INTERVIEW: Rowan McCabe | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The novel idea of knocking on stranger’s doors and writing poems for the lucky occupant became a reality for poet Rowan McCabe, as he embarked on his door-to-door poetry odyssey across the UK last year. The project has since grown even more significant than first anticipated, and you can see the results for yourself as he brings Door-to-Door Poetry: Nationwide – a work in progress show now to be debuted via Zoom on Thursday 12th November (after the previously planned ARC show has had to be cancelled due to the lockdown).

Rowan tells us more: “I was performing a show about what happened to me at the Edinburgh Fringe. A lady came over afterwards and said, ‘This is such a good idea. But it would only work in the North East.’ I asked why and she said, ‘Because Geordies are exceptionally kind. You’d never get away with that down south’.”

Admitting that he’s stubborn, he had an urge to prove her wrong. “The idea was to start in March 2019 and visit 12 places, one per month, all over England. I wanted to affirm that absolutely anyone could enjoy poetry, and I thought it would be an interesting time to try and capture a snapshot of 21st Century Britain too.”

Desiring each location to say something about our country, the verse-maker picked his areas after careful thought. “I went to Boston in Lincolnshire because it was named ‘The Most Divided Town in Britain’ and voted higher than any other to leave the EU. I went to visit a group of Syrian refugees in Kent. I went to visit the ‘Anti-Fracking Nanas’ in Preston because I felt that was saying something about our relationship with the environment. But then, once I got there, events kind of took over.”

the issues that came out from meeting all these people seemed to be saying something really important about Britain today

Rowan scouts out potential poem recipients and asks them one crucial question: “The only question I ever ask people is ‘What is important to you?’ Things quite quickly took on a life of their own.”

He confesses that the responses varied, but often delivered contrasts. “There were moments, like in Boston, when it was as if these two people, who lived nearby but didn’t know each other, were completely in sync. Their suggestions both dealing with exactly the same subject.” After the initial visit, he liked to take time and care in his response. “I’m terrible at improvising so I’d try and find three people in every place I visited, then go home and write the poems. Two weeks later, I’d go back and deliver them, performing each one on the doorstep and giving them a written copy,” he reveals.

The project had a surprising outcome for McCabe. “The experience was a real wake-up call. But, on a bigger level, the issues that came out from meeting all these people seemed to be saying something really important about Britain today.” Lockdown forced him to reassess the ethics of what he was doing. “The initial questions were ‘Can I do this? Will it actually work?’ When the restrictions started to kick in, it became ‘Should I do this?’ Writing poems for people on their doorstep involves a lot of mutual trust. That trust was pushed further and further as the pandemic got closer.”

During his live show, Rowan’s mix of funny and thought-provoking spoken word and theatre is ultimately intended to have an uplifting effect. “I’m hoping people will laugh at the funny bits, feel sad at the sad bits, but leave with a feeling of optimism.”

Rowan McCabe performs Door-to-Door Poetry: Nationwide (work in progress) via Zoom on Thursday 12th November. Email [email protected] to get a free to access link

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