Here’s Sarah sorting through her poems mid-rehearsal. Out of shot are her props – all the fake tulips which Balham had to offer.

Sarah trained as a visual artist, which comes through clearly in her poems which are lush with painterly terms and references. Over our Sunday Roast lunchtime interview we asked her about the switch from painting-making to poem-making.

I spent a year as a painter with my own studio and enjoyed the freedom and the space which let me spread out and be messy, working on 8 x 8 foot canvases. When I no longer had the studio, my work got smaller and then I stopped painting altogether as my academic career developed, and I was moving back to words. I’m interested in how words might make you experience some of the same things you experience when you look at painting, how words can charm you into a scene as though you are daydreaming.

Are there any painters you feel a particular affinity with?

I’m drawn to Bonnard because he’s an incredible colourist – how he can juxtapose a green and a mustard yellow, a purple and a cool blue. The Bonnard poem (‘Woman in the Garden’) we’ve been rehearsing today has the same title as one of his canvases, although in no way is it a description. I am fascinated by his relationship with his wife and the other women in his life. David Harsent also has a collection about this relationship (Marriage) but I didn’t read it until after I‘d written my poem – I’m quite glad, as we envisage it very differently. They offered each other mutual support and comfort but still wanted to hurt each other.

What’s the best tube of paint in the box?

I used to like this particular colour in my box of paints called rose madder which is a rose petal-like pink. If you get an expensive version of it, the pigment is very dense – it makes you want to eat the tube of paint.

Would you like to see your poems illustrated?

I don’t have any desire to illustrate my poems myself, but I have a friend who is an illustrator who worked on some of my poems, and found it very disconcerting. She made very precise recognisable representations of places I’d only imagined. I like having these visual elements on stage with my poems though, they feel complementary rather than representative.


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