Promise Me The Journey Back – Debut Poetry Collection

Available on Amazon

Promise Me The Journey Back is the debut full-length collection of Whisky & Beards Publishing’s editor Connor Sansby.

Travel the way back to normal, as Connor explores the fictional final night of a break-up and all the drink, sex with strangers and heartache that entails. Blending sparse and delicate verbiage with blunt edges and a viscerality, Promise Me The Journey Back is a voyage on public transport to unravel the concepts of masculinity, vulnerability and love, while trying to uncover the person the author used to be, and have been all along.

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HIM.HER.US.I – A digital chapbook of InstaPoetry

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HimHerUsIHIM.HER.US.I is a digital chapbook by Connor Sansby, reflecting on a hostile relationship, the break-up and the ensuing confusion. It is a personal work approached in a sarcastic manner, or maybe it’s a sarcastic work approached in a personal manner.

Released April 2018, it was read over 300 times in its first month. Originally intended as a companion piece/promotional release for Connor’s debut full-length collection “Promise Me The Journey Back“, it has since been performed in its entirety as a 20 minute set.

In Writing, it’s Okay to Rob the Dead

There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. I have some scraps of a story I wrote when I was in college. I thought it was brilliant. I honed the mythology, I wrote up character bios for future stories I hadn’t pieced together yet, I started turning it into a comic script, sent it off to artists, and then I lost my passion for it. Now that I look back as a more experienced writer I can see a million problems with it. Influences that were too obvious, narrative issues, clichés I hadn’t realised were so apparent.

If you consider successful writers and their books, what you remember are the finished products. Along the way, they will have put together dozens of drafts, spent days grinding away at their desk trying to resolve everything and they will have abandoned a hundred stories that we’ll never hear about.

Whilst some call this the 10,000 hours of practice it takes to become an expert at something, I like to say you’ll have to write a thousand lines before you reach your first perfect line. What matters is this: whatever your first idea for a story, novel, play, script or poem, it’s probably not great. You may be wholly in love with it – and that’s fine – but to grow, you’ll have to learn to shed it, to kill your darling.

Alternatively, it might be an outstanding idea but you, as a writer, might be lacking. I know writers that announce a new project every month. I’m just as bad, I have a new project every few weeks but while I may have the writing tools, there are artistic tools I need to bring them to life that I haven’t begun to develop yet.

Some people never move past that first idea. Some like the idea of being a writer more than they actually love writing because when you finally get everything out and you find yourself looking at your finished draft, it’s not always the story you thought you had. You almost certainly will find characters and plots you hate in your novel, or you will find images and themes liberally stolen from other writers staring back at you, or worst of all, when you finally see it written in front of you, it might just be bad.

This is the point where most people give up. To write is easy, we’re taught to do that as children. What’s hard, infuriatingly so, is to be good. You find yourself reading your writing and thinking, Why isn’t this the piece I wanted? Why isn’t this as good as the people I’ve read? Why isn’t this like the things I love?

Creativity is a muscle; it needs developing. There are no literary prodigies. No one picks up a pen for the first time and finds themselves writing a bestseller. It doesn’t happen, no matter how much we want that romantic notion. We have to prepare ourselves to do the heavy lifting or else we will be crushed under the weight of our own ambition.

This is the point where someone will cite their favourite writer who magically produced the greatest piece of writing ever written in the span of a week, and they’d never written before, and they had to take care of their dying mother while they did it. This is the mythos of a writer. Despite what you’re told, Hemingway spent hours a day at his desk, so did Bukowski. Oscar Wilde wrote “I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out” because that’s the truth of writing. JK Rowling may have hit it big on the first book she released but she spent six years writing it.

A success may be a failure who didn’t know when to quit, but if you don’t risk that failure you won’t produce anything. You have to be prepared to sacrifice your stories on some high altar, bury them in a quiet corner of a literary graveyard and let them rot. Leave them. Those stories will not rise from the dead as zombies and give chase, they will just sit there being dead, and you will be the serial killer that put them there. Until, one day, you will run out of ideas and you will be faced with the impossibility of continuing.

This day might not happen until you’ve put out a dozen novels or you’re the most widely published poet of all time, but eventually you will find yourself walking through that graveyard. You will find yourself walking and you will remember the watch you buried in the pocket of a short story, that one shining moment in something you thought dead.

You can dig it up!

You can pick the pocket of any corpse you’ve buried anytime. You can let other people walk through your graveyard and let them do the same, and you can do the same with theirs. Everything you read, every piece of advice, even this article, is a burial in your graveyard. In writing, it is okay to rob the dead.

The Six Kinds of Poet

A poet is a writer, but to say that a poet only writes is a misunderstanding of what a professional poet can be. Poets write, perform, teach and do a dozen other things.

Most professional poets could be placed into a category, or possibly straddle two as their primary focuses, but they will often take projects outside their category. A poet who performs may also teach workshops, a poet who writes for publication may also lead a community engagement project. In fact, most professional poets are a combination of everything.

1. Page Poet

The page poet is a writer. They are concerned with the art of writing poetry and publishing. These poets craft their poems primarily for the page; for magazine or book publications.

The page poet may take part in readings but they tend to be exclusive affairs with them as a billed talent, often as a method of raising their profile and selling their work.

A page poet might enter writing contests and compete for prize money.

2. Performance Poet

Performance poets write for the stage. They are dynamic performers who use sound as their canvas, focusing on flow and rhythm to draw audiences in. They may get paid for feature or headline sets, as part of a larger event, or they may take part in slams and compete with other performers for prize money. Some develop their own shows which they tour, just like a theatre company.

Some performance poets record themselves, often becoming rappers. Sometimes their musical career takes on its own life and they find themselves working almost exclusively as a musician.

3. Producer Poet

A Producer poet puts together events and gets paid for it. They use connections and their knowledge of trends to put on the best shows.

Their shows could be as simple as a poetry reading or slam or they could be complex events taking course over several days, pushing the form and expectations of the audience to deliver excitement.

4. Educator Poet

The educator poet uses poetry as a canvas to teach. They can teach poets how to write poetry or they could use the medium of poetry to create fun content on any subject.

Many educator poets use poetry to develop literacy skills, but their work can also cover socio-political issues, like those referenced in the more political, contemporary poet’s work.

5. Outreach Poet

An outreach poet looks for ways to engage with people. They use poetry as a medium to take part in social reform, whether by helping people express themselves through writing or by providing the opportunity to perform as a way to keep at-risk kids from getting into trouble.

The outreach poet is a lot like the Educator poet but less academically focused. Outreach poets aim to bring poetry to new audiences, often through new platforms and technologies. Some are focused on building communities or developing new poets through workshops.

6. Marketing Poet

A marketing poet uses poetry as a way of pushing brands or agendas. They may receive commissions from political groups or social organisations to commemorate events such as building openings or important historical dates. They may be involved in political campaigns or they may write and perform content to make you want to buy a product.

 

So, which kind of poet do you want to be?

Selecting a Good Performance Set

For the performance poet, nothing is more rewarding than pulling off a great set, when everything seems to flow right, everyone picks up the vibes at the right moments and, if you’re lucky, you hear a few clicks at some of your snappier lines.

But what are the components that make a good set? How can you refine these elements to produce a great set? Can anyone produce a great set?

I am a firm believer that the ultimate power of poetry lies in performance. The difference between good poetry and a good poetry performance is astronomical. Poor performance is the killer of even the best poetry.

Right up front, a poet should have a clear, well-rehearsed intro that sets the tone for the performance. This first impression can be a plug for all the cool stuff you do, it could be how long you’ve been a poet, why you write or just a greeting to the audience. Whatever you say, the way you say it and what you do while saying it are critical factors is informing the relationship you and your audience will share.

Movement is an often-underutilised tool of poets. Mostly we are static performers, occupying one spot on the stage. Some people overperform, transitioning to full-blown acting, which robs the nuance of a poetry performance. Good movement is built around a good stance, not too far away from the microphone but with ample room to move one’s hands (a study on TED talks found that viral speakers used about twice as many hand motions as the least popular).

A good performer knows how to use eye contact. Avoiding meeting people’s eyes can give you a sense of vulnerability and make people ill at ease, perfect for pieces on mental health and sensitive subjects, while a confident poem, maybe one that relies on humour, will need direct eye contact. Human beings can accurately read emotion from just the positioning of one’s eyelids, everything else is an extra tool we use but eye contact is our most basic method of communication. People who seek eye contact while speaking are regarded not only as exceptionally well-disposed by their targets, but also as more believable and earnest.

The poems you select should form a coherent emotional narrative. It’s no use pulling out random poems with no connection if you want to deliver the most impact. For a ten-minute set, I like to use three poems to tell a small story, with a beginning, middle and end. This can be falling in love, being in love, and then falling out of love; birth, life, and death; or anything you can imagine. Some poems will take the place of two of those steps but as long as the narrative is there, your audience will find the connections. I usually like to add one, off-topic, funny poem, just to leave the audience in a good place.

Between each poem, you have your links. While some people like to fill this with improvised banter, this is a risky endeavour and probably more for the experienced performers. Most of us should rely on pre-rehearsed links. If you are a lighter poet, having a few stand-alone jokes is a great crowd pleaser, or if you deal with a heavier subject-matter, your stories should be concise but set the stage for your poem. Remember, your poetry should be doing the heavy lifting.

Finally, if you’re looking to tour it’s wise to have a go-to set. Your regular, home nights can be used for your new, experimental material, but if you’re aiming to visit other events then having a set you can rely on to bring the house down is essential. I have poems I’m reasonably certain I can recite while asleep, heavily drunk or nervous as hell. I have poems I recite while doing the dishes. Everything is rehearsal time, so when I go out in front of a new audience, I have an absolute command of my set. This enables me to change what I’m doing based on the will of the audience. The ability to be receptive to what the audience likes is a key skill that every poet should learn but this comes from experience and rehearsal.

How To Ask For Poetry Gigs

Poets are hungry folks. We’re constantly looking for new audiences and venues to perform in. We’re a little like sharks: if we stop, we’re done.

Having said this, trying to find those gigs we want can require a more delicate touch than simply firing off a public comment. “Fancy booking me for a feature set?” isn’t the way to go.

Firstly, I’d like to state that a promoter’s private social media profile is usually their private space. If you wouldn’t be comfortable knocking on their front door, you shouldn’t message their private page unless they’re using that to host the gig. Most poetry promoters will have a public page or event for their night or themselves, which you can message. Some even ask you to send an email, especially if you’re asking for feature or headline work. Don’t think you’re being smart or jumping the queue by sending someone a direct message, you just look arrogant. Just like submitting written poetry to a magazine, you need to check the process and follow it.

If you’ve used the proper channel and haven’t heard back after a while, it’s okay to send a follow-up message. However, consider how long it’s been since you sent your first enquiry. Most promoters are busy mid-career poets who are dealing with their own bookings, their current feature acts, and promoting a night, alongside side jobs and family life.

If they don’t want to book you, don’t take it to heart. They might have specific criteria they are basing booking decisions on (such as gender representation) or your work might not be the right fit for their night. Be polite and thank them for their consideration. No one has ever changed their minds when seeing an ego flare up.

Now, onto the actual asking…

Don’t be too upfront and name drop/strut your accomplishments. This is especially off-putting to newer promoters, and in their eyes, you can actually disqualify yourself by sounding too good. It’s also really arrogant to assume they want to know; they may have an entire year of features booked up and here you are, rubbing what you’ve done in their face. Promoters are also almost always poets and sometimes, a little jealousy can creep in.

The best way to start your enquiry is to show that you have actually considered their event instead of sending the same email to a hundred different poetry nights. Most importantly, have you been to one of their events before? If not, have you looked at their work online? Do you follow them or have you heard great things from people? Let them know that! It’s softly appealing to their ego before you’ve even thought about asking for something from them. You are trying to start a dialogue rather than holding them hostage until they agree to book you.

So when is the right time to ask about booking? Once you’ve let the promoter know that they are being personally contacted, you can ask to be considered. Lay out why you’re asking for a gig; are you going to be in the area, or do you have a new book or show you’d like to promote?

The tone of your message should balance between humility and with a confidence befitting your work. If you genuinely feel you deserve the opportunity, it’s easy to make that case, but if you know you’re fishing, it’s easy to go on the offensive and scare promoters away.

I like to include a separate attachment that functions as a kind of CV or résumé, covering my bio and other achievements. It’s important that you don’t exaggerate yourself. Paint an honest picture of the work you’ve done. As an example, if you have won a monthly Hammer & Tongue slam, don’t tell people you’re THE Hammer & Tongue Champion, just say you won a monthly Hammer & Tongue slam.

Another particular bugbear of mine is this: don’t tell people you’ve supported major names if that’s not the truest case. If you’ve performed on the same stage, as part of the same event as a particular poet, and been booked to appear, then you have supported them. But if you were on a different stage during the weekend that that poet performed at, you haven’t supported that act. If you were part of an open mic or slam that a performer headlined, you haven’t supported them. If you cannot suitably fill in your accomplishments, perhaps you shouldn’t be looking at applying for feature sets just yet.

Finally, thank the promoter for their time. They’re busy people and even if they don’t want to book you for that night, a good impression can lead to other opportunities down the line. Some promoters will program festivals or work on fundraisers, or even run separate nights. You may be perfect for those future opportunities but if you don’t come across well, you can miss those chances.

Even if the opportunities don’t come, keep at it. Sooner or later, you will find yourself in a better position, professionally speaking, and you’ll be the right person for a slot in the future. Getting to those moments through hard work and growth feels so much better than trying to force your way into these things.

No Apologies – How to introduce a poem

I’ve seen it a hundred times. A newer poet takes the mic, prepares themselves to read their work and utters the fateful words “This probably isn’t any good.”

At this moment a handful of things happen. Firstly, the audience switch off and begin talking with their friends or checking their Facebook. Secondly, the host gets a little irritable, wondering why you’re taking mic time if your material isn’t good, and lastly, I, in the back of the room, wince.

People think they’re being humble when they say “this isn’t very good” or self deprecating when they say “this is really depressing” but the truth is by building these low expectations into your set, you give the audience the right to ignore you. Why would people want to listen to bad poetry?

To be a performance poet, you need to have a little bit of an ego. Nothing too crass but enough to justify standing on a stage and saying “these are my feelings and you should listen.” Even if you don’t feel like a rockstar, you have been given that time behind the microphone to wow a room. It’s okay to not rush into performance, to hold back work while you edit and make it better or to only perform when you have new work ready but you should never apologise. There is a validity in everyone’s poetry, including yours.

Another negative point about telling the audience your poem will be bad, you are telling them what to think. The poem, upon leaving the mouth of the poet, becomes that of the audiences. It is there’s to make of it what they wish, to find the notes that resonate with their own lives and the particular wordplay that appeal to them. Not every poem will be for everyone and that’s okay. Even if you connect with one person in the room, you have accomplished something wonderful.

We apologise before a poem because that’s when we are at our most nervous. Some go the other way and deliver long monologues before their pieces exploring the themes and inspirations behind everything. Once this has been done, is there really any reason to hear the poem?

This is done so one can acclimatise to the stage and the audience but it robs a performance of it’s power. Introducing poetry is hard, you don’t want to give too much away but you’re also compelled to show people what you’ve done and why.

Before beginning a poetry performance, I take a second to look out at the audience. I will adjust the microphone properly and then I will say hello. Nothing grand, just a simple hello. The audience is here to share an intimate moment with you and should be treated like a friend. This is all you need, those few moment of comfortable stillness.

Your introduction should be planned before hand. No more than two or three sentences. You are here to perform poetry, not to monologue. The simplest introduction is “This is a poem called…” and it works. The poem should speak for itself. You can say “this is about…” and give away the broad theme. The important thing is to not dwell on specifics and to have a clear idea of what you’re about to say before you say. This is where planning your set is absolutely vital. As you become more confident as a performer, you can start improvising but only once you’ve built that back catalogue of pre-amble and developed your confidence as a performer.

I often tell people the performance poet should be 1/5th a standup comedian. This doesn’t mean you need to be a wacky madman behind the mike, it just means as poets we can draw up the same confidence, story-telling and presence you see in comedians. We’re not given as many performances inspirations as poets outside of those we see live and on the internet. Stand-up comedy, provided you fully analyse the differences between the genre and poetry, is the closest we will usually see in our everyday lives.

Once you have taken the time to intro your piece, clear your throat. Step away from the microphone, give a little cough or sip of your drink and have another micropause. You’re about to switch from one gear to another, and like a car, you can get the engine jammed. Taking that time to refocus your headspace can make the difference between a flawless set and one with a coughing fit in the middle.

Step back to the microphone, take your final breath and begin. You’ve set them up, now knock them dead.