Interview: Performance Poetry with Alison Hill

InterviewsLast week we introduced you guys to the upcoming poetry and music event in Kingston known as Rhythm & Muse.  This week, we had a chat with the event’s creator, poet Alison Hill.  Alison was kind enough to share some of her thoughts with us about her work, her passion for local art and what it means to see it performed live right here in our community. 

by Stephanie Dotto and Cais Jurgens

S: So, Alison, tell us a little bit about some of your work as a poet.  Do you have anything new coming out?

A: Well, I’ve been writing since about the mid-90s, submitting to magazines and anthologies and have been published in quite a wide selection of magazines.  Some of my work has been translated into Romanian and German via poetry pf.   I also have some poems in a forthcoming anthology, Poets in Person, edited by Aprilia Zank which features twenty established poets. It’s a follow up to a reading event at The Glassblower pub last year. My new full collection, Slate Rising, is coming out in April with Indigo Dreams Publishing.

S: Who are your favourite poets?  Are there any particular movements of poetry that have inspired your writing?

A: Well Eliot and Yeats have always sort of been with me and I read lots of contemporary women poets.

C: Are most of the poets that you read self-published?

A: Well, not really, no.  But lots of the guest readers that come to Rhythm & Muse come to promote new collections, so I read their work as well.  Anthologies are great for discovering new poets.

S:  We wanted to ask a bit more about Rhythm & Muse.  Why did you start up Rhythm & Muse?  Do you feel like it benefits the community, especially Kingston University?

A:   I started R&M seven years ago.  I read at a similar event in Portsmouth and was inspired by the mix of music and poetry. It was a similar concept.  I became friendly with the poet who runs that and set up Rhythm & Muse in the back room of a pub, which worked very well for about three years.  Maggie Sawkins of Tongues & Grooves was one of the guest poets at the launch, as well as Siobhan Campbell from Kingston University.  Then we moved R&M to the Ram Jam Club in Kingston.  The audience came with us and we also started working with the writing school to encourage more people.  It’s a valuable platform for new writers.  We get lots of student groups, which is great because they tell other people about it and they can share their new work.  But we also feature guest poets—mainly published poets—so they can come along and read.  The synergy between the musicians and the poets is great as well because we have musicians who listen to the work and they wouldn’t normally do that at a music gig; they always say that they appreciate the listening audience.  I think that works really well.  I try to mix it up in terms of forms and styles.

S: In what ways do you feel Kingston students can get involved?  Of course we want to get more of them reading, but are there other ways they can help out with the planning of the events or running the events?

A: A bit of both, really.  We are very open to people coming up with ideas for events or helping to run evenings.

S:  How do you think it benefits the writer to get up there and read their work out loud?

A: In quite a few ways.  It’s confidence building, and I think, until you read your poems aloud, you can’t always hear whether one line works.  It’s great to hear yourself reading in front of an audience as well; to hear an audience respond and wait for that ‘mmm’ at the end.  And learning how to read into a silence is also valuable.  It is a great way to develop as a reader.  Lots of people have read at our events for the first time.  They often say they think they will be nervous but they keep coming back, which is great.  It’s a sort of confidence builder.  We’ve actually seen people really develop and grow as readers, which is inspiring.  And we do sort of pride ourselves, because it is such a friendlyspace, that the audience is generally appreciative of first timers because the audience is made up of musicians and other poets.  We give people five minutes, which is often two or three minutes longer than other open mic venues.  That way you get to read more than just one poem and the audience hears more of your work.

C: What tips would you give to somebody trying to get over stage fright?

A: Just keep practising. In front of the mirror is good. And listening to your words. You can’t just write for the page, you have to write to be heard and read.  There are other things, like learning how to hold a microphone and how to stand and listening to the pitch of your voice.  And also, learning how to read the audience, because different audiences are different in different places as well.

C:  When you write a poem, do you find that the inspiration sort of just hits you or do you have to sit down and work at it?

A:  It depends, really.  Some do come to a neat finish and I don’t really tamper with those.  At other times I might work on something for a while and it comes out a few years later. Kernels of something that come into the poem.  Or you might have lines of something that come into the poem from a while back.

S: As of right now, are there any events you guys are planning that are joined with Kingston University?

A: There is something coming up in February, which is a link up with the Stanley Picker Gallery.  We’ve worked with them before.  We’ve done a workshop, where we took a group of people into the gallery and wrote in response to their exhibition. So they’ve asked us if we’d like to get a group in for their new exhibition, Boudicca, and we might have another workshop or a tour.  People will be invited to write in response to the artwork and we will have a reading at Rhythm & Muse and maybe the gallery as well.

S: And just to kind of wrap things up, do you have any advice for aspiring poets? Are there any particular competitions or writing journals that you would recommend people submit to so they can get their work out there?

A:  The Poetry Library on the Southbank is a great resource; have a look at their website.  Actually, just go and visit. Every poetry collection that has been published is kept there and you can browse through all the poetry magazines and journals as well. And keep reading, as widely as possible.

Due to the high density of those involved in higher education, Kingston has no shortage of talented artists and musicians aching to share their work.  While we all dream of being successful at what we do, whether we’re prose writers, artists, musicians, or poets, real success begins at the local level.  Getting involved at supporting your local arts scene is not only good for local artists but for the community as a whole.  Whether you come to listen or to participate, the upcoming Rhythm & Muse is a great place to be inspired.

Thursday 30 January, featuring guest poet John Greening with music from Elphara and open mic.

Ram Jam Club, Kingston, 8.30pm
 £6 (£5) on the door 

For more info visit


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