'Dig a little deeper, though, and there is much more to discover'
Performance poet Kezzabelle Ambler talks to Julia Thorley
Kezzabelle Ambler is a performance poet, speaker and creative writing workshop facilitator. A well-known figure around the county, she performs at spoken word events and festivals, encouraging others to use writing as a way to explore the world and as a tool to help their wellbeing.
The poet, who is the 11th Bard of Northampton, talks to Julia Thorley about the many threads of her creativity, and her role in helping others to express themselves.
There has been a resurgence recently in spoken word events popping up in bookshops and libraries, but also in other community spaces and pubs. A key figure in the scene in Northamptonshire is Kezzabelle Ambler, who is known for her flamboyant stage presence and energy. Beneath the costumes and glitter, however, is a woman who loves to use her words to reach out to people and help them make sense of the world.
“My poems are informal and colloquial, and on first reading some seem quite light. Dig a little deeper, though, and there is much more to discover. I loved Michael Tolkien’s review of my work: ‘I didn’t want to like it, but I do!’
“I describe myself as a performance poet, but I don’t write with an audience in mind. I just put the words down on paper as they come to me, then edit and play with them. I can be inspired by a moment, an incident, an observation or by a story someone tells me, even by dreams. Sometimes it is a way of exploring something that’s going on in my life or working through a problem, and when it’s finished I discover I’ve written something that will strike a chord with other people.”
The last few years were challenging for Kezzabelle, as she faced huge upheavals in her personal life.
“It was tough some days, but everything that happened has led me to where I am now. I have a very strong memory of walking away from what had been my family home for over twenty years and being nervous but excited about what lay ahead. Now here I am, still standing.
“My circumstances have changed, and I’ve moved on literally and metaphorically, with a new name and a new career. Still at the heart of everything, though, are personal connections with some amazing people.”
Kezzabelle’s first performance was at the Playhouse Theatre in Northampton in 2009 where she was invited to read some of her poems in a show in between burlesque and belly-dancers. The compère asked her how she’d like to be introduced.
“At that time I didn’t have a ‘stage name’. I was simply Kerry or Kez. But that night I stepped in front of the microphone as Kezzabelle. That was fourteen years ago and I’ve never looked back. It was a key moment for me, and the Playhouse will always hold a special place in my heart.”
What followed was an evolution of Kezzabelle as a performer, honing her skills at open mic nights in small venues, and listening to feedback from other, more experienced performers.
She published her first book, Truly Me, in 2010 and several more have since followed. It’s hard to pin down exactly what Kezzabelle is, because she does so much. As well as writing and performing her own poetry, she gives talks, records voiceovers, podcasts and radio shows and has done some acting and sitting for artists. She is keen to stress the value of creative work in its broadest sense. It’s not only writing, but also sketching, painting, singing, dancing and playing music, whether that’s strumming her guitar at home or letting loose on the dancefloor on a night out.
One of her key projects is the workshops she runs, principal among them her Weaving Words project, in which small groups of people of all ages come together to write. There is no pressure to share what they’ve written, but if they do they can be sure of a supportive atmosphere.
“The theme of Weaving Words is to express, heal and play with words. It’s not about producing great works of literature – although some amazing things do come out of these sessions – it’s about taking a prompt, then putting pen to paper and seeing what happens. This isn’t a writing group that critiques each other’s work; it’s about people with all levels of writing experience coming together to share and explore. It’s more about coaxing than coaching.”
She hosts one-to-one retreats with people, too, in her Forget-Me-Not sessions in her home studio overlooking the fields.
“My family and the professional support team I have around me are very important, but sometimes I need my own space. I see this in other people, too. Although I usually have an outline of what we shall explore together when working one-to-one, if the person just wants to sit in the garden, to colour, meditate or enjoy some peace and quiet, that’s fine by me.
”Equally, if they want to get out the drums and make a noise, that’s also fine!”
Kezzabelle has developed an interest in using writing as a tool to improve mental wellbeing.
She began exploring this when she worked at Keystone Youth Centre in Kettering, where she was vice-chair. She still runs workshops there at Johnny’s Happy Place.
Her faith is very important to her, and this led her to a Christian women’s retreat where she met a therapist from St Mary’s Hospital in Kettering. She invited Kezzabelle to take her writing workshops into the hospital to work with patients there.
“This was a real privilege. Sometimes people who hadn’t been able to articulate their feelings found they could write something, or maybe draw something, and there’d be a breakthrough. I truly believe that your pen can be a tool for life. It can help you process the bad times and find some joy.”
Kezzabelle has a flamboyant sense of style, and the clothes she wears on stage are a huge part of the performance.
“Oh yes, I’m always happy to ham it up by putting on some fairy wings! One of the many things I learnt from my mum was to dress for the occasion, so I always make an effort when I’m performing. It’s part of the job.”
Her late mother had a huge influence on Kezzabelle. As a youngster, she helped in her mum’s independent fashion boutique where she learnt a lot about clothes, but also about people.
“Mum always said her job was not to sell but to serve, and I try to work with that philosophy. She’d rather turn down a sale than have someone unhappy with what they’d bought.”
Kezzabelle continues to explore new opportunities and is currently working on a new collection called Permission to Play. Next year, she is resuming the tour of her one-woman show, Permission To Love Yourself, and hopes to lead a Weaving Words workshop in each town. She has also been invited to perform in Paris and Sri Lanka.
“One of my mum’s mantras was, ‘How can I help you?’ and that’s always the first question I ask now, whatever the job I’m doing.”
Kezzabelle can be contacted through her website: www.kezzabelle.co.uk