Heated debate at Swindon Poetry Sunday

13 May

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 There are many sides to that thing we call ‘poetry’.

There’s the performance poetry of the Slam!. The poetry of the nursery rhyme. The poetry of hip hop and the singer-songwriter, the folk singer, the hymn. The limerick, the nonsense poem, the psalm, the sonnet and the haiku. Poetry of strict form and poetry of tradition. The poetry of the streets and the poetry of abstract concepts.

Some people don’t call themselves poets. They label themselves spoken word performers, slammers, MCs and lyricists.

So what the hell is it? Why can I stand with 2,000 other people at a Scroobius Pip (spoken word artist) gig but award-winning high profile poets only sell seven books on the launch of their latest release?

That school teachers apparently have no idea how to teach poetry and yet young people’s poetry competitions have record-breaking entries?

And what’s this got to do with Swindon Poetry Sunday?

I took part in a workshop with Mike Woods, editor of Tandem magazine, author of Absence Notes, and a Seamus Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy enthusiast. I wrote three poems; one or maybe two of which have legs (see for yourself at http://louinisister.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/a-sticky-life-scrapyard-of-worry/). I was really impressed by (and envious of) the quality of the poems produced by the other participants – rich language, great metaphors, funny, evocative in just ten minutes. Wow.

Then followed readings by Swindon’s BlueGate poets and Pat Winslow, former actress and writer in residence at a prison, by definition – I think – used to a difficult audience.

The poets were supplied by Templar Poetry, who resist the kind of inkjet printed poetry pamphlets that poets carry about with them, instead producing the most gorgeous, tactile anthologies, paying as much attention to the paper texture and photography as to the written word inside.

Templar are on a mission. They are fed up with poetry at the bottom of the pecking order of the literary sales charts. They want to banish tales of publishing house poets paying for their own print run.

Managing editor Alex McMillen ran a panel discussion with poets Paul Maddern, Mike Woods and Jane Weir. How can we get people reading more poetry? Reading more poetry means better poets. More reading means more sales, ultimately.

Better teaching at schools was proffered as a solution. But I wasn’t alone in thinking that’s the last place to make something popular. Personally, studying English at school put me off reading for years and creative writing for decades.

The poets had the air of people who’d reached the peak of their profession and realised it’s a very low hill. Maybe even a depression.

Is it time all the different permutations of poetry group-hugged, showed solidarity and together embraced the path of relevance to the public at large?

Poetry needs a Damien Hirst. Or do we just need a decent poet on Britain’s Got Talent?

PS Chronicler Pete is including in his Family Day chronicle the tale-end of a discussion about writing Spiderman poems to capture the enthusiasm of kids. Tonight I read to a receptive five year old Chronicler Milo a bit of Shakespeare, Walter de la Mere, Edward Lear and that well-known poet, Anonymous. He was also taught a couple of verses of Keats’s St Agnes’ Eve, before he was nappy trained, by his keen grandmother. With enthusiasm, anything is possible. Long live poetry!

2 Responses to “Heated debate at Swindon Poetry Sunday”


  1. Swindon Festival of Poetry – a starry start « Festival Chronicle - 4th Oct 2012

    […] Swindon-based award-winning poet Cristina Newton read from her new Templar published anthology ‘Cry Wolf’. When I congratulated her on her first official book, she looked less thrilled than I expected. ‘Are you pleased?’ I asked her. ‘Yes and no,’ she replied. ‘Why no?’ ‘There are more poets than readers. Who will buy it?’ Another poet, Andrew Barber chipped in with ‘I know what you mean – I’ve written three books since I saw you last.’ Blimey. This reminded me of the last time this issue reared its ugly head: https://festivalchronicle.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/heated-debate-at-swindon-poetry-sunday/ […]

  2. Artwords Open Mic – You’re Meat, Book « Festival Chronicle - 5th Oct 2012

    […] Anyway, it was great to hear Miles Deakon perform ‘Cutman’, a superhero poem. Avid followers of this blog (okay so that’s just me then) will remember a conversation I had at the Swindon Festival of Literature about superhero poetry see the PS at https://festivalchronicle.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/heated-debate-at-swindon-poetry-sunday/ […]

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