We caught up recently with Sarah MaGuire…ex-Berliner resident, ex-songwriter, now poet in England, she helps run poetry thing thisisuptight.com. She’s brilliant and funny, you should read her, but first read this.
IB: Where do you write?
Usually at home or in cafe’s whilst high on coffee.
IB: What do you write about?
I write about all the normal stuff, my own life experiences and relationships.
IB: What are the biggest challenges for you as a writer in the indie lit scene?
One of the biggest challenges for me to get my head around is how one supports themselves as a writer/poet. I have been a musician my whole life. As well as being in love with the creative process my goal was to alway try and at least make a living from my music and anything higher than that would be a bonus! I’m not suggesting that in music this is easy, but it can be a goal.
In music, even if you’re not rich and famous, as long as you work ridiculously hard you can ‘sometimes’ reach a point where you can pay your bills with what you do. I never personally reached this point with my own music, but have plenty of friends in the USA and Europe that have developed a cult following and as long as they tour a lot and work hard they manage to live from their music and not be forced to take a 9-5 job.
it just seems like a universally accepted ‘given’ that you have to work another job to survive
When I got into poetry I suddenly realised that this goal may be completely unrealistic and unobtainable. Every poet that I either personally know or know of has a 9-5 job. Some do low commitment jobs such as working in cafe’s and shops, but many go the PHD route so that they can work within the academy and teach English or creative writing. Even the more famous dead poets such as Allen Ginsberg had to work until their death. There aren’t a lot of examples of poets supporting themselves from their writing, it just seems like a universally accepted ‘given’ that you have to work another job to survive.
It’s not really a myth…writers do drink a lot
At 31 years old its very hard for me to adjust my thinking to this and it’s very hard for me to accept. I am almost completely unemployable ha ha. I can work in a cafe for minimum wage but anything else I’d have to re-train for and that seems like a massive let down. I’m sure if I hadn’t come from a different medium that I wouldn’t find any of this disappointing or hard, it would then just be normal.
IB: What’s with this myth that writers drink a lot?
Well it’s not really a myth is it…writers do drink a lot. In fact people drink a lot.
It’s just not ‘cool’ to be a sane and sober creative person. We are totally obsessed and infatuated by the drama of the suffering artist.
Many artists can only escape their fears and access their creativity if they drink alcohol or take drugs.
Many artists have social problems and drink/drug for the faux confidence they need to interact with other humans or create and perform. I think its a shame that whilst we continually put the romantic tragic artist on a pedistal we often fail to notice how many of our brightest lights we’ve lost.
IB: Who or what inspires you?
I get off on people! I’m absolutely fascinated with how people live and experience life. From very early on I was deeply affected by the work of Jarvis Cocker and Lou Reed, how they paint portraiture with words.I love artists who can create something epic out of the mundane, the everyday. I have a big film collection that is mostly made up of documentaries about oddballs e.g. Grey Gardens, Henry Darger, the Kuchar brothers, Brigid berlin.
I love to observe and see the beauty in the most minute things in life. I think most of the artists I love have similar things in common, their art is a snapshot of life, a slide. It doesn’t matter if its my literary influences like Eileen Myles, Diane di Prima, Frank O ‘Hara or musician’s like Daniel Johnston and Leonard Cohen.
IB: What kinds of reactions do you get to your writing?
I write how I think, so I interpret that people’s biggest reaction to my work is that ‘they think that way too’ and sometimes my work gets a lot of laughs. Not because I’m such a great a comedian but because what I’m describing is usually dysfunctional thinking patterns and behaviour. It’s totally cringe worthy and what’s brutally truthful and real is usually kind of funny.
IB: How did you get into writing?
I got into writing because I’m a musician and song writer and my songs started becoming more about words than about music. I strongly believed that the lyrics should be able to stand alone on the page when isolated from harmony. This meant that I was already moving into poetry without
knowing it and trying to stick the long poem into song format and the music started becoming redundant. Eventually a music producer friend said to me “why don’t you just ditch the music”. I was both excited and horrified by such a suggestion! I was a musician not a poet! As a side note there was also a funny moment where I suddenly realised that I bought way more books within the space of a year then I ever did music.
what’s brutally truthful and real is usually kind of funny
IB: Are you creative in other ways, like painting, performing, or singing?
Aside from music and writing I love to sew, draw and paint… oh and i like to obsessively clean… that’s creative isn’t it?
IB: What or who has changed, furthered, blocked or influenced your writing the most?
Though I’d get great pleasure from it, I won’t name the names of who creatively crippled my inner artist child when I was young ha ha.
My closest friend Gordon Raphael, a musician, music producer and fantastic visual artist has tirelessly championed me for the past eleven years. He pretty much deserves a platinum medal for having the patience of a saint and propping me up when I see nothing good in my work.
The person who has most influenced my writing is British Poet Tim Atkins. Tim became my mentor around a year ago when I sent him overblown emails about how I thought I might be a poet trapped in a musicians body. Who knows why he took a chance on me, but thank God he did! He became my personal, walking bibliography and threw books and what he calls poetry ‘games’ at my head until we knew if I was a poet or not.
Apparently now we have some mild amount of proof that I can write.
IB: What’s the indie route had in store for you?
Id like to ask the same question!
One of the big things that hit me when I came back to the UK and started going to readings is just how white and male dominated the literary world is
IB: Any comments from you about the current literary establishment, its authors, its publishers, its image?
In my opinion there are two schools of British poetry. The bigger publishers, festivals and competitions seem more interested in the really safe traditional poetry that is laden in sickly metaphor and similes. Then there is the British avant garde that is mostly published by small press and is heavily intellectual and elitist, PHD poets writing for other PHD poets. As Tim Atkins once said to me “American poetry is always looking to the future and British poetry is always looking back to the past”.
One of the big things that hit me when I came back to the UK and started going to readings is just how white and male dominated the literary world is.
As far as writers, I’ve been pretty surprised as to how many don’t read! I’ve met many poets and writers that seem almost proud of the fact they haven’t read a book in years.
I started Uptight to create a platform for women, boys, creatures, queer and non white writers
IB: Where do you want to go next?
I have a new print magazine and reading series called UPTIGHT which I am super excited about. After living in Berlin for 9 years I came back to the UK and whined a lot over how bored and disappointed I felt by the British poetry establishment.
I whinged so much that I decided that I best get off my arse and do something about it, create my own entertainment kind of thing. I started Uptight to create a platform for women, boys, creatures, queer and non white writers.
We had a fabulous first event that included three poets, two bands and a film director who made a super 8 film with one of the poets. It was a great night!
Find more Sarah Maguire at thisisuptight.com/
Sarah Maguire was interviewed by Polly Trope, indieberlin literary editor and author of Cured Meat.