"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
My life as Cheshire Poet Laureate, like that of George IV, ‘drew peacefully to a close’ last week. I was ceremonially defrocked at Neston Library, and passed on my cheesy Cheshire crown to the new bloke, Terry Fox. Unfortunately Terry had chosen to wear a shirt which exactly matched the library chairs, so when he sat down we couldn’t see him at all – but when he stood up he was brilliant, a really lively and engaging speaker. I think he’ll be great as the new CPL.
In highbrow poetry circles, it’s fashionable to be snooty about regional laureateships, and about taking poetry to ‘ordinary’ people who like to be entertained, not preached at. There is an unspoken feeling that poetry should be difficult, that one should have to work at it to understand it, and that it’s a bit too good for the general public to be let in on. Dear friends, I say unto you, “Balls to that”.
Certainly, we need to apply exacting standards to every county or regional laureateship. If your laureate is chosen by a well-meaning councillor who reads no poetry written after 1862, or by the readers of a local newspaper, you won’t get the best example of contemporary writing. So make sure your laureate is chosen by his/ her peers, as well as the council rep. But by all means, let us have laureates in all parts of the country. We need an army of capable, confident poets across the nation who have skills in public speaking, PR and event management to make poetry a lively and (whisper it) entertaining art form. Go forth, laureates, as ambassadors for contemporary poetry. Do not accept venue managers telling you that ‘we only get tiny audiences for poetry’ – use all your talents to build a larger audience. That audience is lurking out there, and it deserves good new work to think about and enjoy.
I know this because we had an audience of 50 (still not huge, but growing) for Bunch of Fives Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre last week and they loved it. ‘Intellectual Viagra’ – ‘very entertaining’ and in one mysterious case, ‘loved the fart poems’. On close examination we think it was ‘loved the fact poems were performed from memory’…..
Also last week – a meeting in London about National Poetry Day fundraising, a meeting in Ledbury about this summer’s festival programme which looks like being a great one. And a meeting in Ness, at the splendid botanic garden on the Wirral where I hope to be doing some work later in the year. Best of all, I worked on the manuscript for my book Navigation (out on March 6th dear readers) and it is FINISHED! So I can send it off to the printers and start arguing about typos.
Techno-disasters last week saw me temporarily without phone OR computer, and it felt like being suddenly lobotomised. I no longer knew where I lived or who I was. My message, dear friends, is BACK UP and INSURE.