This is the first week in my new series of interviews with poets from across the United States and the United Kingdom. My first poets to the mic are Sarah Frances Moran, the editor in chief of Yellow Chair Review, and Charlie de Courcy, host of Word Up London. Here's what they have to say about their writing, poetry, and inspiration:
Q: What inspired you to start Yellow Chair Review/Word Up London?
Sarah Frances Moran: It has always been a desire. I actually ran a little literary e-zine when I was a teenager. It was back when AOL first came out (at the dawn of the internet) and I’d send out these weekly e-mails that contained poetry. So I think even back then there was a bit of an editor in me. I also wanted to provide a space that responded to submissions quickly, was as inclusive as it could be and a place to build community.
Charlie de Courcy: I moved to Harlesden with my wife Laura and loved the place. We were warned of this dark reputation that the area had, but the more and more we met people around the area we found it to be filled with so many different cultures, people, and possibilities. It was around the time that I’d been finding my stride as a poet, and was fronting a band with my words. I was tired of trekking from North West over to East London every time I wanted to share a poem-- there was just nothing in the local area.
As we sat in the local pub and watched all of these wonderful, diverse and creative people filtering through the neighbourhood, we decided we’d throw a microphone up and see what the area was capable of. A year later we’re welcoming 100+ people in to an area of London that so many would never have ventured to before.
There’s so many nights where the open mic is the sideshow act to the main event, but we were intent on making the headliner just a cherry on top. I get a thrill from an unplanned / unbooked open mic. We have absolutely no idea who or what is going to be signing up and what they’re going to say. We’ve had some magical moments where serendipity places complimentary (or conflicting) poets next to each other to create magical moments that could never be crafted by intent.
Q: How has YCR/Word Up London grown in the past year?
Sarah Frances Moran: Well we started off as a monthly literary magazine. Within four months we were running our first chapbook competition. When 2016 rolled around I changed the format to quarterly for the review. We just started our second chapbook competition, we’ve published three anthologies and 5 chapbooks so far. Three more chapbooks are slated for this year and we hope to do 10+ next year. So, major growth in one year. It also started off as just me. Now we have a decent sized staff of readers and review writers.
Charlie de Courcy: It’s been insane. We started in this small “L” shaped pub that could hold no more than 50 people. I painted a “Word Up” banner on a bedsheet and convinced the pub to let us use the space. We pounded social media, and handed out flyers in the street that I’d hacked together, trying anything we could to let people know we existed. People started arriving, and the place has been filled since. We moved to a bigger venue in an old cinema and now it’s sometimes so packed people are watching through the doors.
It’s an honour and a privilege to have created a space that so many poets love coming to. It’s not about us. It’s about every poet that approaches the microphone to share their words.
I was at a spoken word event in Peckham and overheard a guy excitedly saying “Did you check out that spot in Harlesden last night?! So sick.” I grinned like an idiot all the way home.
Q: Who are some of your favorite poets?
Sarah Frances Moran: This is a big question. Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Ana Castillo, Alice Walker… and a whole bunch of current poets who are doing amazing things. I couldn’t begin to list them all.
Charlie de Courcy: I’m such a badly read poet. Kate Tempest blew my little mind apart when I saw her on stage supporting Scroobius Pip, Anthony Anaxagorou twists up my insides. Itch from The King Blues incited by poetic rebellion, and I’ve taken as much (if not more) from Eminem, Nas, Jurassic 5, A Tribe Called Quest, John Butler, The Skints, RATM, Lauryn Hill as I have from Carol-Ann Duffy, Rilke, Blake, Hardy, Yeats and Unknown.
It also depends what you mean by poets. The origin of the word “poet” means “to create, make” and I’m moved by people or moments that are completely unaware that they’re poetic. There’s a brilliance in the moments that would normally be ignored or missed.
Q: When were you first introduced to poetry?
Sarah Frances Moran: High school. I begin seriously writing in the 9th grade and then met a teacher who introduced me further to poets like Nikki Giovanni, Alice Walker and Langston Hughes. I’ve been hooked since.
Charlie de Courcy: My Gran gave me “The Book of a Thousand Poems” when I was 6 and I loved it. This rainbow emblazoned on the cover, and filled with such amazing ideas and words. From nursery rhymes to Shakespeare, I was hooked. I returned to it throughout my teenage years and I always found something different, or understood them in a different way to when I last read the same poem.
My other grandma used to read me stories and poems she’d written too, appearing with a little notebook filled with tales of animals and imaginary worlds. It was the first time I remember being read something that had been written by someone I knew, and not just printed in a book.
I watched it over and over again, I wrote it out for a WWII project at school. It was like word crack.
We did the standard poetry reading and Shakespeare at school, and was grabbed by the odd one of two. But it was hip-hop that intravenously made the words find their way into my bloodstream. I was hooked on not only thought provoking, contentious, empowering words and stories, but I loved the complexity of rhyme schemes and flow that I’ve never truly found on a page. I had my earphones glued to my ears, I’d sneak one down my jumper sleeve so I could listen through lessons at school.
Q: If you could have dinner with one poet, living or dead, who would it be?
Sarah Frances Moran: Alice Walker. Our ideals on life, the world, religion are so similar. A lot of the ways I felt growing up and not knowing how to put into words how I viewed the world were remedied when I read Anything We Love Can Be Saved. I’d love to discuss that book with her.
Charlie de Courcy: I’ve spoken to Kate Tempest a few times though and she seems immensely lovely and insightful. I’d probably skip dinner and debate the world’s darkness along with a bottle of wine on a canalside somewhere though.
Q: When you aren't writing, editing or performing poetry, what are you doing?
Sarah Frances Moran: Working! I work a very full-time job managing a Spay/Neuter clinic in Waco, Texas. I also do a ton of hiking, camping and kayaking. I prefer to be outdoors as much as possible.
When I have the time I also enjoy playing video games.
Charlie de Courcy: I work in I.T. *Adjusts glasses, watches the reader’s eyes skip over to the next page*. Glamourous it isn’t, but I’m really lucky to have a job that’s engaging and fulfilling, and I get to work with a bunch of incredibly smart people. My job is centered on people and communication-- there are more similarities to the world of poetry than you might expect. I stand in front of people and I have to engage them with an idea, each world has helped the other.
It’s also meant that I can do “Word Up” without having taking a penny from it. Anything we make goes straight to paying performers, nothing in the middle. It’s my way of giving back to poetry and to Harlesden. I’ve also picked up the odd geek skill or two along the way, I love editing together videos and audio for all the poets that have performed with us. I hope that it will give aspiring poets a way of getting their words out in to the vastness of the Internet, and helping to find their way in to feature slots.
Q: What's next for you and your poetry?
Sarah Frances Moran: My chapbook Evergreen is out! It’s my first published collection of work. It’s available via Weasel Press or for a signed copy you can contact me directly. In September my collection I Am A Terrorist will release from Dark Heart Press and later in the year La Bella Muerte will release from Crisis Chronicles Press.So lots of things are coming!
I’m currently working on a project right now where I’m writing a poem to coincide with every card in la Lotería. So 54 poems will be written once it’s said and done.
Charlie de Courcy: We made a book for the 1st birthday of Word Up, and I was amazed how easy it was once you’ve got your content together. I’d like to get a few more poems under my belt that I’m proud enough to publish all in one place. I’d definitely like to do more headline / feature slots too. It’s a real joy to be able to take an audience on a journey through a few poems as they get to know you.
The UK has pretty much fallen apart in the days since the Brexit vote. It’s inadvertently condoned a racist / fascist rhetoric, and I believe strongly that we as the poets, artists and musicians have an important role to play on the front line of the societal conflict. I plan on bringing a group together to take political poetry further than to “the converted,” and in front of those who could actually find an alternative narrative in the words. These are our times.
Q: What is your advice for new poets?
Sarah Frances Moran: Persistence and belief in your work. Don’t give up on it. Read a lot. Revise a lot. Take suggestions but don’t let it change your work so much that it’s no longer your work. Tell the truth. Be responsible and socially conscious. Change the world.
Charlie de Courcy: As a spoken word poet, just perform everywhere and anywhere. Share poems over microphones, in kitchens, fields and where the world least expects them. I have most fun when I’m playing with the delivery of a poem, trying to perfect the nuances of the moments. The best poets I’ve seen perform are comfortable with themselves and masters of their own voice and words.
I have the greatest respect for people that learn their poems from heart too. It takes love to do it, but it frees you up to engage with the audience and connect with them as you guide them through your thoughts and words.
Check in next week for interviews with: Amir Safi and Jonathan Brown!