Myriam San Marco on mentorship, spoken word and being Poet Laureate of Bournemouth
For many years, Myriam San Marco didn’t write, wasn’t creating. From a Parisian, bohemian upbringing she was for the first time in a stable situation, finding herself somewhat unsure. It was not, she says, “how she saw herself.” Working at the time in social care, aiding those with issues of mental health, she was forming her own arts collective (Jericho) which sought to induce a variety of creative endeavours to those involved. Alongside recycled art and scavenger projects, one of her students asked if they could cover creative writing and so she agreed, initially thinking that she would have to get someone else in to cover the class.
Through various circumstances, she came to know an established poet, who saw something in the rawness and frank nature of her work. It was at The Triangle’s Mad Cucumber, during The Platform poetry night that Myriam read for the first time, having arrived late, tacked on to the end of the bill. She read three poems, each one on a darker topic than the last. What followed was stunned silence. Then, gradually members of the audience approached her, moved by what they had heard. By her third performance, she had gone on to win the Southampton Poetry Slam, as the only non-comic poet performing. “Brutal” is a word she uses to describe a lot of her work. It's an approach, she says, that comes from inner confidence. But this was not a place she arrived at easily.
“Spoken word can make connections,” she says, and it’s this role that she’s fully embraced through her title as Bournemouth’s own Poet Laureate. She’s used the position to help mentor other poets, much in the same way that she felt herself guided back in those early years. One of her protégés, Matt Miles, who’s recently taken home a poetry slam prize of his own, joins us and explains how Myriam, himself and others in the area, including the likes of promoter Bob Hill, James Cole at the Art Institute (current writer in residence) Harry Shum at Chaplin’s and the Freeway Poets (run by Louise Keeley and Mark Berry, triumphantly returning to Flirt on Oct 4th) and many others, form the bonds of a tight-knit artistic community.
Yet The Platform at The Mad Cucumber continues on, as does Myriam and Matt’s own curated night Word Makers at Chaplin’s, along with the similarly excellent Verbal Remedies, run by Lagan Legski Purdy. The aim of WM, Myriam says, is to operate as another developmental tool for artists, looking once again to her own past and trying to provide similar guidance for others. Performers have to submit their work in advance along with a headshot and bio as a means of getting them to “think of themselves as writers.” Both Matt and Myriam cite Damien O’Vitch as one of these individuals, a poet who by all accounts dominates each slam competition that he enters.
Poetry was and always has been an oratory form, Myriam says. She tells me this with the same piercing intensity that appears when she reads on stage. “A poem must work both on the page and in front of an audience; there should be no difference.” Her most prized comment came from an editor who once said that in reading her work, they “could hear her voice” from off the page. “Reading” she says “Should have the same impact as listening to you face to face.” The worst response that a poem can have, she notes, is one of indifference.
Myriam San Marco has continued to use the Poet Laureate position to move poetry into uncharted waters. In her own words, she wants to “push poetry, wherever that may lead.” Nights such as Word Makers, Matt suggests, are there to help “mentor to a broader spectrum of people” develop, create and appreciate poetry. Word Makers continues to boast and impressive set list with both nationally recognised and internationally known poets climbing onto their stage to open poetry to this city of Bournemouth. Their next event will be the 19th of September at Chaplin’s.
You can find Myriam online at www.facebook.com/MyriamWordMaker