I am delighted to share this interview with Sarah Dixon, The Quiet Compere. Ever since I caught the Birmingham leg of the tour last year I have wanted to post an interview with her on the blog – and wishes DO come true, you have known that since my first jump, right?
I asked her all about The QC – her Arts Council funded project, now in its 2nd year with a possible 3rd year ahead.
It is an inspiring interview and I always feel we can all learn a lot from people who are already out there doing it (Art/ Creativity/ Poetry) – so here is the gold-dust!
The Quiet Compere National Tour 2015 – Stop 6
@ The Hive, Worcester
Featuring: The Quiet Compere, Mike Alma, Catherine Crosswell, Myfanwy Fox, Hayley Frances, Jasmine Gardosi, Neil Laurenson, Nina Lewis, Adrian Mealing, Carl Sealeaf, Claire Walker
TICKETS FOR THE WORCESTER TOUR (FRI 10th July) ARE NEARLY ALL SOLD OUT -£5 Book here;
Or you can book directly with the venue;
Fri 10th July at 7:00pm
© 2014 thehiveworcsorg
1) How did you come up with the Quiet Compere (TQC) concept?
My local night in Manchester started life as Lead Poets (in 2008) started off as a night where whoever turned up did a spot if they wanted. Slowly a regular audience developed and numbers were usually between 30 and 40. At this point I limited the number of readers to ten and adopted a 10 poets x 10 mins format (I have since been informed that there was a night called Take Ten in Newcastle about the same time – I was not aware of this at the time).
2) How did you approach/research grants from the Arts Council?
I thought the format and the chance to invest in poets in so many regions would appeal, but that it would also need enough planning in advance for any funding body to invest in it. I had a small track record of running events around Manchester, at local festivals and in Cheltenham and Leeds. Having no funding track record it was difficult to obtain match funding from councils and other bodies. I booked all the venues and half the poets before I pressed the SUBMIT button on the bid. This took around 35-40 hours and any work carried out before acceptance on the bid cannot be deemed payable.
3) How long was the process, what was the toughest/ easiest part?
35 hours advance planning. Submit button. Then the wait – six weeks for a decision. The hardest bit is the waiting. Easiest bit: Deciding to put together a bid.
4) How long have you been creating the QC tours?
This is the second year. Last years was a tour of the North, though weirdly Birmingham sneaked in (as it feels close – I never realise how south of the north Manchester is 🙂 The National tour is happening in 2015 and the Worcester event on 10th July will be the half-way point of this tour.
5) What aspects of QC Tours do you find most rewarding?
Smooth-running events and I find if you keep venues and performers fully-informed and have the right people and venue the event should feel like it runs itself (but this is because of all the background admin work beforehand).
Bringing together poets from different groups who may not have met/or heard each other perform before. I make a concerted effort NOT to pick the same ten people who perform alongside each other at every local night in the area. I want to find the open miccers who are brilliant but haven’t had a chance to prove this in a ten minute spot, the members of groups who are the ones overlooked and a good dose of regulars on the scene. I attempt to mix performance and page (but this sometimes depends on the poetry dynamic in the area – in Cumbria performance poetry seems to be less of a thing, whereas in Manchester a high number of poets seem to straddle the line between page and performance and their is an audience for both poetry styles).
Bringing people back together. I have overheard conversations that start “I haven’t seen you for years, loved hearing your new stuff…” hoping this might rebuild some poetry bonds and new friendships and connections might be forged and old ones rekindled. This adds a bit of romance to the tour 🙂
Low advance sales are nerve-wracking, but after the Blackpool event I panic less about this. We had sold 1 until the day before, then 5. We sold out a 50 seater venue on the night. The buzz of that relief and the elation that there was a full-house.
6) How were/ are poets selected?
The tour was in the North of England last year. I find a high number of poets in the North, especially the North West happily travel 1-2 hours to see a line-up they are excited by or to support quality nights. This meant I already knew a vast number of poets in the areas I was going to. I asked my contacts in the areas to recommend poets in the area, with a mix of age ranges, styles and themes in mind. I also searched ‘York – Poets’ online and checked out videos and links to poems by poets from the areas. Having been a part of the poetry scene for thirteen years I have built many contacts I know I can trust. Social Media plays a big part in promoting the tour and keeping everyone updated. I book poets who are not on social media, but it is more difficult to find ways to contact them, so is likely that I have been given an email address by someone I do know (in reality or virtually).
Since I have been planning the 2015 tour I have been part of a number of online communities (where I can get a feel for a poets style over several weeks or months of poems). I am thinking mainly of Jo Bell’s 52 poetry sharing and critique group (which numbered 650) and last year the tour included 30 or so poets from this group, all booked before the group existed. This year around half of the poets booked are from this group. Having access to several examples of the material of the poets makes it easier for me to balance themes, styles and other factors across each event. Also through workshops I have attended at Sheffield Poetry Business Writing Days, two Arvon weeks and Manchester Cathedral Poetry Business days among others.
7) What are the future plans for QC?
I am presently pulling threads together in an attempt to get a bid in for next year – the final and third Quiet Compere tour – 2016 – the places she missed.
Possibly to set up a quarterly Manchester poetry writing day as I feel there is a demand for this.
For Sarah L Dixon: Getting a pamphlet published and recognition in reputable and/or popular poetry magazines.
8) What has been challenging/ spectacular about expanding QC beyond Northern regions?
Less knowledge about the area and the audience and the poets/performers and local press outlets.
I have solved this in some cases by teaming up with a local co-host or performer who already knows the area and venues and can suggest some places to search for poets online from the area.
The sells-out gigs. The more unusual venues this year – The Old Cinema Laundrette in Durham, The Albion Beatnik Bookshop in Oxford. The venues provide a different backdrop and a more intimate and cosy feel to them than a pub room or a featurelss arts centre space. The venue in Ulverston a week ago had striking curtains. I enjoy anything that links the photos to a place rather than the ‘could be anywhere’ feel.
The chance to meet and bring together some people I feel I know/know each other well from virtual groups and share each others pieces and time
9) Why 10 poets?
Why 10 minutes? I found the leap between 2-4 minute open mic to full 15-30 minute guest spots was massive and the longer slots terrified me. At open mic nights I often wanted to hear more pieces by each poet (and found that as I was settling into someone’s style the night shifted and another poet took to the stage. My local night now has 3 guest spots and 5 support poet spots (6 mins each). I changed the format because I wanted to be able to charge a door fee and pay guests with a drink and a 6 minute spot for one guest if they want. None of the performers pay an entrance fee.
Why 10 poets? I think the attention span of a poetry audience starts to wane around two hours in (with a short break) and 10 x 10 had a ring to it.
10) How has facilitating tours developed/supported your own life as a performing poet?
It has meant I have been offered guest spots I may not otherwise have been offered – because I am more visible.
I have learnt a lot about Press releases, interviews and how to use Twitter.
I have learnt the value of a colour-coded spreadsheet can also be applied to poetry tours – not romantic, but true. Running the tour has meant I have had more time to write, submit, polish and run workshops and attend workshops as I can carry out the tour admin in my own time.
I have been able to do school drop off and pick ups of my son, Frank, 4. This means we often get 7 hours together each day and a high number of my poems are not about him, but from a phrase he says or a way he views the world that I might have missed had I been working and commuting and not had the opportunity to be with hi, so much 🙂
I have become strict with myself about time-keeping and not spending too much time woffling on Facebook.
11) Can you tell us a little about the rest of the tour this year?
- Worcester 10th July – next Friday – Almost on us. Advance ticket sales going well.
- Hull 4th Sept and Exeter 12th Sept are both at the point of sending flyer details to designer and printer.
- Camden, Hackney and Norwich – I will be confirming the poets for these events in the next 6 weeks.
- Cheltenham is the final gig of this year and is the night before the stunning Medicine Unboxed Conference curated by Samiir Guglani. This year’s theme is Mortality.
12) Being away from home is….?
…refreshing, different and exciting,
Being away from home is… lonely, strange and scary.
13) Where do you stay on tour?
Last year I felt cheeky asking acquaintances for somewhere to stay, but after a few nights sharing the poetry buzz with a mini bottle of Sainsburys Prosecco (£3 for 20cl), the cast of Eastenders and a cheap B and B room I decided to be cheeky and ask poets if they would be willing to put me up and sharing poetry buzz is lovely, though still for half the dates on the tour this year I feel I don’t know people well enough in area to ask for a room/floor/bed.
14) What advice would you give to poets who yearn to complete a project?
a) Plan a lot in advance of appoaching any funding body. Prove that you will run the project efficiently and have thought it through (I did at least 35 hours on each bid before submitting).
b) Approach local councils for match-funding. possibly easier after first project when you have a track record.
c) Detail is important. Keeping poets/venues/funding bodies informed at all times.
d) Thank the people who are part of your project as cohosts, venue teams, performers, poets who help promote and thank them personally not in an impersonal message. Let them know you listen and take notes so you can thank them with a few lines of poetry you enjoyed or a particular touch that made the venue unique and memorable.
e) Detail is key to building reputation and brand.
15) What are the biggest lessons you have learnt?
a) Don’t cut corners – I am sometimes tempted not to thank poets individually. Thanking ten poets takes between an hour and half and two hours to do this they way I do it. I could cut corners and send a generic message, but it is not my style and detracts from the everyone being treated equally and valued ethos of the tour.
b) I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of press releases and interviews to the get the tour info out there.
c) I find typing up the blogs boring, but necessary.
d) You can’t thank people too much. Thank them on the night. Follow this up with email or message.
e) Remind poets to stick to time at the point you send running order out (7-10 days before).
f) PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE.
16) Is the 2015 tour different to the 2014 tour? How? Why?
I suppose, because some of the dates are further afield. In tour of the North I had often met at least half of the line-up, if not more. I know a lot of poets virtually, some through 52, but not their performance style. I have found that now people have heard of The Quiet Compere and it has become a bit of brand I find people approach me to get on board (often at the point when I have already confirmed the line-up and sent flyers to print).
17) Who do you read – which poets do you admire/ read?
Magical realists – and this is relevant to my poetry. It is where the weird and dark sneak in and unsettle both me and the audience. Magnus Mills, Tom Holt, Jasper Fforde.
I am presently reading books on an 18th century cholera epidemic and The Black Death and epidemiology and real life murder books fascinate me. Yes, the weird and the dark again.
Poets: My favourite performers at the moment are Clare Shaw (I love her delivery style, her themes and the words she chooses) and Rose Condo (who I saw win a Manchester Poetry Slam final in 2014 by taking us with her into a story and weaving words around us rather than firing them at us – this was my first slam (as audience member) and I didn’t know what to expect). The list changes every week. I discovered Brian Patten in the last year and love his stuff.
18) How did you get into writing poetry?
I wrote as a teenager to make sense of the world. Then thought I had the world figured out. After six years of working full-time and studying for an OU degree part-time in Social Science and Economics I returned to poetry via an NHS-subsidised Arts and Health Creative Writing Course for Staff run by Phlip Davenport in 2002.
19) What do you miss the most when your touring schedule is over?
I miss the structure and the fact that I am always in three different stages for three different events.
At present I need to thank four more poets from last week’s Ulverston gig and I put the piece of paper with notes of their lines down when distracted by a thunderstorm last week. One of my jobs this week is to find this and thank these poets.
I am in the middle of a last promotion push for Worcester in 5 days time and going to send out the running order either tonight or tomorrow.
I am trying to confirm a last couple of poets for Exeter and Hull and getting the flyers to printer hopefully in time to take them to a 52 poetry picnic on Saturday 11th July, as a lot of the Exeter crew will be there. 🙂
20) If you weren’t the Quiet Compere, who would you be?
If I wasn’t Quiet Compere would still be Frank’s Mum, zumba enthusiast (not necessarily good or rhythmical ;)). I told Frank my super power would be not being clumsy – had a clatter on Thursday on cobbles – classic scuffed knees and elbows. Frank said I can’t have that power as then he would be clumsy all by himself.
© Sarah Wilkinson 2014
MANY THANKS TO YOU Sarah for taking the time for this interview, I cannot wait to see you and the other 9 QC poets on Friday and GOOD LUCK with the rest of the tour!