by Joanna Varanda
Artwork by Bhuvaneshvari and Ralph Nel
On the grounds of the North Cornwall Book Festival, Sally Crabtree stood out from the crowd. Floating around in her flowery short dress and pink wig, she introduced herself to me first and foremost as a Poet and creator of The Sweetshop of Words. However, I discovered that underneath these layers lied so much more. Hers is a kind and gentle story that began at the age of fourteen when she became the youngest British gymnast to compete internationally. By the age of twenty, after seeing that gymnastics wasn’t something that she wanted to be doing for the rest of her life, Sally found Poetry. Or perhaps, it found her.
I sat down to interview Sally and uncover the stories behind her choices and the Sweetshop of Words with Falmouth Drawing students Bhuvaneshvari and Ralph Nel. Standing tall inside the Book Tent, this poetic installation includes treats such as: The Japanese Bowing Lady, offering you a comma in the eternal sentence of existence; the Pillow Talk Pillow, whispering sweet nothings into your ear; or the customer favourite Quiet As A Mouse Bottle of Silence, where enclosed are enough moments of peace and quiet to last you for a lifetime.
How is the Sally Crabtree of today different from the twenty-year old Sally that woke up one day to discover that all she wanted to do was to create poetry?
I don’t believe they are even the same person anymore. When I was twenty, I knew I wanted to be W.H. Auden. I wanted to have a face that was all wrinkly and serious, like a poet’s face. I’ve got the wrinkles now, but I think I’m surprised at how my life has taken me exactly to where I wanted to be. It was almost as if someone gave me a map to another world. I know now that I am ready to be at that place I thought I would be immediately at age twenty, but at the time I thought that I would do it by just sitting down and becoming T.S. Elliot instantaneously. Turns out, I had to live a little. You need to live your life to find out where you’re going. In my case, I also had to find out a bit more about Philosophy and Ancient Greek, where the word for Poetry is one who creates. I liked the idea of that, of being creative with words. Indeed, I feel my life is coming full circle, except it came with a bit of colour. I didn’t sit on my own in my study writing poems, but rather went about imagining things like my Sweetshop of Words and many others. Still, I like to be very quiet inside just like a serious poet, while having a bit of fun on the outside. It’s the best of both worlds.
This is the second time you have made a presence in the North Cornwall Book Festival. How did they find out about you and your work?
I came last year and they asked me to come again and I was quite pleased. It is a fabulous festival. But it all began because when my children were little I used to write children’s books. One of them was called The Magic Train Ride, and it had a song and an animation in a CD at the end. One of the ladies that was organising the kid’s events knew of that book so they invited me.
You are invited to participate at quite a variety of events and festivals. From the United Nations in Geneva, to the Sea Salts and Sail in Mousehole, you might be working with children at one time and adults at another. Which do you prefer?
Children live in the moment; they are honest and with boundless imaginations. They are like tiny Buddhist monks; they have mindfulness while being permanently astounded. Whereas with grown-ups there’s a difficulty sometimes in getting a straight answer, with children you find immediately if they don’t like you. I like doing different things for different audiences. The Sweetshop of Words, although meant for adults, brings out that playfulness in people. We are always being told that being playful is the same as being stupid. People are scared of being like that, especially in the UK where we’ve got a bit of cynicism going on. So if you believe in positivity, and people reply to you with something quite cynical, never mind. This is the good thing about getting older, you just learn with experience to think, ‘oh well.’