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Q&A: Scottish performance poet El Gruer


Scottish performance poet, El Gruer (25), who brings her unique creative talent to the 4 Corners Festival in Belfast tomorrow, reveals how a mix-up set her on her path

You're a performance poet but ... what does this mean exactly?

I never wanted to write poetry for poets, but for real people. I felt we needed to take poetry where the people are and de-stigmatise it. That meant heading to mainstream festivals and bringing a whole new concept to poetry, apart from just doing readings. With the performance aspect, there is staging and props and I have everything memorised.

When did you first discover your love of poetry?

Back in high school. There had been a mix-up in my timetable. I had wanted to be an art teacher, but English had been put as my subject and we weren't allowed to change it. I was devastated. There was a creative writing element though, and that's when I realised – I love this.

Most people would say being a poet is a risky career choice. What did your

family say?

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There was advice to do something more 'professional' and generic – to kept writing on the side and build it up – but for me, that was a bit of a sell-out for the creative dream. My goal was poetry.

After university you embarked on two back-to-back tours. How did you fund these and what did they involve?

Essentially, the idea was that I didn't ever charge a fee, but if people wanted to contribute anything, it got me to the next place. My mantra was – if I can get there and you can put me up, I will perform!

Where did you find yourself performing?

I would do any venue, and that gave people creative ideas – which was part of my vision. So, I would do house gigs or see someone's grandmother in hospital, or do big festivals like Greenbelt, or a hippy festival on a farm, or go to a high Anglican church, to schools and weddings ... I wanted to take poetry into places where poetry doesn't normally go.

How did people respond to you?

I suppose so few people have heard of performance poetry, that they didn't have an expectation of it. They were like, this is really enjoyable and interesting, and started to experience it. That's what I wanted – poetry to become an experience.

What inspires your work?

I'm influenced, definitely, by people and by brokenness and every part of the spectrum of human experience and emotion. I always write from somebody else's view. I also do humour.

You're performing at the 4 Corners Festival. How did this come about?

Steve Stockman got in touch. He was keen to include poetry and wanted the festival to focus on things like voice and place. For me, being from outside but living here, it's a different perspective.

You're currently doing a poetry MA at Queen's. What's next after this?

I'm getting married in November, but it'll be in Brighton. My brother is also getting married in July, so it'll be busy!

interview: claire savage

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