Francesca Beard: Bulgarian Writing's Emotional Intelligence Is Impressive

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | October 4, 2002, Friday // 00:00

Francesca Beard was born in Kuala Lumpur and spent the 70' growing up in Penang, Malaysia. Now she exists as a London-based poet, performing "spine-tingling" and "brilliant" spoken word to audiences all over Britain and the world, in venues such as the ICA, the Jazz Cafй, the NuYorican Cafй in New York, Cithea in Paris and Night Town in Rotterdam. Festivals include the Edinburg Fringe, Hay-On-Wye, Roskilde (Denmark) and Glastonbury. Her self-published chapbook "Cheap" is now for sale in its fourth imprint. She has a regular column in the Guardian Guide and performa utterly magical music with her folk-pop group Charley Marlowe. Francesca Beard was in Bulgaria to take part in the Performing Literature festival, inspired by last year's Scottish Writers in Bulgaria festival. Within the framework of the festival leading writers and musicians on the international arts scene presented their work in Sofia, Veliko Turnovo and Russe.

Francesca Beard met Milena Hristova, Editor of the News and Novinite.com


Q: Performing Literature festival opened with a workshop, in which you took part together with the other writers and artists. Tell us something more about the workshop and the works that you selected to be performed her.

A: Basically it is a workshop where there are three British writers and one British musician. All of all are quite experienced in the crossover of spoken words and music - the three of us have worked a lot with music, and Piers, as a musician has worked a lot with writers. We came over here to work with a number of Bulgarian writers and musicians. Our idea was to put together an evening performance, which used music and spoken words. We started by asking the Bulgarian writers to pick a Bulgarian piece that they thought would work with music.

We started off the workshop by concentrating solely on performance skills and did not work with music at all at the beginning. The reason for this is that most of the writers that we are working were not performed at all, but were just writers for the page. Later on with started working with the musicians and they were fantastic. The great thing about musicians is the way the are used to listening. A lot of them have a background in jack music, so they were very fluent in improvisation. Hopefully we are coming now into a dialogue, where the music and poetry is equal. In my opinion the workshop was really good and Roger, who led it, did a great job.

As to my works, I selected short ones, where the words may breathe and the meaning is held in the way that you say it, as much as the logical argument that runs through the work. I would not choose something very wordy and conversational, but choose something imagistic, with one kind of emotional tone or right way through.

Q: You were born in Kuala Lumpur and grew up in an idyllic island paradise on the Eastern coast of Malaysia. What did you take with you from this exotic spirit and what do you choose to bring into your poetry?

A: I think I am quite romantic in the way that I see the world, but I do not know whether this is because of the fact that I was born in that really beautiful, intensively moving place. It is a really interesting question because one of the things that I took from there is the sense of "outsider- ness". My father is English and my mother is Chinese-Malaysian. And I never felt like I really belonged to either England or Malaysia. The sense of being slightly outside the society and looking in is really useful for a writer. Still I think most people in the outside feel like they are outsiders. Writing is this need to make sense of the world, to communicate what we find amazing or vicious or beautiful or cruel about the world. I just try to convey all this through my poetry.

Q: After giving up your "real jobs" you decided to become a fictional character, whose life is like mowing a sloping hill. Don't you think that such a description holds true for each human being? May be we all are fictional characters in some fictional world that is just in head...

A: Yes, I totally agree with you. I was really so sorry for myself when I was growing up and I felt I was the saddest, most lonely child in the world. A lot of people have hardships during their life but they decide to focus on their happiness. When I was a small child I felt like I was quite fictional. The I went through a period of "reality", and then - may be ten years ago - I decided to be fictional again. And it is much truer to be a fictional character. I still do the washing up and the shopping, I pay my taxes... I don't want to sound pompous but before I was writing I was much more egotistical, I took myself much more seriously. Writing allows to express yourself, to communicate things, to be angry or take things to extremes and you can be much more boring or reasonable in your actual life.

Q: Performing literature festival aims to present literature and reach the public at massive events. Don't you think this could interfere with personal, intimate feeling that is associated with poetry in particular?

A: No, I don't' think so. If you come out and see a live performance of poetry it does not mean that you are not going to go back and read poetry and have a very personal, introspective experience. These are two completely different forms and there certain are nuances and subtleties. If I was doing a performance I never mind if someone zones off because something I have said is cool and reminded them of something personal. They might not be listening for the next three minutes, they might think about the time they were at the sea and it was really warm, but that is fine. The advantage of live performance is that you take part in a totally unique moment and could become electric and gave a kind of epiphany of present - ness. This could make you feel like you are part of a community, which has shared something unique. It is like listening to music on CD music and going to a gig. It is well known that poetry originally was aural and it was only later with printing that people read it in the solitude of their own homes.

Q: Judging by your experience what is the difference in the response of the American and European audience?

A: The American audience is much more vocal and interactive. In the United States there is a tradition of "slam poetry", where the audience shouts or cheers or cheers during the poem. Europe has more of a literary tradition and it can be much more intellectual, while you can be more complex.

Q: What are your expectations as to the reactions of the Bulgarian audience?

A: I hope they will like it and people will come out and talk to us afterwards. I hope they will feel like it is a genuine cultural exchange not only between Great Britain and Bulgarian, but between poetry and music. I knew embarrassingly little about Bulgarian culture before coming here. Now I will go back to UK with having learnt about a separate culture from mine and hopefully being informed by that. The level of writing and musicianship I have seen here is very high. I am not just impressed, but thrown away by it, so that I will be braver in the way I write. In Great Britain we want so much make it dynamic and exciting that sometimes I forget the subtlety, intricacy and complexity of imagery. What I find really impressive is the kind of intellectuallness of imagery and emotional intelligence in the writing I have seen here.

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