This month on Radio Poets, we’re discussing the problems within the poetry circuit. No, it isn’t doing that well, and yes, there are a lot of people concerned with where it’s going.
The state of publishing; ‘new’ voices; and whether achieving real success as a writer is based on a particular formula, including the spice of who you know, rather than what your poetry is worth, are the main topics of the programme. These are tricky subjects – but ones we’re all secretly familiar with. My opinion is that they need to be aired properly, and discussed openly. My hope? That this will get the ball rolling and encourage at least a handful of other writers to speak out.
Platforms for new voices are not as plentiful and effective as the ‘scene’ would have you believe; the rotation of winning authors among top poetry prizes, particularly over the last 15 years, is nothing short of hilarious. The same names appear again and again, at every festival, in every short or long-list. Occasionally something bleeds through. But this is very rare, and not the status quo. Which is should be. New, genuinely breathtaking or innovative writing should be bleeding out all the time – it’s there. There’s enough pain and enough talent in bucketfuls.
We all write because, if we didn’t, life as we know it would be a struggle: it’s in our bones, as poets, to transform experience into verse and song. But good writing, whether a new voice or not, must be recognised by the very factions that encourage them to start writing in the first place. There need to be fair, balanced opportunities – writing judged by writers who are genuinely interested in the power of the work, or its potential (see Lamplight Press from for a prime example) not the friend of last year’s judge, who is this years’ winner. Or a musician come Pollock esque’ artist drafted in to give this years’ Forward Judging Panel the cool factor.
There have been pushes to make things fairer, and cite new sources. But the pros in this scenario simply do not outweigh the cons. On the programme we have poet and editor of Flarestack Poets Jacqui Rowe, performance poet Fergus McGonical, and Black Country poet Elinor Cole. We hear two poems from each, but due to the nature of the subject, it’s mostly discussion and debate. You can join on the conversation as well: have your say @Brum Radio or @HelenCalcutt on Twitter. You can also contact me: email@example.com
Look out for an op-ed piece on this subject from me in the Birmingham Review on National Poetry Day (October 6th). I will be very positive as well as negative.
Listen back to last month’s episode here: