Sunday Sojourn – with Elaine Cusack
Today, I’m welcoming to the blog my good friend and fellow coastal writer Elaine Cusack, a writer with several strings to her bow, which she’s going to tell you about now…
Thanks for joining me today Elaine. I’ve been to a lot of your performances, now, how do you prepare?
I like to know gig dates well in advance. This gives me time to prepare a set list and a script. Then I learn my poems and the script off my heart. Only then can I “loosen the stays” and allow for spontaneity and ad libs on the night.
Adrenalin always kicks in about 8 to 12 hours in advance of a performance. If the gig’s in the evening, I run through my set in the morning then spend the rest of the day cleaning the house, ironing, cooking (no computer work for me on gig days) before I launch into Clothes Faff. This is the best part of gig preparation: what am I gonna wear?!
Once I get to the venue I will engage in nervous chatter with unsuspecting members of the audience and refrain from alcohol. Drunken sets are dreadful for poet and audience.
Agreed… So, how do you go about learning your pieces to perform?
I guess I learn them the way actors learn their lines. In 2012 I was one of three poets selected to take part in Amuse Bouche, organised by Stockton’s ARC in conjunction with Apples and Snakes, the UK’s leading organisation for performance poetry and spoken word. Poets Andrew Sclater, Rowan McCabe and I curated an evening of our work, helped by experts in theatre and spoken word.
The experience changed how I viewed my work and as a result I am a passionate advocate of going off page. It doesn’t work for everyone but it does for me. I love performing without the safety net of notes. It makes me feel like a tight rope walker, a trapeze artist or Houdini.
Who has been the biggest inspiration in your poetry?
Kirsten Luckins, performance poet and North East Co-ordinator for Apples and Snakes inspires me. She’s just had her first collection of poetry published: The Trouble with Compassion. She blogs at https://kirstenluckins.wordpress.com/
I still have my Poetic Cornerstones, my favourite poets I discovered back in my teens: Stevie Smith, ee cummings, Sylvia Plath and Philip Larkin. I love watching Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, John Hegley and Benjamin Zephaniah perform their work.
What is your writing process in general? Are you a ‘whole first draft’ writer, or do you build up in snippets, bit by bit?
I don’t “own” my poems. I am at the mercy of my Poetic Muse. She wears the trousers in our 30 year plus relationship. I await her phone calls and texts. Some of my Haiku come to me fully formed but most of the time it’s a case of draft and redraft and reading aloud to make sense of the words.
I approach most of my poems like crosswords. I’m never certain if I’ll finish them but when that “Ooh 6 across 7 down… I’ve finished!” moment comes I’m pleased. I tend to know I’m nearly there with a poem when a particular line comes into my head and I think “Ah, now that is Very Elaine.” It can only have been written by me.
Now, tell me more about your Free as a Bard evenings – how did you get involved?
I first attended Free as a Bard, a spoken word and music night in Whitley Bay’s Avalon Bar back in autumn 2010. It was run by Peter “Iron Press” Mortimer and poet Jo Scott. I loved the mix of poetry, music plus free fresh fruit on every table. I continued to attend the Free as a Bard evenings in 2011 but then it seemed to stop.
In early 2013 I was one of eight poets chosen Peter Mortimer for Pieces from Eight. The poets and Pete met on a weekly basis to thrash out the proposed contents of the book (i.e. our work). Once we’d finished and decided on a title we all gathered at Pete’s house in Cullercoats for a catch up and a bite to eat.
I started going on about Free as a Bard and how Pete should revive it when one of the poets (I think it was Chris Raetschus) who piped up with something like “Well why don’t you help him?” and a new creative collaboration was born!
We needed a new venue for Free as a Bard. We settled on The Ballarat in North Shields which was run by artist Karen Mitchell but it closed before we had a chance to run a Free as a Bard evening. We switched to Whitley Bay’s Jam Jar Cinema and haven’t looked back since our first gig in January 2014.
Free as a Bard (or FaaB for short) takes place four times a year in the Jam Jar’s Bar. Each features two poets, a musicial “turn” (normally a duo or solo artist), a literary raffle, a bespoke floral sculpture courtesy of Jules Fleur, local floral artist oh yes and free fresh fruit!
Performers have included Andy Croft, Pippa Little, Ellen Phethean, Scott Tyrrell, Ditte Elly and The Creels.
Our next one (tonight, in fact, and already sold out as of Saturday 19th March) features poets Jeff Price, Colette Bryce and the legendary Steve Daggett.
Who would be your dream line-up for the evening? (You’re allowed dead poets)
Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson and my favourite musician ever, PJ Harvey. Polly Jean could perform her poetry as well as her songs. I’d let her do that.
And what about Poetry with Friends?
Back in spring 2014 I was chatting with local artist Gail Curry about poetry. Next thing I know we’re running poetry appreciation sessions with a difference called Poetry with Friend under the banner of her community interest company, Happy Planet Creative Arts CIC. Two years on we have two fortnightly Poetry with Friends groups running in Whitley Bay. Our Tuesday evening one takes place in Gail’s studio based in Boo Boo and Ted, 264 Whitley Rd, Whitley Bay. The Thursday morning one takes place in Whitley Bay’s library. For more info on Poetry with Friends plus the creative writing workshops I run under Happy Planet Creative Arts’s banner.
Anything else you want to add?
I love writing poetry then learning my work in order to perform in front of a receptive audience. If anyone would like me to perform at an event or run a workshop then please get in touch! I blog at https://dipdoomagazoo.wordpress.com/
Thanks for joining me Elaine! I have my ticket for this evening – I’ll see you there.