I am Sarah L Dixon, also known as The Quiet Compere.

Why did I make Cheltenham the Finale of the tour?

Four years ago I knew very little about Cheltenham and had never been. Now, even though I have mainly visited in November (for reasons made clear below) I have an image of very white-washed walls and Greek blue sky. It feels like being near the sea to me, even though I am assured, with my sketchy geography, it is about as far away as you can be from the sea when in the UK!

Ok. So four years ago I was coming to Cheltenham for a conference about how Art and Medicine interact (more about that below). I decided I would run a poetry event there, despite knowing no-one in the area and started making friends there through social media. I booked a venue and ten poets and this was the first event I ran outside Manchester (I had no idea this event would be the beginning of a path that led me to 2 12 date tours in 2014 and 2015).

This first event away from home did not come without its challenges. The venue I had booked closed down about three weeks before the date. Determined that this would only be a hurdle and not flatten it I asked around and Adam Horowitz (one of the performers) suggested a space called Meantime Art Space and I contacted Sarah and she was a superstar, spoke with the person whose art was displayed, sorted out some beers for the night and even took me for noodles when I arrived making my first impression on both Cheltenham and my first impression of a noodle bar positive.

I had a buzz that lasted days when the night went well, poets turned up, I met poets I had only seen online and all stuck to time limits and were friendly. Each year I have run an event the night before Medicine Unboxed. I am still searching for the perfect venue. The second year it was in the Frog and Fiddle’s Barn, which I am sure is delightful in summer months. It was a bare brick wall space with high ceilings, a stage and PA system. On a cold November night it felt like being in a barn. Last year I ran a medical-themed poetry night at The Strand. We had a downstairs room and thankfully a mic (as the party in the bar was particularly rowdy and we were divided only by a curtain). This year we have booked the upstairs space at The Strand as I tread my Cheltenham venues learning curve.

Cheltenham was just the beginning

After the Cheltenham gig I decided to takeover Poetry by Heart in Leeds for a month with six poets I knew from workshops, Arvon courses, events and Facebook. The gig was cracking. When my job in the NHS was disappeared and I started doing spreadsheets for my neighbour’s company from home between school runs I saw an opportunity. I was fuelled by an Apples an Snakes masterclass presented by Tony Walsh about “How to promote yourself, your poetry, your events” that I has attended two weeks before the job went awry.

I had disregarded the section about applying for funding at the time. I am not funny. I am not perfomancey. Why would anyone fund my tour? But then, the tour didn’t have to be about me. What did I do at every event I ran. I quietly planned, promoted and hosted these events with attention to detail that was noted and appreciated by performers and venues. Could I take the ten poets x ten minutes format on tour?

I was aware this format had been employed in the North East at Take Ten, but only after it had evolved at my nights as a format that filled a gap in the circuit. Many established nights had 2-4 minute open mic and 15-30 minute guest spots, but not many gave poets the opportunity for something in between. I know I was terrified the first time I had to fill a guest spot with poems (when before all I had 2-3 minutes).

So the format was born and funding application bids submitted

The Quiet Compere Tour has been Arts Council funded and has so far been to 23 cities, putting on shows with 10 local poets reading for 10 minutes each. I like to introduce poets only by name rather than huge bibliography. Let the poems do the talking. We have a mix of established and less well known performers, and it’s the latter that often steal the show!

The Finale of 2015 tour – Friday 20th November 2015 7pm doors. 7:30pm start

Quiet Compere 2015 Cheltenham

Finale Thoughts

Events in Birmingham, Worcester and Oxford have all been hugely successful and I would be delighted to see some of the performers and friends from those areas in the audience.

Look out for Kickstarter to part fund 2016 tour very soon

Quiet Compere Advice:

Play. Enjoy. Try different styles. Find other poets you trust. Get feedback. Be honest. Pursue butterflies. Stretch yourself. Try not to over-edit.

How I fell in love with Cheltenham

I worked in NHS admin for 17 years and when I returned from Maternity Leave received a link to a conference called Medicine Unboxed. This is a conference master-minded (he is director and curator) by Samir Guglani, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at Gloucester Hospital. The first year I attended Sam engaged in every debate on the same level as the expert panels, or even more strikingly in one-to-ones. I have now attended the past three years (themes Belief, Voice and Frontiers) This year’s theme is Mortality (and as spent over half of NHS life as a Histopathology and/or Post Mortem secretary) this is of particular interest to me. Samir Guglani was a performer at the Oxford event in May and I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave, who is in the Cheltenham line-up through Medicine Unboxed and Cheltenham Poetry Festival.

Medicine Unboxed ticket link here