Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Q&A With Poet & Playwright Sabrina Mahfouz

World meet Sabrina Mahfoz, Sabrina meet the world… oh’ you’ve already met? Yes that’s right Sabrina is critically acclaimed in theatre and poetry having won numerous awards for her performances such as the Old Vic New Voices TS Eliot New York Award.

Sabrina rocked the Chill Pill stage last year with her gobby, energetic, poetical monologues from a greasy, grimy world of nightclubs… no one does it quite like Mahfouz.

Hello Sabrina, first off, congratulations on all your recent success, how you finding stardom?

I am enjoying wearing sunglasses at all times, thanks. 

The trend of the poet doing one man/woman theatre shows is back, how does a poet know when he/she is ready to make that leap? – I mean, is there such a thing as doing it too soon?

There are some things in life you can never do too soon, like reading and writing and music. Some things should probably wait at least a while but also not too too long - like sex and drugs and solo shows. I think if someone feels like a solo show is the best way for them to say what they have to say then cool, they should do it. but it shouldn't be forced out of a feeling of 'poetry career trajectory' or whatever. If you can say what you want to say in a 2 minute poem, then just do thata solo show isn't an essential, it's just one option. 

Aesthetically what’s the difference between a Spoken Word Poet performing a poem and an actor performing a monologue?

Yeh I never really was able to articulate this when people kept asking where I'd trained as an actor and I was like, no I'm just a poet performing my words, not an actor and they would raise eyebrows and nod sadly like I was delusional. There's plenty of crossover, as there is in all performance. I guess an actor performing a monologue is delivering a complete character to the audience, a snippet of that character's life they are sharing with you in that moment and if they are good, then you are there with them completely. Whilst spoken word poets also often become charactersI think that they are usually more concerned with storytelling, narrating, delivering rhythm and beauty of language and words rather than wholly embodying a character. But that is a massive generalisation and would be very interested to hear more articulate thoughts from others on this! 

You and Hollie Mcnish have recently used your poetry to campaign against The Sun’s page 3, how effective would you say poetry mixes with activism?

Poetry has the ability to access the most basic parts of us and also the most noble, the people we are but also the ones we want to be. That sounds wanky, but I think that's it is the only art form that can do this in such a short time and with such hard-hitting results. For one line of words to impact so much more than the sum of them should is something that can of course be used successfully for activism and has been in different ways since it existed. All of the Arab 'awakenings' over the past couple of years, really do have a poem or rap lyrics quite central to the momentum of protest which led to change. Qatar has recently jailed a poet, Mohammed al-Ajami, for writing a poem criticising the Emir  (jailed for life initially, just changed to 15 years). Even at a time when Qatar are strategically trying to be seen as contributors to culture in the world, this poetry and poet was thought to be too dangerous and provocative for people to have access to. All poetry has a bit of activism in it I reckon anyway and activism is often poetical, trying to get somewhere, find something better, reach understandings. 
Poetry is now being showcased on bigger stages, Deanna Rodger and myself spoke poems with Chris Redmond and the Tongue Fu band at The Royal Albert Hall last week, Edinburgh Fringe now has a Spoken Word section, Bang Said The Gun showcase poets on channel 4, Kate Tempest and George The Poet have been all over the BBC. Are these the kinds of platforms that are “validating” Spoken Word as an art form?

These platforms are of course creating a wider audience which means that the art form is known by more and more people all the time which creates a growing demand and an awareness that it is possible to think of poetry and not think of school or dead people. So that is a great thing and I really hope we can keep up the momentum which inspires a whole new generation to start writing and performing, I'm excited to be discovering new spoken word artists all the time - often through the platforms you mention. It is getting harder and harder for people to dismiss spoken word and that makes me happy. 

As a poet who’s been written about by newspapers, magazines, blogs across the board, (not all praise) I’d like to ask you how you respond to criticism? 

After a particularly annoying article from a particularly twatty and annoying magazine I tweeted the writer and said if I saw her in Shoreditch I would bust her nose. But that was an exception and I don't endorse violence of any kindobviously. But it was funny. Generally though I just read it and spend a little time thinking on what was said and if something is highlighted that I recognise as honest - whether good or bad - then I will try and take that on board for future. If there's been a huge misunderstanding - like I'm saying prostitution is empowering or something, which has happened, then I might punch a few cushions and then scour through the script to see if there's any big fault or if the person just probably heard what they wanted to hear, which you can't do much about. 

I ask all the women I interview this but… wanna dance?

Only if it's UK garage. Then, all night mate. 

What’s next for Sabrina Mahfouz?

I'm writing and rewriting and writing and rewriting a novelA play for young people for The National Theatre about free speech and revolution in Egypt. New poems. A show about a chef. Doing a Channel 4 Drama thing. Anger management. You know.

Follow Sabrina Mahfouz on twitter - @SabrinaMahfouz

Keep updated on her site -

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