Wednesday, 11 March 2015

A Bit about Me


Interview with Sarah Cobham Poet and Writer
by Halima Mayat Chair Woman of the Black Horse Poets - Wakefield

Sarah was born and raised in Australia but is now settled and established as a writer based in Yorkshire. Her style is reflective and based on detailed observation. It is deeply influenced by her experiences of different cultures, the natural world and the people she meets. Her work is full of stories and constitutes a platform for the female voice.


Sarah first graduated from the University of Teesside where she specialised in Feminist Literature, and, after lots of travelling, went to Oxford to get her PGCE in  English and Drama.  As an English teacher, with 22 years of experience, she feels this has given her an important skills base for writing, and is now focussing on expressing her own creative self.

Sarah is a poet, writer, public speaker and performance poet and specialises in providing activities that help women find their  creative voice through a myriad of genres. As a Wakefield Council Creative Partner in 2014 her project ‘Giving the Voiceless a Voice’ enabled otherwise marginalised sections of society to explore their creative potential and ‘own’ that experience.


Her continued success as a Creative Partner into 2015 sees her working with the Polish Community to create a short film capturing the stories of their lives and will also see Sarah as the Writer in Residence at the Well Women Centre in Wakefield. This thirteen month project provides a platform for the Woman’s creative voice and is funded by Creative Minds, Creative Partners and the Arts Council UK.

Sarah has been involved in the Wakefield Literature Festival, leading various workshops to empower the female voice and has her work published in the Italian on-line magazine, Margutte  as a result of being a post-code winner in the annual Red Shed Poetry Competition.


 Sarah also writes a blog called ‘Unspoken Georgian’


This blog deals with issues that confront women in the Republic of Georgia.  She became involved in Georgia as a result of being in the Georgian choir ‘Samzeo’ and has organised tours to the UK for singers and artists from Georgia since 2009.


Many of her performance pieces based on her blog are about  issues that are hard hitting and confront many taboo subjects which link women across the globe.

Sarah founded ‘Dream Time Baby Massage’ www.dreamtimebabymassage.co.uk. in 1998.

Dreamtime is Wakefield’s oldest, most established and most successful Baby Massage business whose primary aim is to support mums and babies during crucial first months.

 

I met Sarah on a blustery Monday morning and we shared a cuppa at Mocca Moocha.


Do you have a routine when writing?

Yes I do. It’s funny, but the house has to be clean and my workspace has to be organised. I don't like domestic chores hanging over me and I don't want to be writing and be aware that house needs hovering! If any domestic chores need doing, I do them quickly but it also depends on how urgent the writing is.

I don't have the radio on or anything like that, I need a quiet, light and airy space which is why I work on my lap top in the conservatory.


What is your favourite part of the writing process?


I like words that make an impact. The physical process of leafing through my thesaurus, feeling the paper, smelling the print is deeply satisfying. I also use the thesaurus and dictionary on my lap-top and although it takes less time, it is not as fulfilling.

I thoroughly enjoy playing with words, swapping them around, playing with them. It is important to me to find the right word and ‘feeling’ when it is in its exact place. Believe it- or-not my favourite book is the thesaurus!

What is your least favourite part of the writing process?

I tend to over-complicate things initially especially if I am trying to pin down a complex idea.  But, I recognise that in myself and I have a great editor who helps me de-construct the process, for which I am very grateful.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Everyone says to ‘read, read, read’ and I would agree with that but I would also say ‘watch, listen, observe’. Watching will feed your writing. Watch people, the sky, animals, trees. Feel their energy, touch things if you can, try to connect with them. Writing is seen as a solitary process and of course the ACT of writing is but the process does not have to happen in isolation. You don’t have to be ‘angst’ to be a writer, you just have to be real and honest – to yourself. Write about what moves YOU, what makes you feel passionate about and be true to your own emotional integrity. That way you will have created something real and honest and people, if they come across your writing, will feel that connection and it will matter to them, and you. Have courage and write about things that you care about.


When did you first begin writing and why?

I had a yellow exercise book full of poems I wrote when I was 16. I just needed a platform to respond to A Level text. I read my poems out in class and the students really engaged with it.

My writing style changed as I travelled through life. When I was at Oxford it was mainly academic writing. When I was teaching I wrote comments on student's work. I lost the ability to write creatively.

About 12 years ago I self-published a book called ‘Her Eight of Cups’. It was picked up by WH Smiths and I did some local author talks and signings but did not have the time to pursue it any further after that initial flurry of interest. The process of writing at that time was very therapeutic for me.  I was writing a lost love out of my system. Lots of people over the years have contacted me after finding it on Amazon and said some very complimentary things about it.


What authors have inspired you?


My goodness, where to start? Virginia Woolf has influenced me deeply. I really connect with her stream of consciousness style. She was also an incredibly fascinating woman and of course was part of The Bloomsbury set, which influenced how women’s writing was portrayed.


I admire Simon Armitage and feel very connected to his poetry style. His epic poem after the 9/11 attacks was incredible and I will never forget how I stood stock still in a busy street reading and reading until the end and then wiping away the tears. People must have thought I was bonkers!

Maya Angelou has also been deeply influential to me. As an activist and female modern writer both her poetry and prose gave me the permission I needed to use the anger I feel about the injustices people, but women in particular, face in their daily lives.  She says, ‘Anger is good, it is what fires our senses and forces change.’ I like that.

You write a blog called Unspoken Georgia. What made you decide to write about Georgia?

I have had a relationship with Georgia for about 8 years.

In the beginning, it was like being in the first throes of any new relationship. It was experience of pure love for the music, the people, the beauty of the countryside and the culture. It was very exotic.

The more I visited Georgia and the more I became involved, the more I found the society violent & deeply misogynistic. I have always been a feminist activist and have challenged gender stereotypes, even as a teacher in the classroom, I found my anger at the ‘doubleplusthink’ techniques used by men against women in the Georgian society and the fact that I felt ‘tricked’ by the illusion the country gives out of itself, that anger just spilled over onto the page.  Hence the blog, ‘Unspoken Georgian’

What would your final message be to people who are reading my blog?
I think we are living in difficult but exciting times creatively. Wakefield has some amazing creative partnerships happening and lots of new things are being created all the time. I would urge anyone to become involved. Be active, not passive, start writing, reading, performing, creating.


Saturday, 31 January 2015

Telling more people about Georgia

I am immensely privileged to live in a city in Yorkshire where there is a flourishing spoken word and poetry scene. The Red Shed in Wakefield have been hosting Open Mic events during the Winter Months and I have been able to trial many of my Georgian poems  in a safe and supportive environment.


Every time I put a new piece up on here and pop it on my Facebook page, within an hour, over 100 people read it. This of course leads to others reading the other pieces and so, often, within 24 hours of each new piece going up over 500 people are reading about Georgia.


I feel incredibly humbled by this and it has given me the courage to share Georgia with a wider audience. I am now travelling to many spoken word events in Yorkshire to present my work and of course, Georgia's unique and oft time perplexing culture is rich soil in which to grow.


I wanted to put this little you-tube video here. It's a performance of the poem Erekle Street. I went on to read the short story that goes with it which is not, currently published on this blog.


Georgia has taken so much from me. But it has also given me much and for that I am grateful.


I hope you enjoy this little piece. My job now, before I return to Georgia to hear more of her stories,  try to understand further her complexities and continue to heal from the original trauma that took place within my relationship with her, is to tell more people about this maroon-grey-sunlight-black country so right now I am going to get out there and perform. I invite you to join me when you can.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IeP0CuRQMI&feature=youtu.be

Friday, 30 January 2015

Flight Home


Ah, the complete

Utter, total

Reliability of the English

Family.

The game of

Travel Scrabble.

That solid certainty

Of the measured, considered

Conversation.

 

Assailed by pain

I leant forward

Quietly asked if Mother had any

Paracetamol was

Immediately rewarded with

 

Kind eyes and an innate understanding.

She saw the trauma.

I sipped, gratefully the

Spare water donated from her bag.

 

My exhausted tears spilled onto

 Scribbled poetry.

 

Drifting in and out of their

Conversations I heard  Father say,

Whilst discussing a dilemma,

 

‘It depends on

Where your conscience lies’

Saturday, 24 January 2015

In the Departure Lounge


Waiting to board at Tbilisi airport I was struck by the irony of  signs everywhere that declared.

 

‘Tbilisi loves you’

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

What Happened Next?




37 left

36 stood up to applaud.

Oh Yeah… What she said.

 



Afterwards I was told by a Georgian journalist, who sat me down and said very firmly that,’ The whole event had been a disaster’.  I disagreed.   ‘As I was not Georgian I could never understand’ I was told. There was no mention of the astounding presentations by the artists, the strong voices of the other women, the incredible folk music, the clapping and cheering of the Georgian Funk presentation.  No, Natia had been too aggressive, too combative, contentious, too loud, too emotional, too intrusive.

 

Due to catch a very early morning flight the next day, after we had cleared up, bundled everything into the back of three taxis, got back to Eliso’s apartment and crashed out, left alone with my own emotions, I struggled to settle. I did not belong here and did not understand why I cared so much about a nation of bigots, homophobes, misogynists and sycophants. My cheeks burned. Who was I to even try to create a space for voices to be free?

 

How do you judge if an event has been a success? The attendance figures? The feedback  from people saying how much they enjoyed it? I would argue not. Indeed, if no one turns up then that’s a bit of an indicator that people aren’t interested. But people did turn up – a lot of them. Some left. That means they were engaged but either disagreed or were too scared to be seen there. (There are spies everywhere in Georgia)

 

The Tea Party engaged people in topics that are taboo in Georgia and they felt they had to leave. They left because they could and not because they could not, this is unlike many other events in Georgia where people have to be seen to stay for fear of reprisal. That means people thought about the content then and almost certainly thought about what they had heard afterwards. If what was said planted a seed in their minds which may grow or die, so be it. Only they can tell. At least they were exposed to an alternative view and it’s that which is important in the current Georgian society where the Orthodox Church constantly legitimises peoples prejudice and ignorance.

 

The fact that there were 36 people who stayed to  the end out of the original 100 who had come to speak not listen, eat free cake,  drink English tea out of china cups that were later stolen, showed me it was certainly not a failure.

 

If  one person now thinks about things differently then the tea party was a success.

 

Through the night texts and messages started coming through.  ‘Well done you– exactly right’, ‘More of it’ ‘Your bravery and vision is inspiring’, ‘Power to your elbow’.

 

When the alarm woke me up with a jolt just a few hours later, I could not wait to get on the plane and go home.  There had been no sign of him and I was exhausted.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Yeah... What she said.




 

As soon as Natia got up to speak this is what happened.

 

People left.

In disgust,

Apparently.

 

As soon as Natia had finished speaking this is what happened.

 

There was a mass exodus.

From 73 - 36

 

37 people felt tricked,

And were revolted,

Apparently.

 

37 people felt betrayed,

And utterly hoodwinked,

Apparently.

 

Now, apparently,

(And they mean this as the highest form of insult)

I am a lesbian,

Have always been a lesbian

And the whole event was designed

 

To humiliate them.

 

 

Natia said nothing that was controversial.  I wish she had.

She said nothing that would be out of place in a Citizenship lesson in any school in the UK.

What she said was thoughtful, informative, non-aggressive and honest.

 

What she said.

 

I was there May 17th 2012

When 10,000 priests tried to kill me and 49 of my friends.

 

She said,

 

I was there May 17th 2012

When the mini-bus I was bundled into by police officers

Who  had, before this point, stood by and watched until it was clear we would be trampled underfoot,

was rocked, side to side by a priest

With broken teeth

And wild eyes who beat at the glass until it shattered

And I thought,

I am only 24 years old.

 

She said,

 

Please look at me.

Please see me as a person.

See me for me, not for my sexuality.

 

She said,

 

See, my tears are real,

Hear, my sobs they chime to the same bells

That call you to church each day.

 

Here, take my hand,

Link arms with me,

I am warm, I am real,

I am me.

 

She said,

 

My mother loves me,

My father too, my brother loves me

My sister, my sister’s children, all love me.

 

I don’t want you to love me, or even like me

I just want you to stop beating me up

Slamming me down

Killing me.

 

What have I done to you?

 

Is it my mere existence you hate so much?

 

Is it because I am a lesbian?

Is it because I am a woman?

Is it because I am not you?

 

She said,

 

I am Georgian and I am proud.

Please see me.

Please hear me.

I am a proud to be a Georgian woman

I am

Proud.

 

37 left

36 stood up to applaud.

Oh Yeah… What she said.

 

I was proud of her, and of the choir members who stayed and sang, unifying all our remaining voices together in traditional folk song. To them I will always be truly grateful.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Let them eat cake


Eliso had been up all night making the most beautiful cakes. Moist sponge soaked in peach juice and topped with kiwi slices shaped like crescent moons filled her kitchen. Cherries suspended in jelly, whipped cream adorning heavenly chocolate-layered pieces  sat on top of refrigerators and cupboard tops and could rival any professional catering company. She had been collecting china teacups for weeks. Bric-a-brac market stalls had been raided, wedding sets donated, gifts from friends collected and family members had been scouring antique shops since I first suggested the event.  It is difficult to find English tea sets in Georgia but she had gathered, washed and stored 80 cups and saucers for the occasion.

 

I was nervous.  Not just because the Tea-Party was being covered by the Public TV station, and not because I felt he was watching me, but because the people I had invited to speak for 5 minutes over tea and cake were an eclectic mix and included some who were seen, by their own people, to be the enemy within. The idea was to mix up English and Georgian cultures and to celebrate a long and positive relationship.   The UK government had changed the visa laws earlier in the year so a five-year practice of bringing Georgian artists to the UK to share their music, food, song and crafts had come to an abrupt end. I wanted to host something in Tbilisi to acknowledge all the hard work so many people had put into the English- Georgian cultural relationship. Usually all the accolades go to business people.  I also wanted to give people an opportunity to have a voice, to be heard and to be acknowledged. By inviting Natia, a politically active and vociferous LGBT representative I was taking a real risk. I had decided to follow my conscience. How could I be selective and not invite a whole group of people so important to the positive changes Georgia was trying to make, just in case it was uncomfortable? I couldn’t.  I had to do what was right.

 

The people I invited were mostly artists, musicians, alternative types. There was  also the Archbishop of the Georgian Baptist Church, an English Georgian Baptist Bishop and several academics from the UK, all  of whom with a vested interest in encouraging Georgia to be a more open and tolerant society. There were representatives from both of the main Georgian political parties, two extremely well known traditional Georgian choirs, ex-pats, journalists, and quite possibly, a spy or two.  I had also invited a member of the Georgian Orthodox church who had declined, as had a representative from the British Embassy.

 

People arrived on time, and the men were wearing trousers. This may not seem noteworthy to anyone outside of Georgia but it was a small triumph for me. Georgians are notoriously late. For everything. In fact, in our choir, Samzeo, we joked about working to ‘Georgian time’. Musicians are often known to be cavalier with things like this but add Georgian time into the mix and you have got a whole new frustrating cultural challenge. Often, any protests about this are met with a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘What can I do?’  Georgian men also always wear jeans a lot. Anniversary? Wear jeans.  Important meal out? Wear jeans. Trip to the theatre? Wear jeans. Meet the Mayor? Wear jeans. You get the picture. The invitation had specified (both in English and Georgian) that the dress code was smart casual. NO JEANS.

 

So far so good, no one had come in jeans. As usual, the women  had made a huge effort and looked beautiful. The central table was exquisitely decorated and laden with layers of cakes and teacups, ornate and colourful teapots and soft scented flowers. It was very English.  The audience sat in a circle around the table, the speakers strategically placed within the circular space. There was no front and no back. Everything was designed to be circular, to encourage movement and to break down barriers. This may have been a mistake. The audience were looking for barriers even and they needed to feel secure in their place. That was clear. People needed to know where the ‘front’ was.  It confused them that the tea table was in the centre. Where were they to look? At the cakes?  In the end, the practicality of some presentations needing a large screen and a laptop meant that a particular ‘space’ became the’ stage.’  That stage had become the ‘front’.

 

The programme had been planned down to the minute and things were going quite well. What became quickly apparent however was that some people were leaving immediately after they had given their own presentation. The first tea break came and went with lots of mingling and chatting. It felt as though stereotypes were being broken down and I was pleased. Once people sat down again it became clear that several more people had left. Perhaps they had only just read the programme and decided to leave so that they would not have to listen to one of the most marginalised and dis-empowered sections of their own society. Women and the LGBT community.

 

The Programme for the evening was sent out to everyone who was invited and was available in both English and Georgian, 4 weeks, 3 weeks, 2 weeks and 2 days before the event.

 

Death Knell

 

About 45 minutes in, behind

The pleasant clink

Chink of porcelain

Flowers, Rhubarb  and Cream

Tea, ‘Fall in love with me’

Chocolate squares, I heard

The chime of

The death knell.

 

Tilting slightly I watched as

My marionette life

Tumbled elegantly, pivoted was

Re-defined by plotted

Scandal.

 

I watched the sky

Fall.