Getting in front of an audience and revealing your innermost thoughts sounds pretty daunting, but the rewards of speaking your truth are many. We spoke to Ravelle-Sadé Fairman about performing on stage, inspiring young writers and the purpose of poetry.
On your website you describe yourself as an ‘accidental poet’. What was the first accident?
My grandmother passed away in 2018 and I felt like I needed to commemorate her in some way. I was sat in Bulwell bus station and it just came to me in poetic form, that was the first time I'd written in many years. I ended up reading at her funeral, which I always say was like my first open mic!
I was also going through a shift in my life, understanding more about my own mental health, and I decided to write a poem about anxiety. I was sat on the tram in town, I saw this big flyer for the Nottingham Poetry Festival and thought ‘I might as well go see what it's all about’ - no intention of performing. In the break the organiser saw me jotting stuff down and said to me, ‘Would you like to get on stage?’ I thought, oh my gosh, not me. But I thought, ‘If I don't do it, I'm going to go home and kick myself’.
Was performing new to you, then?
It was definitely very new. I was sweating like mad - I don't think you realise before getting on stage how piercing the lights are. Performance was never really part of it, it's always been about sharing, making people feel like they're not alone. I think being a younger Black woman (I was young!) getting on a stage and representing and speaking about mental health was really instrumental for me, because I wouldn't have had as many of the challenges that I’d had if other people were speaking about it, if people that looked like me were reflecting that back.
Have you spoken to people after your gigs that have said that it’s been helpful listening to you?
Absolutely, I see it as a mutual exchange. When people come in and give feedback, it’s reaffirming that I'm not alone and making other people feel like they're not alone. I've had people message me and say, ‘My daughter's not stopped writing since she's seen you on stage’. I think overall working with children in schools is a beautiful one because I get to come in and open up their imaginations and allow them to be themselves in a system which doesn't necessarily tell them it's okay to be yourself. You've got to cross the t’s and dot the i’s and I come in and say forget all of that, it's more about speaking from your soul. I’ve done quite a few workshops within schools - there was a girl that gifted me her poem after the workshop and her mentor came out and said, ‘She's just realised she's got dyslexia, we can never get her to write normally’.
I think that writing is kind of like journaling - you see the growth. I looked back over all of this work and thought it was showing me a journey that actually made a coherent story
You've done those workshops at the Nottingham Women's Centre, Youth Parliament, New Art Exchange, too…is that part of your mission now, to help create new poets?
I think when someone labelled me a poet I was very reluctant because I was like, I'm not a white middle-class man and I don't really feel like I'm equipped. I didn't see a lot of people that looked like me, but I think that going in and just understanding the power of my presence on a stage or leading a class…I had this little girl once when I was standing in front of the class. She walked in and she nearly tripped over a chair because she was just like ‘Are you leading our session’? That much disbelief. So it's not about how society defines a role, but whatever you decide that you want to claim, I think.
Is it quite important to you that you have quite an authentic voice when you write, that it’s your voice people are hearing?
Absolutely. I think it's quite hard being in a situation where you can understand the inequalities that are going on around you but not be able to do anything about that or feel like you can express yourself in any way. It's not always the case that it comes from me speaking about being a woman or being Black, but I think that naturally you start with what you can see first. And that's pushed me out into a lot of different spaces.
One of those spaces was at Nonsuch Theatre, where you produced a one-woman play - how did that come about?
The accidental poet situation! I was an associate for New Perspectives Theatre Company, we went for Arts Council funding and we all got a portion. I was the only poet. They said, okay, we've got the funding and I was like, ‘Oh crikey. What am I gonna do?’
I think that writing is kind of like journaling - you see the growth. I looked back over all of this work and thought it was showing me a journey that actually made a coherent story. I called it Adversity, Understanding, Enlightenment. I see it as a continuous cycle, you've got to go through something to get an understanding of it. And then you're enlightened by it. But then something else comes along!
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