As part of Lisette Auton’s Guest Editorship, she showcases the work of Sarah Crutwell, an exceptional poet, spoken word artist and facilitator who is an integral part of the Teesside scene. Sarah had a massive part in encouraging and supporting Lisette’s return to performance and she does this for so many womxn, including those who have never written before.
Sarah Crutwell is a depressed anxious feminist who is mostly found wearing pyjamas or wearing clothes that look suspiciously like pyjamas. A writer, spoken word poet and creative event organiser from the North East of England, Sarah’s work explores ‘the things we lower our voices to talk about’.
With a background in theatre, her performance is engaging, honest and highly emotive. Her poetry takes on issues such as mental health, sex, gender, politics, ingrained sexism and a woman’s right to make her own decisions.
After 7 years in a monogamous relationship, and some time to heal, Sarah decided to dip a bit more than a toe into polyamory. Polyfiller is the result of after date scribbles and 3am questions. Polished, rolled in eco-friendly glitter and published, in the hopes it finds the people who need to hear its rantings, lessons and huggable relate-ability.
Intrinsically pro woman, anti slut-shaming and pro good sex, Polyfiller is an honest perspective on sex, mental health, feminism, and loneliness in an age of ghosting, fuckboyz and hook-up culture. From one stands to souls mates, Polyfiller explores experiences of polyamory, ‘daddy issues’ and coming first.
“PolyFiller is an extraordinary book for extraordinary times. With a hard earned rough elegance, these poems stare you directly in the eye just to see who will blink first. Sensual, ferocious cold fire, this is a rising heart beat of a book and a stunning debut from one of spoken word’s most liberating artists. Sarah Crutwell has arrived.” Joelle Taylor
Writing as a coping mechanism – the relationship between mental health and writing
“I’ve always needed a creative outlet- and I’ve gone through a few; dance, drums, craft, knitting, acting, performance and most recently – writing spoken word and poetry.
“In retrospect, the times my mental health has declined most drastically has been when I’ve stopped allowing myself the time for these things – either due to depression (lack of interest in things you usually enjoy, lack of motivation, exhaustion and self-doubt crippling any creative vibes), anxiety (avoiding social situations, difficulty leaving house and fear of failure) or due to lack of money.”
“When I started writing poetry, it was after a major mental health break-down; I’d write and scribble obsessively. My brain was on fire and writing it all down was the only thing that helped slow down my thoughts. I’d spend days and nights trying to make sense of myself on paper. It was painful, but hugely cathartic. I’d had several traumatic events in my life, which I hadn’t properly processed, partly because I didn’t know how to talk about it. Once I started sharing my work at events and workshops, I realised just how many other people were in the same position.”
“Writing about traumatic events wasn’t a conscious decision, just what needed to come out. Trauma is a huge trigger of mental health conditions. Most people have experienced some kind of trauma, and yet still so many people are unable to speak about it – and unable to process what happened to them. It was in a workshop with Joelle Taylor that I first realised the power of owning your narrative. Telling your story in your own words, taking pride in what you have survived. Even if those words never see the light of day again, just writing them can be enough.”
Advice for others writing with mental illness or trying to process through writing
“Look after yourself. Your mental health and well-being is the number one priority. Be mindful of the effect your writing has on your mental health. Writing about trauma can be traumatic itself. There’s a difference between the pain involved in healing, and the pain of raking old wounds. Make sure what you are writing is helping you, leave it until you are ready if not.”
“Take breaks in your writing to avoid spiralling into the dark. I always keep a doodle book nearby to scribble in if the piece I’m working on is emotionally difficult or if I’m stuck. Doodling breaks keep my brain engaged and creative but lets me rest from subject matter. I also doodle if I’m trying to get myself into a creative mood or trying to slow thoughts – I find it very useful!”
“Don’t force anything. In my experience if I sit down with the intention to write a certain thing, the pressure alone is enough to make me clam up. I tend to trust that the creative vibe will find me when it’s ready, and when It does, I fully embrace it and write until I’m falling asleep at the laptop – it works for me and I enjoy it.”
“Be aware of your own needs. If you have a condition that affects your life, ignoring it and carrying on as normal isn’t going to help yourself in the long run. Help yourself by listening to what your body needs. My own mental health is something I need to constantly factor in i.e. booking appointments, meetings etc around the times I know I’m at my best. Mornings aren’t an option for me; the meds hangover and effects from anxiety dreams and night sweats take me a long time to settle back to being me. I felt lazy and unproductive for so long for avoiding mornings but the fact is I’m not going to deliver even close to my best, so what’s the point in forcing myself to a morning meeting when I could book it for later instead.”
“My ultimate advice for pursuing anything while your mental health is a little wonky – be kind to yourself. For me that means allowing myself to rest when I need it, and not giving myself a hard time if I’m unable attend appointments, extend deadlines, or need to cancel plans. Basically, find what works for you, and allow yourself to do it.”
Projects and Excitement
The Night Alphabet – short stories from the edge of woman
Throughout 2018, Sarah was under the mentorship of performance poet and writer Joelle Taylor. The mentorship concluded with a short film which was premiered at The Poetry Society London as part of The Night Alphabet.
The Night Alphabet is the debut collection of short stories from Joelle Taylor. It is also a forum for women writers to help develop and share work.
The TWP – A woman’s place, is on the stage!
A women’s performance poetry collective run by Apples and Snakes for women poets based in and around Teesside, who would like to work together in a supportive and experimental manner to improve their performance skills. Activities include sharing knowledge, cascading tips and exercises learned in other workshops, giving constructive feedback and developing our skills as critical friends, rehearsing new work, writing and devising performances collaboratively, programming and organising spoken word events, fundraising for poetry projects, group visits to other spoken word events, tea drinking and nattering!
As well as being a welcoming sista, Sarah runs the monthly TWP writing workshops.
We are the TWP,
The tees women poets who meet to write their wrongs together.
We are sistas supporting sistas offering biscuit grins and open books
We dunk our troubles in ink and edit attitudes, together.
We share our stories in the hope they are heard by those who need to hear them.
We are made of sista’s who scribble in moonlight.
DiVerse is a monthly spoken word night for unheard and under-represented voices in Teesside. Featuring guests and open mic who are womxn, LGBTQIA+, visibly and invisibly disabled, refugee and artists of colour. It is funded and facilitated by Apples and Snakes. DiVerse features guest artists from Teesside and the wider North, plus an open mic section, but all poets will in some way belong to one of our featured groups.
The driving force behind programming and hosting comes from DiVerse’s two creators, Sarah Crutwell and Julie Easley. DiVerse alternates each month between Hope & Union bar in Stockton (hosted by Sarah) and Shanti Vegetarian Café in Saltburn (hosted by Julie).
Sex positive poetry, discussions, workshops and podcast
Sarah is currently working on a new project aiming to promote sex positivity, empowerment and owning our sexuality whatever it may be.
Sarah will be hosting a range of performance events, workshops, discussion groups and podcast interviews, using poems from her collection PolyFiller to explore issues such as consent, female sexuality, polyamory, male gaze pornography and its effects on sex, and a huge range of other topics relating to sex and dating in modern day.
This project is still very much in the early stages but will be springing into action later this year!
What else would you be?
Sarah is available for workshops, performances and discussion groups. She currently runs workshops on:
Mental health – writing for self-care, creating self-care journals, and trauma – rewriting our narrative
Womanhood – empowering women, exploring what it means to be woman, feminism
Sex positivity – using her collection Polyfiller to look at consent and holistic approaches to sex and relationships
Sarah also available for tailored workshops, for commissioned writing, and is always looking for events and opportunities to continue her tour of PolyFiller.
Throughout this editorship the feeling of wanting to belong has emerged, and how we find that within the creative and disability arts communities. In tribute to that, Lisette commissioned Sarah to write a poem for Disability Arts Online encapsulating that feeling.
Tribes – by Sarah Crutwell
A tribe is
A group of people linked by common beliefs,
Or a shared culture.
It’s like minds meeting over mugs, watching backs,
passing batons, helping each other survive.
It’s a feeling of belonging, a binding kind of understanding
When people care and remember your stories,
ask ‘you’ specific questions, smile when they see you.
After the kind of break down, where you Etch positivity in rock bottom and
take time to rebuild. I moved in with a new friend who offered me space
A cupboard in a hippy house, Buddha’s hugging walls and tiny camper van parked outside.
He said a friend had once done the same for him, when he needed it.
He was an Inner Peace Zen God who floated around tiny home,
I used to joke he was a tree, an old oak bored in a vast forest who one day, just started walking
Uprooted just to see how far he could go. Travelled the world with a massage table and a hope
to ease some pain.
We’d sit comfortable, hands round mugs silence wrapped warm round shoulders
Just needing another heartbeat in the room.
Often he’d find me sobbing at kitchen table, lay healing palm over my forehead
And just be there. Holding space for me to be vulnerable.
A safe space to grow stronger at my own pace.
I would cover our table in notes and ink, watch the moon come and go
I worked myself out on paper.
When I was able to stand strong,
I wanted to help others do the same.
be their branch, to shelter when they need it.
It took time, but I found other tribes, my writer women warriors, my midnight facebook worriers, my ex day time drinkers – my people who make me feel like I can. Make me want to leave the house, make me feel squishy inside.
When your health and sense of self is a little wonky
There’s a feeling, when you meet others members of the blanket brigade,
A it’s not just me, kinda feeling.
A two finger salute to the depression calling you back to the couch and the
anxiety reminding you of all the times the unknown swallowed your breath leaving you collapsed curb side.
My tribe talks mental health, open and ugly
understands the stigma, knows without asking
You are exhausted from nights of anxiety spirals and your hair
is unwashed because you bartered that time for longer in bed
So they give you tea and time to settle in your body.
We need our Tribes, our spaces, our people with arms stretched safety net wide
Waiting with mutual nods and pots of tea.
We need to connect to understand who we are, where we fit, how we can help.
When these people gather, there’s revolution in the air,
Because they fought to be there.