Interview: Poet Erin Talks Grief, Writing Advice & Mental Health

Poet Erin Bolens has toured the UK and been awarded residencies in recognition of her brilliant poetic talent, including at the renowned Roundhouse in London. You might have caught some of her work on E4 or in Nationwide Building Society ads and her varied career has even seen her work with The Royal Academy of Art.

Think about what you want to be remembered for and how you remember others

Now Erin wants to talk about death. It's something that affects us all, but is rarely spoken about in a frank and open way. Why? We spoke to the Leeds poet to find out why she wanted to talk about the one subject no one else will.

Tell us more about What We Leave Behind will bring to Brighton Fringe?

The aim is to try and normalise talking about mortality - to get people discussing what they would like to be remembered by and how they remember people. I want to encourage people to have conversations about what song they would like to be played at their funeral for example, but in a light-hearted way.

It is varied - it’s sensitive, but also humorous. The performance is a bit like a rollercoaster - like life - there are moments of sadness, ridiculousness and laughter.

What feedback have you had from your performances?

After my shows it is amazing how many people offload their stories to me and email through their personal experiences.

Sharing the same ideas about how when someone close to you goes and you are left with all their belongings thinking what should I do with all these things? – belongings, letters, to some extent lots of crap. All these things you would probably chuck out if that person was alive, but when they are gone you want to keep them.

It seems that as soon as there is an opportunity to talk about this people really have something to say and almost enjoy being able to talk about it. That’s the impression I have had from my audience so far.

How does your show stand out from other acts at the Fringe?

It covers a lot of genres, and although it is spoken word, it's quite theatrical. I have a live musician performing with me and lots of projections and recordings as well. It will be a very sensory piece to make it an interactive and interesting performance. I have included sound clips of other people’s experiences so the audience can hear different perspectives.

I have also been working with a director on this show which has been really helpful for taking my writing off the page and putting it more into a performance role.

How do you prepare before you go on stage?

I can get a bit nervous, there is a lot about my life, a lot of personal experiences included in my performance but I make sure to prepare everything, as much as I can, given that I am sort of a one man band. I also make sure to warm up my voice.

I find watching other performances beforehand really helps as well.

With such a focus on mental health, memory and mortality, what do you think are good ways of understanding these in our society?

It's good to talk to each other and open up about memories of those that aren’t with us, mental health and mortality - these are conversations that we so often avoid. I also think it’s important to learn to be ok with yourself when you don’t always have the answer to your own concerns.

For me creative writing is also a massive part of it. That is what I go to and what I use to understand my own feelings and the world around me - just bash it out on the notepad for a bit! It doesn’t even need to be heard, just the act of thinking it through can be a huge help - it can be really cathartic.

What would be your advice to others who are hoping to get into spoken word?

Write as much as you can and watch lots of people. By going to other spoken word events you can learn different style frames. Once you have done that for a bit you end up developing your own.

Also don’t beat yourself when you get writer's block, it is completely natural. If you keep writing and absorb what is around you then it will only be a matter of time before something comes out. It doesn’t even have to be poetry. Watch a programme, a documentary or read a news article and jot down your ideas. You don't have to absorb the same thing you want to produce, you can use anything that creates thoughts for your inspiration.

Have a go - you never really regret anything that you have a go at!

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Absolutely anywhere really, but it generally comes from a strong emotion - something that makes me really really laugh or something that makes me really, really cry. It’s usually a strong feeling that I will try and figure out with my pen.

What message are you hoping your audience to go away and think about after seeing your show?

Think about what you want to be remembered for and how you remember others, be open about it. It's almost like when someone dies they become a celebrity, suddenly they’re put on a pedestal and everything they ever owned becomes really meaningful. Say what you mean to say to people now, while they are alive, not just in a moment of crisis.

What sort of audience are you hoping to see?

Everyone ideally. I think it is a performance that speaks to most people because it is as much about thinking about your own legacy as the legacy of others.

I would also like to introduce live poetry and live literature to people who wouldn’t necessarily think that was something they enjoyed by merging it with comedy, theatre and music.

It doesn’t matter what age you are or where you are from, it probably does or certainly will affect everyone at some point.

Any final words with us before you take the stage?

I am really excited. A festival atmosphere is so different. When you perform at a poetry night it attracts a certain crowd, but at a festival there is such a curious energy which I really love. People are open to be surprised and are much more inquisitive.

The script and poems have been published as a book that Erin will have with her at the Fringe. Catch Erin Bolens' show What We Leave Behind at The Warren (11th-13th May, 14:30).

Related Listings

What We Leave Behind

What We Leave Behind

How do we remember those who have died? Why are we so attached to their stuff? Have you ever pictured your own funeral? Erin has. She's pictured yours too. Not everyone will be in black and at least one person will just be there for the buffet... 

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