'I've been shocked at the emotional impact': Write Out Loud interviews Louise Fazackerley
Last year spoken word artist Louise Fazackerley - pictured, seated - was one of the three winners of BBC The Verb’s New Voices commission with her work Love is a Battlefield, set in Afghanistan and in Britain. In an interview with Greg Freeman she talks about her plans this year for that spoken word show, and other hopes for the future; taking to the stage at Write Out Loud Wigan, and conquering the "shaking piece of paper" syndrome; and about taking poetry “back to the people”.
Did your life change after winning The Verb New Voices commission? You said at the time you intended to become a full-time creative artist. Has this happened? And what kind of things have you been doing?
Since winning New Voices we were commissioned to write a Christmas poem that was recorded with the BBC Philharmonic and I've been asked to submit some ideas for radio plays, which is a bit flattering. I'm currently negotiating two residencies for two festivals which is very exciting. I did however decide to take my PGCE teaching qualification just in case the work is too inconsistent - which has taken me away from writing and into lesson planning. Great for the quality of my workshops but otherwise it's a bit frustrating not to be writing. So I'm planning to do my masters in poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University in September. I want to be an expert, not just a flash in the pan.
You have previously worked with young people and troubled families. Has the kind of situations you experienced in your work influenced your poetry?
Very much so. I am interested in poverty, and I often think 'there but for the grace of God, go I' as education, particularly a love of reading, was a massive factor in my own escape from growing up on benefits.
Your BBC-commissioned work, Love is a Battlefield, is about home and abroad: family life here and a soldier’s life in Afghanistan. Can you tell us some more about it? Have you completed the work, and if so, when will you be performing it in its entirety?
The writing and poetry for the work is pretty much completed. It works as a 30-minute stand-alone spoken word show and I've been shocked at the emotional impact it's had on audiences and how well it's been received. I'd love more bookings for this. However, I'm desperate to develop the dance and physical theatre elements of the piece for a full-length, theatre-ready show - thus waiting on ACE [Arts Council for England) funding. I still need to publish a pamphlet of the work. All kicks up the backside welcome.
You have said that you owe a lot to the encouragement you received when first performing live, at places like Write Out Loud in Wigan. Is that where you first took to the stage? What did it feel like, performing for the first time?
I remember very well the shaking piece of paper and the annoying, wavery voice that suddenly appears. It wasn't there while I practised in the mirror at home! I'm not sure when that stopped but over time, it just did. I still get very nervous before performing but while I'm on the stage I now feel very alive and excited, it's like white-water rafting or the trapeze - an extreme adrenalin sport. Write Out Loud Wigan was the first regular place I performed and hosted the first slams I took part in. The slams were a big part of my development because I heard new poets from different areas with new voices and it was so inspirational.
In an interview with you, The Verb’s Ian McMillan praised your “Wigan vowels”. In a blog for the Guardian you said, referring to the Pulp song, that you write poetry “for common people. Common people like me.” Is that your view of performance poetry, that it takes poetry to the people?
I think, in our society, people have forgotten they can love poetry. Music became so easily available and poetry got shuffled off to books, schools and elitism. It's my experience again and again that people hear our work, yours and mine, and say, 'Oh, is that poetry? I didn't know I liked poetry.' So performance poets and Write Out Loud events and events in the community do take poetry back to the people. That's part of the reason I've recorded the audio of 'Love Is A Battlefield' as an alternative to buying a pamphlet.
Who are the poets that you most admire? What made you start to write poetry?
I admired the light touch and accessibility of Wendy Cope and the visceral imagery of Seamus Heaney for a long time, but hearing Mike Garry really inspired me to write about my own experiences. I was taught by Bill Herbert a long time ago and he also encouraged me to write as a white, female, northern working class/ underclass voice not often heard in mainstream poetry. Currently I'm reading Adrian Mitchell and I've started buying the Forward anthology in order to think about the publishing market. I admire Michael Rosen's campaigning in education and John Hegley's way with an audience.
PHOTOGRAPH: WARREN MILLAR