I was first introduced to Susan Evans’ work as a performance poet when I attended a Meet the Writer event hosted by Creative Future, as part of The Hastings Storytelling Festival last year.
Susan’s witty repertoire and effervescent style as a performer had myself and the rest of the audience instantly captivated. Her poetry examines the most altruistic of themes – from relationships to redundancy and everything in between. As a person Susan is warm, vibrant and brimming with a unique sense of creative flair for all things word-related.
She has performed at numerous venues and events across the UK, as well as internationally, whilst garnering an assortment of much deserved accolades on her way.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Brighton’s premier wordsmith, Susan Evans…
Susan Evans headlining Megaverse at HUB Festival, at Tiny Rebel in Cardiff
PICTURE: Fran Smith
You identify as a womxn, of mixed Anglo-Indian and Irish heritage, from a working-class background in London. How much has the latter informed your subsequent work as a poet? Do you feel a responsibility to give a voice, via your creative output, to others from similar marginalised socio-economic backgrounds?
I’ve been writing and performing, as a creative outlet, since childhood but I’ve never really thought too much about where I was coming from socially, or who my target audience might be – although I know I had a definite sense of inequalities whilst growing up. Thinking on it now, I write what I know – my genre is mostly social realism, my process part catharsis, and part protest, with a comedic edge. Where there’s humour there’s hope!
It’s perhaps no coincidence that a fair amount of my work has featured in publications which relate to working class lives. I also try to perform at more inclusive venues – those aimed at a wider audience, with access for all. I absolutely believe that I have a responsibility to speak my truth, whilst additionally supporting minorities and addressing subjects such as social injustice. Ultimately though my creativity and ‘me’ are one and the same – it’s about balance too – it’s good to write just for fun sometimes!
You grew up in Walthamstow, East London, but have since relocated to Brighton. How do you find the coastal arts scene compared to that of the city, and did your writing change or evolve in any way after you’d moved to your current surroundings?
I moved to Brighton over twenty-five years ago, but still go back to London to visit family and perform at poetry events on a regular basis. My early life was mostly about acting, so I didn’t share my own words, in my own voice, until I went to the School of Art, at the University of Brighton, after being accepted on an unconditional offer. I was a mature student of twenty-five at the time and was the first in my family to go on to higher education.
So I suppose you could say I first began showcasing my performance poetry here on the coastal arts scene! I’ve since been commissioned and involved in various events and have hopefully been able to inspire others too, along the way! As someone who grew up in London, with Anglo-Indian and Irish parentage and working-class roots, I always seem to prefer the diversity of big cities. I stay in Brighton for the sea, it’s where I tend to create, rather than perform.
Performing at Seaford Litfest, at the Crypt Gallery
PICTURE: Rich Hume
You’ve performed your work at numerous events, perhaps most notably at the highly regarded Bowery Poetry Club in New York. Do you ever get nervous about standing up in front of an audience and performing? What advice would you give to other poets who might be considering taking part in a spoken word performance themselves, but are perhaps feeling anxious about doing so?
Oh yes, I still get nervous before a show – even as a professionally-trained, award-winning performer, with oodles of experience! I often get asked for advice about this, so I’ve actually decided to develop a course which draws on my work and associated anxieties as a performance poet! Pre-performance nerves are completely natural and are to be expected! Everyone, from novice to pro, are likely to have some performance anxiety going on at one time or another. Just try reciting some positive affirmations, practise lots beforehand and you’ll be fine!
Your debut collection of poetry Shift Happens was published earlier this year to much critical acclaim. Writing can often be a notoriously solitary process, quite the opposite of performing your work live. Which do you prefer and why?
Following a few delays, my book Shift Happens was finally released earlier this year, on the 21st of March, to coincide with World Poetry Day. The feedback so far has been wonderful – just amazing! I enjoy both the solitary and also more social aspects of being an artist. I write for page and stage, but mostly for performance – I love being able to share my work with the world and make new connections! I’m usually on a bit of a high after a show, so always look forward to recharging and collecting my thoughts again once I’ve finished.
As a fellow writer myself, I find your innate passion for your craft to be truly inspiring, can you remember who or what first sparked your interest in poetry? What do you hope others take from your own work as an artist?
Thank you Mia – I always hope that my peers, as well as the audience, feel a connection to my work as that’s what it’s all about! I remember being drawn to words on billboards, as a small child, we couldn’t afford a car so would walk everywhere and I’d take it all in en route! Rhymes at school, hymns and various forms of music, have all influenced my craft too, as well as some accidental exposure to poetry here and there! The first live inspiration, in terms of performance poetry, happened at the University of Brighton, when I saw the Jamaican dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson perform at the University’s Sallis Benney Theatre.
I write what I know-my genre is social realism, my process part catharsis and part protest, with a comedic edge
The outbreak of Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown here
in the UK has led to many exhibitions, festivals and events having to be sadly postponed, moved online or even cancelled completely. How has the pandemic and associated social restrictions, affected your work and what are your plans for the coming months, once normality resumes?
The U.K went into lockdown just as Shift Happens was released, so I’ve had to put the live launch and book tour for this on hold for now. I’m really looking forward to resuming plans as soon as it’s safe to do so! Some of my followers have already purchased pre-launch copies of my book online, which is good. In the meantime I’ve been continuing to write and have been working on some new titles too! I very much miss the creative process of being able to sit and write in my favourite cafes – I can’t wait for them to re-open again!
I’ve really enjoyed the daily Haiku posts on your Facebook page and was wondering if you could perhaps write one for The Hastings Independent, to conclude our interview?
Why, thank you and yes of course! Writing haikus has served as a very welcome distraction to the lockdown and daily news. I must offer a disclaimer though – Matsuo Basho I am not – so apologies in advance to any Japanese haiku masters who might be reading this!
Haiku “Artist Spotlight”
It’s been a pleasure,
Hastings Independent Press.
Keep on keeping on!
• For further information on Susan Evan’s work as a performance artist, please refer to her Facebook page @SusanEvansPoet
We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.