor is open, tell us why we should come, see you, enjoy the night and buy your book?

S: I had such a lovely time in Blackpool last time that I simply couldn’t resist coming back. I would love an audience even half as lovely as last time and it would be great to sell some books. In return I can offer a set full of old favourites and brand new poems, a book which has been described as “annoyingly good” by Harry Baker and some pretty good banter.

C: Thank you Sara, I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Don’t miss this opportunity to see one of the best spoken word performers out there today.  Get down to the Pub Poets at the Bootleg Social on Sunday for A 6:30pm start. Along with Sara Hirsch there will be usual open mic spots as well as the trying to be famous ‘Haiku Death Match’

You can find out more about Sara on her website sarahirsch.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @sarsbars89. You can also follow the Pub Poets at @pubpoets.

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