I haven’t known Amanda Baker for very long but I’m privileged to have her as a friend. She’s a very talented (an Ediburgh Fringe artist) and best of all, genuinely lovely person and she is about to do a benefit performance in Morpeth Rugby Club on October 4th. (More on that coming up!) I hope that some of you who live in the North East of England can make it to that. Amanda was good enough to answer some of my questions about her life and work.
- Amanda you love the sound of poetry don’t you. When did that start and what’s your earliest memory of reading/learning/performing?
I was brought up on the Dr Seuss books so the love of rhythm, rhyme and word play was there from the start. My earliest memory of a connection between poetry and me came when I won a prize in a library competition when I was six. I had to design a Beatrix Potter birthday card. I made up a very short poem. All I remember was that I rhymed the word ‘six’ with ‘sticks’ somehow but the librarian was impressed and I got a large rosette stuck on my card.
As for performing, that’s harder to pinpoint. My mum was always getting me to learn and recite poetry – like The Charge of the Light Brigade which I learnt on a camping holiday in Wales when I was about 8.
- You have so many voices, including an excellent Ulster accent. How did you acquire that talent and to what extent does it come naturally?
Not only does imitation come naturally – sometimes it’s very inconvenient. If I meet someone new who has a distinctive accent, and especially if I like them, I find myself inadvertently mimicking their speech patterns. I grew up in a mixed family – socially and racially – and was surrounded by many different voices and I was very conscious of these variations, copying them from an early age.
- Tell us about the first poem you ever wrote and do you have a favourite poem or performance you’d like to share with my readers?
The first poem I remember writing was the library one mentioned above. I wrote prolifically as a child – poems and songs with which I tortured my family. I also did the usual angsty teen stuff. As I got older I penned plays and scripts and did not return to poetry seriously until relatively recently when I found it could be a vehicle for my style of comedy and satirical comment.
My favourite poetry performance has become so with hindsight. The piece was recommended by my friend Poetry Jack – who really understands about performance poetry and posted on U-tube by another poetry pal, ranter and slam star Steve Urwin. The piece is “Shirley Temple Jesus” and relates to a childhood experience of attending church with my great grandmother.
- What are the major influences on your work in terms of themes and other poets whose work you admire?
This is always a difficult question. The poets I choose to read are not on the whole performance poets nor are they ones whose work I would emulate. I like to read the well known war poets. I’d love a year off from my life to re-study Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I’ve a fondness for the poets studied at school, Keats, Blake. But for a favourite modern poet I’d have to say Benjamin Zephaniah – I read him to my children and they listen to his taped performances.
- You’ve written other stuff too Amanda, a novel and children’s stories. Tell us a little about how you came to diversify into those fields or was that always there? (where can people buy them)
My books are available on Amazon – The Companion Contract and Eating the Vinyl for adults. Eleanor & the Dragons of Death and Eleanor the Dragon Witch & the Time Twisting Mirror for Children under the Pseudonym Adnam Arekab. I have a story in verse for children called Casey & the Surfmen which I hope to make available as a free download when my website is up and running.
- How does your work as a professional performance poet vary day to day and year to year and what’s the best/worst/most bizarre experience you’ve had with that?
Really the variation often comes from the subject matter – this defines the technical style of the poem. And then there are variations in venues – poetry venues, variety nights, arts centres, comedy clubs.
Funnily enough one of my best experiences was in a comedy club in London. I loved the surprise factor when the audience ‘got’ what I was doing. I busked at the 2010 Edinburgh fringe – that was both bizarre and awful – sandwiched between a guy juggling a chainsaw and a Glaswegian magician called Mario. I also did the plinth in Alnwick the Saturday before the 2010 elections with the BNP stall in my eye line as I was performing!
- What was the day job, Amanda and why and when did you decide to cut loose from all that?
I’ve had many different jobs. The last proper job I had before I gave in and accepted that I needed to write, was a solicitor. Now I admit that I am a writer and accept that nothing else fills the gap.
- How do you balance what you do with your busy family life and what’s the most difficult thing for you?
I realised a while ago that what I do is neither practical nor sensible. I’ve brought my children up not to expect a great deal materially which is handy. I’m not sure there is a balance, I’m always juggling and I know occasionally everything falls to bits. The most difficult thing is the financial insecurity of not having a ‘proper’ job.
- Tell us about your next big project or ambition. (It needn’t be to do with writing or performance – could be you want to paint… or do a course in interior decorating for all I know 🙂
At the moment I am in the process of getting daughter number 2 off to university. That has been the big issue over the last 18 months. This October I am doing a which will also double as a chance to get some footage to go on the new website.
My medium term aim is to get more regular paid performances and eventually make a more sensible regular living from my writing and performances.
- What are you planning on doing within the next couple of months?
The October 4th I am doing a benefit gig SNAIL LOVE J, for an African orphanage. It will be in The Rugby Club, Morpeth at 8:30 – 9:45pm and there’s a bar. I hope friends throughout the region will come and support. That is my main performance focus for the next two months. It’ll be a fun night. I’m hoping for a good turnout to really test my material and put some useful pennies in the Ugandan orphanage fund at the same time so – See you there?
Thank you for answering my questions and I’m looking forward to that show in October.
If you would like me to send you some posters to pass around contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about the amazing talents of Amanda HERE She’s far too modest to tell you herself.