"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
Deep in the bowels of the Custard Factory in Digbeth, Birmingham, is the secret weapon of the West Midlands and the UK writing scene.
Who is this meek, mild-mannered man – arts manager by day, arts manager by night and poetry superhero? This man who squirms Englishly at any hint of a compliment, and is already wriggling in discomfort at the realisation that he’s about to read his own name?
Why, it is Jonathan Davidson, beavering away at the writers’ development agency Writing West Midlands to deliver support and outlets for writers, with a great vision of fairness and meritocracy. With his brilliant team Jonathan generates new projects, supports and encourages writers at all stages of their career. Oh, and in his own time he’s produced the Being Human poetry tour, taking contemporary poetry to audiences who would never identify themselves as poetry fans – and manages other projects for poets. He has an unfailingly clear eye for talent and unfailing energy in supporting it. He is, I suspect, The Nicest Man in Poetry. There is no-one quite like him, and no-one more modest in promoting his own poetry.
There are others who work in the same sphere, of course. There are other literature development agencies like Henderson Mullins’ Writing East Midlands, and individuals like Ali Betteridge at Derbyshire County Council, Damian Smyth at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, or Graham Henderson formerly of Poet in the City. Heroic promotion is done by Luke Wright, who programmes the line-up at the Latitude Festival each year AND runs Nasty Little Press. Melanie Abrahams, director of Renaissance One, and Julia Bird are both programming and directing great poetry shows – and like Jonathan, are poets in their own right too.
But Jonathan is in a class of his own because of his generosity, his longevity, and for the range and scope of what he does. He puts in place mentoring programmes like Room 204, produces touring shows, programmes festivals, supports small spoken word events and creates great big ones in the Birmingham Book Festival. His commitment and his quiet but determined yes-well-let’s-not-just-talk-about-it-then attitude, makes good things happen across the West Midlands and much further afield.
I can hear him saying ‘yes, yes, but I don’t do these things alone.’ Shut up, Jonathan, and take it like a man. You are a great force in British poetry and we salute you for your energy and integrity. Reader, if you want to express your thanks, for once forget about donating to Writing West Midlands (though that is always a good idea too) and buy his book.