Zones of Avoidance

~ a multimedia live literature production written and performed by poet Maggie Sawkins & directed by Mark C. Hewitt

Feedback & reviews

“This is an ambitious multimedia presentation using film, voices and sound, which works exceptionally well. It is a challenging, painfully open account of a daughter’s addiction, yet it’s an account which also offers graceful good humour. Beautifully written and uncompromising, it’s a modern story that we felt the writer was compelled to tell; it acts as a vivid witness of harsh experiences which aren’t often described in poetry, and Maggie Sawkins’ illuminating descriptions will prove helpful for others to hear.”

Denise Riley (speaking on behalf of the judges, following the announcement of Zones of Avoidance as winner of The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, March 2014)

‘… a really extraordinary performance piece. It was beautifully presented and had a crystal clear narrative.  The storyline has been ricocheting around my head and will continue to do so … many congratulations on delivering a harrowing story with such integrity.’

Caroline Sharman (Director, New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, after first performance at the Menuhin Room, Portsmouth, October 2013)

‘… a major work that tells several moving stories and contains many wonderful poems. It was very impressive writing. … The conception and music and staging were well-judged too.’

George Marsh (writer)

“Congratulations … a powerfully moving live literature event.”
Angela Hicken (Literature Development Officer, Hampshire County Council, after performance at Winchester Discovery Centre, November 2013)

“I’m blown away by the power, beauty and honesty of the performance, which centres not only on Maggie’s words but also on the accounts of people who have struggled with addiction in their own lives.”

” … stunning performance … Really moving, as well as informative.”

“It was a very moving performance, and I feel I know more about the whole business of addiction than I did before.  The touches of humour varied the tone of proceedings well …  And the variety of voices we heard was good, too.”

“Zones of Avoidance was excellent, really very moving indeed.”

” … an incredible performance, painfully moving but loaded with hope.”

Audience feedback (from The Spring Arts Centre, Havant, January 2014)

“It hit me in the heart and made me cry. I think that Maggie Sawkins has achieved something here that demonstrates her prowess and ability as someone that can take the grueling realities of addiction and mental health illness and make that into art of the highest calibre. Her poetry and performance are disturbing, beautiful and poignant all at once. We go from the dingy, grim room of a bedsit to the shingle of Southsea and then float up to the stars in the night sky and it all feels perfectly right.”

Anna Barzotti (writer, after performance at The Cellars, Eastney, January 2014)

“It was a gas.” – Alan Lloyd (Board Member, Ledbury Poetry Festival)

“… it was great to read in the News section (of The Rialto) that Maggie Sawkins, whose first pamphlet I reviewed for Magma back in 2004, has just won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. When I read Charcot’s Pet I could tell I was in the presence of a special talent, and I’m thrilled for Maggie that she is now achieving recognition at the highest level.”

Mark McGuinness (Poetry Blog)

‘It was fantastic. Such a rich and moving piece … I was so moved and am still processing all the imagery and words and ideas.’

Catherine Smith (poet and writer, after performance at All Saints Centre, Lewes, October 2014)

“The performance tells a mother’s story of her daughter’s struggles with drug addiction and contextualises her story with recorded interviews with other illegal substance-users, conveying a sense of what it is that drives an individual to the depths of self-destruction.

In response to the performance I dug out an old copy of R.D. Laing’s The Divided Self, originally published in 1960 when the psychiatrist was only 28 years old. In his introduction Laing states: “In the context of our present pervasive madness that we call normality, sanity, freedom, all our frames of reference are ambiguous and equivocal.” …

… But above all the poetic language in Zones of Avoidance is sublime, superbly crafted and immensely moving. At its most powerful it helps us reimagine our cultural landscape and question how things could be?”

Colin Hambrook (writer and disability arts activist, after performance at All Saints Centre, Lewes, 29 October 2014)

Click here to read the full online review by Colin Hambrook »

Review below in The Portsmouth News of a performance at David Russell Theatre, Portsmouth on 30 October 2014. 


Review / interview by Charlotte Johnson on »

Zones of Avoidance was very moving; artistically layered and creatively designed; it dug deep into the strenuous relationship of a mother with a daughter who has addiction problems. To hear about the struggles she and her daughter went through was heart touching; narrated from a detached reflection in and of her thoughts and personal, so very personal… Sitting in the audience I was invited in to share this with her; move through the motions with her to the echo of what was her daughter, I felt honoured to be let in – for the brief momentary clip into what was their darker reality. Capturing and captivating; Zones of Avoidance keeps you glued to your seat and enthralled in the interactive portrayal of one mother’s journey through struggling to cope with and understand her daughter’s addiction issue.’

Zanell Neethling (after performance at Hampshire Festival of the Mind, October 2014)

‘Just got back from going to see Maggie Sawkins’ live poetry/multimedia performance of her award-winning ‘Zones Of Avoidance’ this eve. It was absolutely brilliant, gripping, and very moving. If you haven’t seen it, do!’


Zones of Avoidance – wonderful performance by @SawkinsMaggie last night. One of the most moving, thought provoking things I’ve seen.’

‘It was of course stunning on Thursday evening … The cumulative effect is really extraordinary and the contrast between Maggie’s frail waif-like vulnerability and her extraordinary strength and resolve is even more telling in live performance. A tremendous achievement …’

‘It was excellent – kept me gripped all the way through.’

Audience feedback (from performance at David Russel Theatre, October 2014, as part of Portsmouth Bookfest and Hampshire Festival of the Mind)

‘I went to see Maggie’s Zones of Avoidance in Portsmouth last month, and was blown away. I’ve never been so effected by a poetry performance as I was during this one. It was so beautifully haunting, honest and devastating – I hung on every word, image and sound, fighting back the tears. I really hope theatres and festivals will include Zones of Avoidance in their programmes!’

Latifa Walker (audience feedback following performance at David Russel Theatre, October 2014, as part of Portsmouth Bookfest and Hampshire Festival of the Mind)

‘I enjoyed Maggie Sawkins’ Zones of Avoidance even more second time round, if ‘enjoyed’ is the right word for a show that left me sobbing. Though Zones of Avoidance won Maggie the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for Poetry, this is no mere poetry reading. Maggie and her director Mark C. Hewitt have woven a tapestry of words and images, telling the story of ‘Sunny Girl’ and her descent through the circles of addiction. We begin with real recordings in which addicts discuss their problems with humour, articulacy and immediacy. These interviews alone are hugely affecting. Maggie’s poetry tells the story of her daughter’s struggles and how they affected her relationships, especially, in the last section, with her son. The poems, delivered sometimes live, sometimes on video, have the clearcut, hard-hitting quality of a documentary, with the shimmer of poetic illumination: moons and stars, half-moons and tides.

“I’m reading The Confessions of an English Opium Eater
I want to understand what drove my daughter out in the snow
with no coat or socks, in search of a fix.
I want to understand what divinity led her
to set up camp in the derelict ‘pigeon house’
after running out of sofas to surf.”

Maggie is a poet, not an actress. The varied media, with moments of music, video and silence, offer us a different ways to listen, allowing the story to unfold in our minds at its own pace. The show wins us not through dramatic insistence but through a gentle rhythmic sincerity, with flashes of humour, flashes of pathos. A highlight of Portsmouth Bookfest, this powerful chronicle of lives damaged by addiction is a show that should be seen not just by poetry lovers.’

Review by William Sutton  (following performance at David Russel Theatre, October 2014, as part of Portsmouth Bookfest and Hampshire Festival of the Mind)

The book Zones of Avoidance was published in March 2015.

Read a review of the Portsmouth Launch event on Greg Freeman’s Write Out Loud website by clicking here »


Reviews of the book Zones of Avoidance

“It conveys a rawness and honesty yet has been carefully and artistically worked. There’s a sense that however much one tries to analyse or understand or go into the history of drug taking, there is still a mystery at the centre of why some people are more possessed by it than others. It’s a very memorable and moving book, that searches for small consolations in living and a wider philosophy yet without being sentimental or suggesting easy answers. Most importantly, the poems open a window on to an experience which is often shunned or unheard. All the ways there are of interpreting the world around us – and the poems don’t close down the interpretations of those we think of as suffering mental illness. You capture a great sense of the zeitgeist too — the world around addiction, the world of prison, hospital and supported living. There are meditative poems too that strive to find a space between the moments of crisis and a way of continuing a positive and often witty connection to the world.”

Stephanie Norgate (Bloodaxe Poet)

“This year’s winner of The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry was the former poet laureate, Andrew Motion, for his work based on interviews with soldiers returning from Afghanistan. The previous year’s winner, Maggie Sawkins, wrote about another kind of war in Zones of Avoidance – a daughter’s drug addiction, seen through a mother’s eyes – which has now been published, with other poems, as a collection.

‘Zones of Avoidance’ is a long narrative poem, that with other poems on the same subject, makes up more than half of the book. The often harrowing poetry is built on a tough, unwavering rhythm and music in its lines that is unobtrusive, like a compere unwilling to spend too much time in the spotlight …

Thus the title poem begins: “I’m reading The Confessions of an English Opium Eater – / I want to understand what drove my daughter out in the snow. … ”

Read the full review by Greg Freeman on the Write Out Loud website by clicking here »

“It’s a wonderful and utterly moving piece, and the audience all around me seemed captivated as I was.” Denise Riley (after performance at The Cockpit, London, September/October 2015)

“It was a masterclass on how to use personal material. Your words were beautiful – clear, surprising, captivating – and without a shred of self pity. And the arc of the narrative was a real surprise and delight.”

Claire Collinson (after performance at The Cockpit, London, September/October 2015)

“Saw Zones of Avoidance this afto at the Cockpit. … The imagery is startingly alive.”

Anne Rees (after performance at The Cockpit, London, September/October 2015)

Tweets after performance at The Cockpit, London, September/October 2015

#ZonesofAvoidance by @SawkinsMaggie “… raw, brave poetry …beautiful theatrical event … simplicity and strength in words …”

“Saw Zones of Avoidance by @SawkinsMaggie this afternoon. Powerful & painful & moments of touching humour. Given me lots to think about. Lorraine Mariner

@SawkinsMaggie “#zonesoa take on #addiction covered the dimensions with heart, skill & elegance. Well done to you & director Mark C Hewitt.” Natacha Bryan

“Moving Significant Performance: Zones of Avoidance @cockpittheatre Visually Exciting Emotionally Sobering.” Monica Suswin

“Just saw @SawkinsMaggie perform Zones of Avoidance @cockpittheatre. Powerful, emotive & no pretension. Hope it finds a huge audience soon.” Searchlight Arts

“Addiction: fragmentary, strange, unglamorous. Zones of Avoidance by @SawkinsMaggie is on @cockpittheatre. See it!” Kathryn Maris

“Anne Stewart went in London and said it was marvellous and that she was glued to her seat. We’d like to help by giving any publicity we can.”

Dilys Wood (Second Light Network)

“A moving story brilliantly told.”

Judith Palmer (Director, The Poetry Society, after performance at The Cockpit, October 2015)

“This is a powerful and poignant narrative, told with honesty and a lack of sentimentality, and with great poetic craft and skill, and it is enhanced and broadened by the effects that this “live literature” production directed by Mark C Hewitt brings to it.”

Greg Freeman, (online review of performance at The Cockpit, October 2015) To read the full review in Write Out Loud, click here »

‘I saw Maggie Sawkins read recently in Bradford on Avon at Dawn Gorman’s Words&Ears event. I hadn’t heard or read Maggie before, though I knew that she won the Ted Hughes Award in 2013 for Zones of Avoidance, a “multimedia live literature production”. In Bradford, Maggie read from the book of the same title (published by Cinnamon Press). It’s hard to criticise art about something so personal: these are poems about Maggie’s daughter’s drug addiction. But I think it’s the quality of the art that makes the poems quite so intensely moving. I’ve been holding off writing anything about them, trying to figure out what’s so good. But time moves on. Perhaps what they get exactly right is the balance of reportage and metaphor. Also, in Bradford, they were very disarmingly read. Highly recommended.’

Stephen Payne (review of a Maggie Sawkins poetry reading in Bradford-on-Avon, May 2016)

“I love this book. Beautiful and interesting and sad; it carries you through the narrative and soars. I’ve read it again and again, and if I ever lost this book I would feel the bereavement painfully.”

Louisa Campbell, book review of Zones of Avoidance)

“Very powerful. An hour of poetry and it didn’t hurt at all! Just the right amount of visuals, just the right amount of movement …”

Paul Armfield, Venue Manager, Quay Arts (after a performance at Quay Arts, Isle of Wight, May 2018)

“The whole performance was stunning. There have been some really good events on this year but this has to be up there with the best. Enthralled throughout.” (Chaucer Cameron)

“Just to say how brilliant – and very moving – we thought the performance of Zones of Avoidance was. Good to follow up with a discussion too. The theatre should have been full!” (Lydia Fulleylove)

“Thank you for helping me to realise that it’s ok not to know what to do. His addiction caused my PTSD. In the end I ran. I ran as far as I could and never looked back. My daughter and I left the theatre without speaking tonight, not because I didn’t want to but because I was moved to tears. Thank you for making me feel like I’m not so alone.”

Audience feedback (from performance at Quay Arts, Isle of Wight, May 2018, as part of Hampshire Festival of the Mind)


4 thoughts on “Feedback & reviews

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  4. Pingback: Zones of Avoidance – what people have said | Zones of Avoidance

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