Scarlett Sabet: The Poet Exploring Modern Love

The Notebook | 20th February 2019

The young star of the burgeoning British poetry scene on the vagaries of modern love, reflecting the world around you, and taking risks with words

The young poet and performer Scarlett Sabet has been hailed by British GQ as one of the key voices in contemporary poetry and has even garnered the appreciation of the famously taciturn musical legend Sir Van Morrison, who has spoken highly of the “intensity and spiritual aspect” of her work. It is worth noting that the award-winning poet Matthew Yeager has also duly described her spoken word as “darkly sonorous vowel music... full of wildness”– and her fourth collection of poetry, Camille certainly offers a nuanced and dramatic interpretation of love and all it encompasses. Featuring a selection of traditional 'love' poems that explore the soaring joy of intimacy, passion and sensuality, and others that delve into destruction, obsession and infatuation, the book presents a unique poetic excavation of what it means to be an emotional animal in the 21stcentury. This month, Sabet presents the London launch of Camille, at Mortimer House, where she will also be reading a selection from the works within. Renowned for her emotive readings, Scarlett has performed at some of the world’s most important literary establishments, such as City Lights, San Francisco, Shakespeare & Co, Paris, and The Troubadour, London, where she is currently poet-in-residence. Here, the bright young thing of the burgeoning poetry scene tells Maslow’s Notebook what drives her to paint in words, and explains why a sentient AI with a penchant for poetry might just further alienate us from our own emotional landscapes.

Telll us about your latest collection–what would you say essentially drives you as a poet?
It's a collection of love poems–I wanted to pour more love on the world. And I've always received a really warm response to the love poems in my previous collections. But also, this collection has poems for those in lust, in love, rejected, single, and relieved to be single! I can't help but write–it's a compulsion, but a happy compulsion! Poetry has always been the language that makes the most sense to me. I digest and meditate, and form my own experience through language, words and rhythm. And I love performing my words, I know some poets and writers struggle with that, but I take flight with it. I feel my words have their own life on the page, in people's heads, and they come to life when I perform them on stage. One poem in this book that I've loved performing is a love letter, a kind of eulogy, for Jack Kerouac. It’s called 'For Jack'–I read it first in Kerouac’s birthplace in Massachusetts, so I guess it’s infused with some of his hometown energy.

What for you is the ultimate purpose of poetry?
It is my language of choice. It helps me make sense of the world, and I hope I can offer some illumination to others, and that I may be of service with my work. Also making art, of any kind, is maybe a human attempt at immortality–to throw a penny at an airplane, to make a dent, to record your experience. We've done that since the dawn of time–cave men painted on their walls, recorded their lives. I'm recording my experience, but I observe and reflect the world, and our leaders’ hypocrisy and manipulations.

Why do you think there is a huge resurgence in interest in poetry among the millennial generation?
Words are more important than ever. Words matter, and they carry a lot of weight, especially as there are more ways to communicate than ever before. I think poetry is appealing because it is concise, it's magical, and you can sum something up in only a few lines. My work lives both on the page, and when it's being performed. I love the idea of people reading my words to themselves–on the train, in the city, in their homes. The physical manifestation of my work gets brought into people’s lives and absorbed, in the same way any book I buy and bring home does. I find that fascinating. The emotion between it being read alone at home and being performed is the same – it's just at different volumes. I suppose if you attend one of my readings the intention and emphasis on a word or rhythm will be different.

What do you think about the notion of poetry created by AI?
I love the articulation of the human experience – someone that has lived a flawed life, has experienced shame and tears, and love and desire. I'm sure it's possible to create a perfect algorithm to create a 'perfect' poem, but what's beautiful about perfect? Give me flaws and wisdom and lust. And there are so many humans, living and breathing, that have already been born, that are not being listened to–many people are angry they are being ignored and pushed aside, creating new forms of 'life' will only exasperate this.

How important is poetry in modern society?
Well, poetry is for everyone. Poetry is for everyone, literature is for everyone, Shakespeare is for everyone, regardless of age, race, religion, or gender. Everyone is entitled to be a part of the poetic conversation. I get such a thrill when someone says at one of my poetry readings that they don't normally like poetry, but they really enjoyed it, and it made sense to them, and that they related to what I was saying. That makes me feel like I have done my duty as an artist.

Please tell us about one of the key poems from the new collection that you are particularly proud to have penned…
I'm excited to share the poem "And My Lungs Filled With Ecstatic Song" – that’s an ecstatic mantra, trying to capture this transcendental feeling, a reflection on a loving memory as I was walking in the countryside by a river; it was kind of an epiphany. I used the Brion Gysin/William Burroughs cut-up method to create it, and I performed it for the first time at Shakespeare and Co, in Paris on Valentines Day. It was a special place to first perform that poem, because that was the exact location where Burroughs started writing Naked Lunch. I really love William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Kerouac, Ginsberg… They were brave, and truly committed to their life's work. I'm attracted to people with passion that take risks.

Interview: John-Paul Pryor
The London launch of Camille by Scarlett Sabet is at Mortimer House on March 6th. It is open to the public strictly via RSVP. Interested patrties should contact john-paul@mortimerhouse.com