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Poetry Competitions UK
15 Jun 2011

Anna Freeman

Anna Freeman is the Farrago 2010 Summer Slam Champion. She is a multiple slam-winning poet, having poetised to victory in places including Bristol, Bath, Manchester, London, Seattle and Vancouver. She was individual champion of The Bristol Poetry Festival All-Star Slam 2009, and in 2010 will return to the slam as guest poet and judge.

Anna works with young people in schools in conjunction with Bristol's Poetry Can. She also writes a column of monthly mock horoscopes for Bristol's Suit Yourself Magazine, under the pseudonym Mystic Ginger.

How old were you when you started writing poetry?

My family have always made up songs and poems together. I was contributing lines to family poems and songs as soon as I could talk - not that they always took my suggestions, the fools. My dad was originally the driving creative force but I think I took over somewhere along the line. My first poem at school was about washing flapping on a line and I was seven. It was, if I may say, a particularly fine piece of work. Especially the part about the flapping.

When and where was your first poem published?

I think it was a university magazine about three years ago. A comedy villanelle in which my new girlfriend repeatedly asks me how I feel about her, when I have just woken up with a hangover.

I am not published much really, a few poems and short stories in magazines and anthologies. I am more of a stage than a page person at the moment. I do write page poetry but haven't pushed it forward much, I am a bit lazy about it. Performing works so much better for me - it's instant gratification. I am beginning an MA in fiction in September and I'll have to hand in a completed novel, at the end - which is terrifying! - So hopefully I will get off my bum and push that forward for publication.

Which of your poems is your favourite and why?

Whichever one people are clapping at the time! No, I don't know. That's too difficult a question. Some of my page poems are very special to me though. Too special to perform, in case I can't do them justice.

What has been your greatest (poetry) success to date?

I suppose it depends on how you define success. The event that has brought me the most personal pleasure has been The Bristol Poetry Festival Slam. In 2008 I watched other poets perform and wished I could join them, in 2009 I won and in 2010 I will be guest poet and judge. I got the message asking me to guest and I was like, I made it, baby! In your face, me from 2008!
I also get a massive sense of achievement watching the kids I work with perform.

Where do you find your inspiration?


How would you describe your writing style?

That's tricky. Diverse. I do a lot of comedy because it feels safest for me, and I shy away from writing political poems because I don't feel qualified to air my opinions. I talk about things I know and I make fun of myself. Just occasionally a bit of my heart pokes out and then it sticks its head back in, quickly. The live literature project I am working on, Flash, is different because it's hardly funny at all. It's the true story of some time I spent being homeless.

What impression of poetry do school kids have where you work?

That totally depends on the school, the part of the country we are in and so on. More middle-class kids are often easier to begin with. That doesn't mean they are the best poets, it's just easier to get them to listen at the start of the day. Challenging situations are the most rewarding when they work out - the best days are the ones when I can see their opinions changing as the day goes on, watching poetry become relevant to them.

Do you think there is enough being done in education to shake off the old-fashioned and boring image that poetry often has? And do you think having Carol Ann Duffy our first female Poet Laureate will help change this negative pre-conception?

Ooh, help! A real question. Um ... in education as in the National Curriculum? No. Definitely not, but we have the opportunity to work with the kids that we do because the schools that book us are interested in challenging that pre-conception. It's another one of those massively varied things, if you are lucky enough to go to a school that is interested in a broader view of the world and has a bit of funding then you are going to get more opportunities. It's rubbish how often it comes down to money, but there it is.

As for Carol Ann, I like her. I think she was an excellent choice, although I have had some debates with other poets about that! I don't know how much difference it makes that we picked a woman, but it was about bloody time. It can't hurt.

How long have you been performing your work on the spoken word scene?

Three years. I started as part of my BA - it was a required part of my performance poetry module that we go to an open mic, and I've not stopped performing yet.

What writing ambitions do you have left to fulfil?

Oh god, loads! I can't think about it or I freak out. I start thinking I have to do everything at once. My novel-writing MA is next, then we'll see.

Tell us more about your plans for a quarterly Manchester slam …

Ben Mellor (Radio 4 Slam champion 2009) and I just think Manchester needs one! Now Then, a Sheffield magazine branching out in Manchester, have agreed to sponsor us, so it is definitely going to happen. We have a venue (Bay Horse, Northern Quarter) and a proposed date of 1st September, but other than that it's all a bit conceptual. We are talking about having the poets go head-to-head in pairs, and then the audience judging between them, Ready Steady Cook-style. A bit controversial, I know. Anyone interested should check the Now Then website for updates: http://nowthenmanchester.blogspot.com/

Tell us more about your poetry collaboration, which will tour the poetry festivals this autumn …

I am really excited about it. It's mostly an interweaving of true stories. Mine is my experience being homeless in the USA, Sara-Jane Arbury's is about her struggle to overcome a brain tumour, and Lucy English's is largely about her mother, who has dementia, and her sister, who has Down's. Glenn Carmichael glues the whole together with flash fiction and humour. It's been especially interesting for us to discover the ways in which our stories naturally come together and then diverge again. The subjects sound very different, I know, but they have made a really coherent whole. Our Facebook group for Flash.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline you'd like to share with us?

I think I have said them all! It feels like more than enough to do, if I'm honest.

If you'd like to find out more about any of Anna's projects or see her perform her poetry then do visit her web page links for more information (this can be found in the interview above). We've also detailed all her current projects below for your reference.

Anna performs at festivals and venues across Britain. This year she will be appearing at Latitude, The Eden Project Festival, Shambala, Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Bristol Poetry Festival, and that's just for starters. Anna assures us that some day she will get around to updating her MySpace 'upcoming events' section.

Anna is also currently organising a quarterly Manchester slam with Ben Mellor and Now Then Magazine. The first slam will kick off on 1st September, at The Bay Horse, Manchester, and is open to all comers. If you've never been to an open mic night, or watched poetry be performed - we certainly encourage you to take a look, it's a great night out!

Anna's collaborative live literature project, Flash, with Lucy English, Glenn Carmichael and Sara-Jane Arbury, will tour the literary festivals this autumn, debuting at Bristol Poetry Festival on 22nd September.

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