From Wednesday 25th to Saturday 28th January, Bath’s Stall Street is going to be taken over by writers and illustrators creating live and improvised collaborative artworks. Volunteer Co-ordinator Sam Drew spoke to performance poet and international poetry slam champion Anna Freeman (above) about public art, poetry, and her expectations of the collaborative project. Anna and students from Bath Spa university will be performing their poetry on Stall Street on Wednesday 25th and Thursday 26th January, from 5pm to 8pm.
For two evenings in January, you’re going to be performing poetry live in the street, with illustrators creating improvised artwork on a massive wall behind you. How do you feel about bringing art into a public space?
I think it’s something we should do more of! Art should be accessible and visible and our public spaces should be something more than bill-boarded and commercialised. We are humanising the city, bringing something soft and thoughtful out into the concrete. It’s part of deciding what kind of society we want to live in. It’s also just some people doing poetry on the street – it all depends on how you look at it.
In the first Illuminate Bath festival in 2010, you performed with other spoken-word artists in a show called Flash!, which utilised video and music. This time you’re working with illustrators using graphics tablets and projection technology. Is there something strange about the combination of poetry—a medium we might consider traditional, even outdated—and these modern technologies?
I think poetry is only considered outmoded or outdated by people who haven’t noticed how prevalent it is in pop culture. Try changing the name – call it ‘spoken word’ – and suddenly it doesn’t sound outmoded at all. It’s always funny to me when I work in schools how many of the kids think they don’t like poetry, but will listen to hip-hop. It’s all completely valid as poetry, in my opinion at least.
I think poetry-to-illustration will work brilliantly – We are always telling the students that with performance poetry you have to weave strong, immediate images with words. On the page a reader can mull your lines over and take their time to fathom layers of meaning, but stage poetry has to be much more solid and readily grasped. Now the images will actually be there, projected behind them onto the side of a building. It can’t help but be powerful.
As part of the Live Creative Writing/ Live Drawing wall, you’re working with students from Bath Spa university to bring new poets’ work into the city. What do you think of the interest young people are showing in poetry? Will there be significant new talents on display?
We should have a good turnout of students and young people, yes. Some of the work coming out of Bath Spa is really very good. There are a few names to watch, I think. I’m excited to be part of it.
I think poetry is having a renaissance, actually. Performance events are staring to draw big crowds, and most of them young. Lots of people who have been on the poetry ‘scene’ for years have been remarking on it – I personally think that it’s at least partly caused by the economic downturn. In hard times we do come together artistically. We want to know that we aren’t alone, we suddenly feel have something to say and we are hungry to listen to each other saying it. A gap has appeared; in our bank accounts, our prospects, our hope for the immediate future. Poetry, music, creativity – these are the things the human race turns to for outlet and solace. We probably should have been focussed on them all along, but somehow it doesn’t tend to work that way.