Sara Hirsch: What A Way To End a Tour

We welcome Sara Hirsch back to the UK – And to our blog! After a month of touring New Zealand, Sara fills us in on her Spoken Word adventures…

I just got back from a month long Arts Council funded spoken word tour of New Zealand and I promised Apples and Snakes an exit blog, summing up my time abroad. The thing is: how on earth do you condense that kind of experience into one blog entry?

I am going to try a few things.Firstly, a list. Think of it as a poem, if you will:

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I think that covers the basics, but it is hard to convey the awesomeness of the country I was lucky enough to spend a month in, let alone how much I learnt from the trip.

Let me try another method. Top picks:

Now this wasn’t easy, but I have tried to capture my favourite experiences from the tour to share with you in a little more detail.

1. NYDS. I spent the last nine days of the tour teaching on the inaugural Poetry in Performance course at the National Youth Drama School of New Zealand. The atmosphere at this creative intensive is beyond exhilarating and the freedom to explore all things poetry and drama related, with a group of keen young students, has been integral to my development as a spoken word educator, hugely influential to my practice and invaluable for the students who took so much from the experience. Sarah Hirsch Exit Image 9For a full run-down of the week and everything it involved (including evidence of the rap troupe I might have curated) check out my main blog here.)

2. Poetry in Motion Wellington. Probably my favourite gig of the tour was at PiM in the Capital. I had the privilege of performing to a packed out bar, with a solid 200 or so people in the crowd. The night was a particular stand out for me in terms of the professional and classy nature of the proceedings, the energetic and fun hosting, the use of music and the inclusiveness of the open mic. It is something I have definitely learnt from and would like to employ at the nights I run in London (The Genesis Slam, a free monthly event and Hammer & Tongue Waterloo. For more info on these nights check out my website). 

Sarah Hirsch Exit Image 53. The beauty of the landscape. This might be cheating as this does encompass a whole load of things I loved about the trip into one. But the awesome mountains, dazzling ocean views and incredible scenic bush drives really do create a relaxing, inspiring environment for any writer. I won’t make you too jealous, but check out that sunset on top of Te Mata Peak in Hawkes Bay.

4. Meeting the Poet Laureate. Ben Fagan (my touring partner) and I had the absolute honour of meeting with the current New Zealand Laureate, C K Stead and discussing performance poetry, slam and how it fits with/differs from the more traditional forms of poetry in the country. It was a fascinating conversation, one that I won’t forget in a hurry, and also a useful starting point for an important collaboration between the two approaches which we are hoping we can continue to nurture. C K Stead was charming, highly knowledgeable, and extremely friendly and I felt really lucky to have spoken to him on behalf of our wonderful spoken word scene here in the UK.

This somewhat begins to convey just how incredible the month was. You can read about my adventures in more detail on my full blog I was maintaining downunder.

Sarah Hirsch Exit Image 7Now, what did I learn of the New Zealand spoken word scene?

The scene in NZ is new, to say the least. However even though performance poetry has only been rife for a while, the growth of the scene has been miraculous which speaks to the keenness and enthusiasm for this art form in this part of the world.

At the moment there are active spoken word scenes in the main social hubs, namely Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown with smaller scenes bubbling up in other, less populated areas such as Dunedin, Hawkes Bay and Palmerston North (particularly in the student sector). There is certainly a landscape for touring poets to strut their stuff and in the main centres such as Wellington and Auckland, enough nights exist to accommodate a poet easily and with open arms. (Sarah Kay will be performing at Poetry in Motion Wellington later this month.)  With the smaller towns it seems harder to gather a crowd, although a lot of work is being done to build a solid touring network and build the audiences and communities across both the North and South Island with a view to welcoming more local and international poets and putting on more events.

I found at NYDS that the youth scene is also on the rise and over the next few years there are plans in place to help cultivate youth run slam events and actively work on getting more poets working in schools to spread the seed of spoken word.

The New Zealand spoken word scene is diverse in both style and content. There is a clear distinction between poets from different scenes across the country, which was really noticeable at the NYDS slam, where poets from Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland competed. But on the whole it was really encouraging to see how any style seemed to be welcomed and appreciated and that there was a place for different and dynamic voices in this ever developing scene. I was blown away by poets I saw up and down the country and am really excited to see them develop larger followings as the New Zealand scene starts to gain a bigger audience.

Sarah Hirsch Exit Image 4The scene is the same as anywhere in that it’s friendly, supportive and safe (a common side effect of poetry), but on top of the expected generosity of a poetry scene I was really taken aback by the openness, enthusiasm and willingness to get involved that each venue and host demonstrated across the tour. I think this is something that is naturally lacking in a saturated scene and indeed a city such as London, and it was really refreshing to build such personal relationships and feel part of such a tight-knit, connected community. I will be attempting to harness some of this energy and apply it to the London scene, and similarly will be working on bringing some of the expertise of our more established scene and transferring it to NZ when I return in the future.

If you are interested in performing in New Zealand, I highly highly recommend that you do it. For more information contact Apples & Snakes or myself via my website. I’d be more than happy to expand on any of my experiences.

 Keep up with Sara on her website Twitter | Instagram | #WhatAWayToTour.