Carly Brown: Slam Poetry Queen

Late in January, I had the opportunity to interview the lovely Carly Brown over a scone and a nice cup of tea, and no, she’s not British.  This girl is a Texas native, who just happens to be something of a Scottish celebrity.  Carly is many things: feminist, retrophile (‘I like old things..I prefer antiques to new furniture, old books to new books--something with a history!’), actress, wine enthusiast, former President of Ink Light and current web-editor, aspiring publisher,  the list goes on... but she is most known for her talent as a slam poet.

Waiting for her to arrive for our interview, I passed the time by Google-stalking her, as one does.  I found more than her recorded performances, I found her Tumblr, official Facebook page, her blog, her other blog, and a whole bunch of other people’s blogs talking about her--this girl is all over the internet!  The StAnza Poetry Festival page is quick to remind it’s readers that this young poet, “destined for great things”--which of course she is-- started at their 2013 slam.  While this isn’t completely true (Carly has been involved in slams since her first year), that was the first step to winning the Scottish Championship, and then going on to compete in the World Finals, where she came in fourth.  There were a number of other blogs talking about Carly and her performances, but my favorite was Tartan Tights, which awarded Carly with the ‘Tartan Tights Award’ [note: Dear Ms. Tights, Carly is still waiting for her trophy...] and described her as the ‘gabby young American’ who stole the show at the StAnza Slam.  In true Carly style, our Celeb had no idea these reviews existed, and I had the pleasure of introducing her to her cyber-fans, and causing her an infinite amount of discomfort, awe and confusion.

 

So what actually is slam?  Well, according to Carly, it’s ‘anecdotal and conversational.  Often it’s humorous and face paced--those are the main things that come to mind.  Some is angry, or aggressive--but mine isn’t... I tend to personify things, like Texas, or my hair, or history even--it just helps me make sense of complex concepts.  When you personify something, you can think about it in a different way, and have a conversation with it....I don’t think good poetry is ever like, “here’s an answer” it’s more like, “let’s talk about this.”’  Carly’s poems read like a diary entry: whether they are meant to be light-hearted or thought-provoking, they are always truly honest, though sometimes you have to look behind her humor to see how true they are.  ‘If someone is laughing, they’re more amenable to a discussion.  The humor comes out of my real personality, I just have a bumbling personality!’

 

Though she loves poetry, it’s really her love of performance that keeps her slamming.  ‘I love writing, and I love acting, and if they had a baby, it would be slam.’  It is not surprising that Carly has been an active member of The Mermaids for all four years here.  ‘My favorite thing about theater is getting to experience the audience’s visceral reactions in real time.  As a poet and a writer, I’m always sad I can’t be with the reader as they’re experiencing it.  In slam, you get to hear the laughs, sniffles, even the coughs.  I love it!  It’s the personal connection, I think.  It’s definitely my favorite thing about the theater, and I think it’s my favorite thing about slam too.’

 

Poetry has been a huge part in Carly’s life since she was a girl.  “I would read poetry aloud to my self in my bedroom when I was little, mostly Emily Dickinson.”  Tweens and their Dickinson, they can’t get enough!  Oh wait, no--that’s Twilight, I always get those two confused.  Carly didn’t just read poetry though, she has been writing since she was little as well.  One of her poems, written in the aftermath of September 11th and read aloud to her school made it’s way to former President George W. Bush’s office.  “It wasn’t very good, I mean, I guess maybe for a ten year old it was! [laughs].  The President sent me a letter though, which was cool.”  Imagine what the world would be like if more kids read Dickinson...

 

When I asked Carly about writing her poetry now, the inner English student came out.  “With slam, you have to be so conscious of rhythm, finding the right word, how it’s going to sound.  I always look crazy when I’m writing in a cafe because I’m just muttering away to myself!  When I’m writing prose I’ll read it out loud eventually, but I’m not so conscious of painstakingly fitting it into a rhythm.  I think my page poetry, poetry that’s not meant to be performed, takes a bit longer because it has to get its message across without me there.  With slam, I get to show people what I mean, with my body and with my voice.’ There are unexpected setbacks to performing pieces, especially in a small town in St Andrews.  For example, performing a poem about someone, and that person is in the front row. Staring at you.  Carly shuddered when she told me about the experience and let out a nervous laugh, “It was just awful.”

Since this interview, Carly has been accepted to do her Masters at Glasgow University for Creative Writing, and has performed several times for our own University (“I just thought, ‘great.  I get to perform in front of all my favorite poets and embarrass myself.’”), including at the recent TEDX Conference, judged the Stanza Slam Poetry competition, and performed numerous times in Edinburgh and Glasgow.  A very creative friend of hers has even made a book of her poems called ‘Grown-Up Poetry Needs to Leave Me Alone’, which uses the text to replicate Carly’s delivery, “it’s a super cool visual representation of performance,” and the two are currently discussing ways to distribute the work around.

 

Rapid Fire:

 

Favorite place to eat:  Probably Gorgeous, or Grill House if I’m feeling homesick for Tex-Mex

Favorite place to drink:  Whey Pat or the Brew Pub

Little known fact:  I cannot whistle

Irrational fear:  Grasshopers.  They’re horrible.

Favorite poem:  I really like ‘The Lorax’ by Dr. Suess, but I suppose that’s more of a book?  I also really like The Waste Land...so maybe The Lorax and The Waste Land

Advice for students: Not really sure I'm in any place to give this, but I'd say never lose sight of why you liked your subject in the first place.

 

Carly’s FB page: https://www.facebook.com/carlybrownslampoetry?ref=hl

Some fancy reviews:

http://www.scotsman.com/what-s-on/theatre-comedy-dance/theatre-review-spoken-word-the-accelerator-1-3373789

http://stand.tab.co.uk/2014/04/28/review-tedx/