Inky Interview Special: Poet Emma Purshouse


Can you please tell Ink Pantry about your journey as a performance poet?

I’d always written ever since I was a child. My first poem was published in the ‘Brownie Magazine’ when I was about six or seven. I remember the excitement of seeing my name in print, of feeling that something I’d done was valued.

I’ve only been performing my poetry for just over ten years. A work colleague knew I wrote and asked me to read at a charity event he was putting on. He was very persuasive, and I said yes. I was sick with nerves the first time I read, it was almost like an out of body experience. However, the audience laughed at the punch line and that was me hooked. That’s the best sort of buzz for me, making someone laugh.

From there someone asked me to perform somewhere else, and so I did. And that just seemed to keep happening.

Have you any advice for budding poetry slammers? How do you prepare for a slam? 

Don’t take slams too seriously in terms of the winning and losing. They are very subjective. I’ve gone out in the first round with the same poem that I’ve also won a slam with. In my opinion, it’s best to treat slams as a chance to showcase for three minutes, six if you’re lucky, and nine if you’re very lucky. Plus, it’s a superb way to network and meet other poets. The poetry scene is lovely and supportive in my experience. I always prepare for slams by putting in the work to rehearse my pieces over and over. I also time my work, including anything I want to say about the poem. Slams have strict time limits for the rounds, so you need to get it right.

What do you care about? What themes keep cropping up in your writing?

I care about people and how they live. I like to write in character a lot. I love to experiment with voice. Homelessness is a recurring theme in my work, and the creation of an underclass in this society. The outsider is a constant source of fascination for me, as are the people and dialect of the Black Country which is where I’m from.

You received Arts Council Funding for your one-woman performance poetry play. What was it about and what inspired you to create it?

I was inspired to write my first one-woman show by watching Jeremy Kyle and thinking it was like some kind of horrible bear baiting phenomenon. I started to see parallels between that TV show and the traditional Punch and Judy show, so I ended up taking the characters from Punch and Judy and creating a performance piece where they were telling their stories as people might do on the Jeremy Kyle type of TV show. It was called ‘The Professor Vyle Show’. It had poetry, puppets, quick changes, Burberry punch hats, a blow up doll, a full size Punch and Judy booth. It was a mad show, but really fun to do.

Where did you do your MA in Creative Writing? Please tell us about your experience during this time and what you gained from it. Do you think it is worthwhile for a writer to complete an MA and for what reasons?

I did my MA at Manchester Met. I did the novel route though, not poetry. I enjoyed a lot of the experience. It was a good way to network and a good way of making myself write to a deadline. I guess it depends on the individual whether this type of course is relevant. I’m not sure if it’s helped me in my performance career as such. I sometimes teach as a visiting lecturer in universities so maybe I wouldn’t get that type of work without having done the MA.

Who inspires you as a poet?  

All sorts of people. This changes on a regular basis. Originally I was inspired by a book of poetry that my Granddad wrote. Everybody used to look at it with such respect. I never really knew him as he died when I was still very little, but I felt the sense of pride when family members talked about his book (I’m not even sure anybody except me read it). Roger McGough inspired me when I was at school. That was the first poetry I came across other than my granddad’s.

I’m currently into Liz Berry in a big way. I think she’s given people permission to write beautifully using dialect. There are so many brilliant performers who I love to watch and learn from. I love Holly McNish, Jonny Fluffypunk, and Brenda Read-Brown. There are also people who I enjoy working with like Heather Wastie who I’ve done a few bits and pieces with over the years.

Can you tell us about the Write On project?

That was a schools project run by Writing West Midlands. Now much of their work with young people is done through the Spark Young Writers’ groups. They run lots of them across the West Midlands region. I run the group in Stoke-on-Trent. I love it. We get up to twenty youngsters turn up and write their socks off for two hours once a month on a Saturday. Great fun.

You write for children. Have you any advice for writers who are new to this genre?

Listen to what children tell you about what they like. I sometimes ask children for subjects and then write poems to order. Get gigs reading to children so that you can see what works and what doesn’t. There aren’t many places to send work that you write for kids. ‘Caterpillar Magazine’ in Ireland is beautiful, and I’ve had a couple of poems in there in the past. Go and see some children’s poets in action, you can learn a lot from what others do.

Tell us about one of the best days of your life.

I’ve lived on a narrow boat for the past eight years. One of the best days ever was when we went to fetch it after having moved heaven and earth to have pulled off that dream. We didn’t know anything about boating. It was a fantastic learning curve.

What is your creative space like?

I don’t have one particular space really. I move about a lot and write wherever I am. I just take my notebook and pen or my computer with me in a bag. I’ll write on buses and trains. I’ll write in pubs. The day before yesterday I worked on a bench by the river in Bewdley (the library was shut!).

What is it about poetry that you love?

The sounds, the puzzling through when you’re trying to make a poem work, the joy when the poem gets a response when you perform it. The fact that there truly are poems for everybody. The diversity. The fact they can make you think, laugh, cry. The intimate connection between reader and writer. Wow, I’m bigging it up here! I’ve just read all that back, but I do genuinely believe those things.

What is next for you? Have you any plans?

I’ve just completed a rather long project, so I’m in poetry free fall at the moment. No plans. None. I’m open to offers. 😉

Emma’s Website

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