Journeys in Translation now live

but one country Rod Duncan showing English original and Shona translation by Ambrose MusiyiwaThe Journeys in Translation blog is now live. This was the project that took some poems from “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) and translated them into languages other than their original English. Visitors can look up poems and translations by language, poem (from the main menu) or translator. The initial selection of poems was not meant to be restrictive, but a means to keep the project manageable (project coordinators and translators all worked on a voluntary basis). The blog is flexible and other poems/translations can be added.

On 30 September 2017, we held the Journeys in Translation event on International Translation Day and during Everybody’s Reading, where poems were read in English and one translation and posters were on display showing further translations. There was also a discussion about some of the challenges and discoveries in translating the poems. Some translators chose to do a literal translation, others chose to make their translations more poetic. It was intriguing to see, where two people had translated one poem into the same language, the differences and similarities in the choices of phrasing because not all translators were translating into their mother tongue. Some differences were down to colloquial choices or regional variances in the translated language.

Personally, I’ve found being involved in “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” and its offshoot projects worthwhile. I contributed and co-edited the anthology, was involved in organising readings and launch events in Leicester and beyond, did a several radio interviews, designed and arranging for printing postcards to be given out at the Journeys Poem Pop-up Library at Leicester Railway Station during Everybody’s Reading 2016, coordinated the Journeys in Translation main event and blog as well as doing some of the translations. I will be happy to be involved in any future events or activities linked to these projects, but I will not be initiating any further events or activities. I wear several literary hats and for the foreseeable future, I’m hanging up my co-editor of “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” one.


Rod Duncan launches Queen of All Crows at Leicester Writers' Showcase

Advertisements

Looking forward rather than back

I don’t do ‘books of the year’ round ups: after all the selection process is subjective and a different mood or change in circumstances will influence choices. I do keep a rough tally of achievements though and my 2017 in numbers: 45 poems accepted for publication, I wrote 42 reviews and was longlisted for the Saboteur Reviewer of the Year Award, 36 blog articles (including 2 guest posts). Last year I had 44 poems accepted for publication and wrote 55 reviews. Reviews fluctuate according to requests and I don’t want to review every book I read otherwise reading will become a chore. The level of poetry publications is more consistent. But I did two things in 2017 that I’d not done before. I presented a paper, “Poetry and ‘the Jungle'” at the Jungle Factory Symposium at Leicester University in March and I have an essay, “Spoken Word as a Way of Dismantling Barriers and Creating Space for Healing” forthcoming in “Verbs that Move Mountains” (Sabotage, 2018).

So I don’t look backward, but I do look forward, which means making plans or resolutions. Here are some general guidelines I always use:

Don’t start resolutions in January

The mornings are still dark, the weather’s usually damp and, even if you’ve dodged the post-Christmas lethargy, it’s not an ideal circumstance to create a fresh, new you. Instead use January to plan and prepare for when the mornings are lighter and it feels more natural to start new resolutions. Instead, jot down ideas or try and note one observation each day and keep these notes to one side to use as ideas to kickstart poems during NaPoWriMo in April. Winter nights are more conducive to reading and editing.

Ensure you are in control

“Get more poems published” might seem like a great resolution, but you don’t get to decide whether your poems are published or not. What you can do is submit more poems for publication or better research poetry magazines so you don’t send your sonnets to an editor who is looking for sestinas.

Embrace Rejection

Rejections are part of being a writer, but there are ways of mitigating them. You can thoroughly research poetry magazines and submission call-outs to check that you are sending your work to the most appropriate outlets. You can join a workshop or writers’ group to ensure you’re sending out the best version of your poem. And you can ensure you are sending out more than one submission at a time. If you send out one batch of poems to one editor, a rejection means 100% of your poems have been rejected. If you send out 12 submissions and 1 is rejected, there are another 11 with a chance of acceptance so that 1 rejection doesn’t sting as much.

Be Flexible

Rigid resolutions are less likely to be kept and may prevent you exploring new opportunities that may arise. Be realistic in your time scales too. If you plan to write more each day, don’t beat yourself up if a family emergency prevents you from writing.

Keep an eye on trends, rather than exact numbers. I know I’m likely to write approximately as many new poems this year as last year. I don’t know if I will get more poems or fewer poems accepted, but I know I’m going to try just as often.

Read More

You can’t be a writer if you don’t read and don’t just read in your genre. Occasionally pick up a book out of your comfort zone. Staying within your comfort zone means you won’t develop as a writer. Getting out to readings also means you’re supporting your local literary scene (and if you think your local literary scene isn’t worth supporting, perhaps you could do something about that).

“Anatomy of a Scandal” Sarah Vaughan (Simon and Schuster) – book review

Anatomy of a ScandalThree stories are interwoven when a rape case lands in court. James, the defendant in a junior minister confident he’ll be found not guilty and will be able to return to government once the dust settles. An old Etonian who studied at Oxford alongside the Prime Minister, James’s life has been one of privilege and entitlement. He met his wife Sophie at Oxford. Her purpose there was to bag a husband to finance the comfortable lifestyle she aspired too. It was James’s idea she give up work after their second child was born, but she did so willingly. Now she has to face up to some uncomfortable truths about her marriage. It was easy for her to convince herself she had a special place in James’s heart as the mother of his children and turn a blind eye to his infidelities. But, in court, she has to endure hearing the evidence and understanding the truth she, until now, had never been ready to admit. Kate, the barrister for the prosecution, isn’t just prosecuting another rape case. There’s a personal angle to this one that points to secrets in her history.

The story is chiefly told through the viewpoints of Kate and Sophie, with occasional chapters in James’s viewpoint. His victim, as happens in rape cases, plays a secondary role as witness, someone who tells her story in front of the jury. She is humiliated and shamed by the defence who take every opportunity to remind her that she had willingly entered an affair with a married man and suggest she did consent on the occasion she now describes as rape. Kate knows her witness is telling the truth. Sophie watches her husband turn politician when it’s his turn to be witness. She learns that he sees the truth as interpretable and his belief that his version of the truth is more important that anyone else’s. The verdict comes around two-thirds of the way through the novel, with the final third focusing on repercussions and a life-defining event at Oxford twenty-three years before the trial. A secret that could end the careers of both James and his best friend the Prime Minister.

James’s saving grace is his relationship with his children. His lack of self-examination comes from a background where problems were brushed aside or someone was paid to make them go away. His powerful connections cause Sophie to feel trapped. She has no career and is dependent on James and can’t risk upsetting James’s plans to be back in government. She can’t just reveal the Oxford secret, not because of the impact on her security, but because James’s connections mean she can just be swept aside.

The case forces Kate to confront her demons too. She was a northern, working class girl who managed to get into Oxford but left after the first year, switching to Liverpool University where she focused on becoming a barrister. She nearly passed on this case. What stopped her was wanting to see justice done. The aftermath reaches out beyond Sophie and Kate. James’s mother questions the way she raised her son. Friendships forged at Oxford are put under the microscope and picked apart. Only those based on truth and respect can remain intact.

“Anatomy of a Scandal” is pacey but not so quick that readers don’t have time to absorb the drama or get to know the characters. Kate, Sophie and supporting characters are fully-rounded and credible. Readers want justice for Kate but also for Sophie not to be dragged down with her husband. There are moments where readers can empathise with James too. His privilege enables him but also gives him a blind spot, a weakness that leaves him vulnerable but gives him an ability to recognise his power and change. Sarah Vaughan asks questions, all too relevant in the #MeToo climate, but doesn’t preach. She shows awareness of capturing nuance, relating identifiable scenarios and lets characters speak for themselves as they demonstrate the effects of rape ripple out beyond the perpetrator and victim. “Anatomy of a Scandal” is a gripping court room drama with depth and a compulsion which makes the characters live on.

More details of “Anatomy of a Scandal” at Simon and Schuster’s website.

Leicester Writers’ Showcase: Leicester and Leicestershire: City and County of Literature 13 December 2017 – Part 2

Councillor Sarah Russell had been due to speak at this event but wasn’t present on the evening and her absence wasn’t explained. She did, however, make a video. Since I’m not very good at listening to videos and prefer reading, my typescript of the video appears below:

“I’d say I think it’s [cultural activity in Leicester] exciting, it’s growing. I think we’ve got a really broad cultural scene in the city. It ranges from the large venues for theatre and music productions to print, to the range of art festivals, spoken word, reading and writing. And I think the mix between large venues and small local groups is exciting for everyone. That’s been recognised by the Arts Council and the investment they’ve put into the city. That we are really a growing cultural environment.

“I think the literary scene is really important. I think Leicester’s quite long been established with having some really amazing authors coming out of Leicester. But how we develop the literary scene within the city, how we celebrate it and how we make sure that scene has an audience within the city, I think is developing and I think is something we should all be really excited about. So the council’s been doing all sorts of different things. More recently it’s been working directly with literary groups to offer space, to offer the sort of communications network the council has to attract new people in. But we’ve got relationships that have go back for a long time. So we’ve got authors who come back into the city who come back to talk to young people like Bali Rai who talks about his experience of growing up in the city and wanting to write full-time. I think those bringing back and sharing of those experiences are really powerful. All the different elements sit alongside each other so we’re supporting people to write within the city, making sure there’s the space and promotion of that and also making sure that they get an audience and we bring young people into that.

“I think for raising the profile of it, we have to capitalise on the established authors we’ve already got, we use things like the Whatever it Takes Festival which brought in authors, those from within the city but also from outside. I think we have to really have to celebrate the breath of our literary scene. So we’ve got those who are writing amazing fiction, spoken word and making quite a significant national name for themselves we’ve also got those local history groups who are writing up our city’s shared history and how we can capture that and make sure that’s understood nationally and internationally. I think working with national publishing houses to make sure they see Leicester as the hotbed of creativity I think it is are all ways we can continue to raise the profile.

“It’s absolutely crucial to continue to do this because we want people to both be able to aspire to write and to recognise why it’s such and important way of sharing our own experiences but also of raising the profile of the city, of making sure that people know that this is somewhere where that things are happening, that exciting things happen and come back to. There’s all sorts of different ways that the literary scene supports that.

“The best way to find out is to sign up to the libraries’ service email. All of our libraries have got lots of information in. But every month the library puts out something called the Book News and it tells you about local groups that are happening, it tells you about literary opportunities, opportunities to go along to different types of workshops. It’s a place to find out more. It’s a great place to start. You get to know other like-minded writers and readers and get to share some of your stories and experiences with them.”

What’s interesting is the lack of detail. The only author mentioned is Bali Rai (he deserves the mention; that’s not in dispute) and she doesn’t list which groups the council think they work with. I’ll put my excitement on hold.

A write-up of the speakers who managed to attend the Leicester Writers’ Showcase on Literary Activity in Leicester is here.

Leicester Writers’ Showcase: Leicester and Leicestershire: City and County of Literature 13 December 2017

Michaela Butter (Attenborough Arts) chaired the panel and invited them to “Raise the roof on Leicester’s writers.”

Bobba Cass spoke about how poetry and rhymes had been important to him growing up in Seattle with an English father and American mother. He came to the UK via Nigeria, carrying those poems with him. He felt it important to honour the moment of discovering creativity. He spoke about how inspirational he felt some people in Leicester were which had inspired him to set up PInng…k!, now in its seventh year. He mentioned Carol Leeming, Word!, Lydia Towsey and Tim Sayers’ work at Bradgate Hospital, Michaela Butter, Corinne Fowler, Magnus who ran Galleri Gastur, Alison Dunne, Keith Allott, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Liz Grey, Marcus Joseph, Vijay Mistry (2Funky Arts), Rob Gee, Louise Katerega, Mellow Baku, Peter Buckley, Richard Byrt, Kishan Anand (Anerki) and Dave Donnau.

Emma Lee introduced Leicester Writers’ Club who meet every Thursday at Phoenix Square in Leicester’s cultural quarter. Leicester Writers’ Club’s core business is feedback on works in progress and sharing publishing and marketing tips. The latter becoming more important as publishers are expecting writers to do a lot more marketing – gone are the days of long lunches and publishers putting together marketing plans. The Club also offers advanced masterclasses, talks from industry speakers such as literary agents, social events and a writers’ retreat. Members are novelists, poets, short story writers, scriptwriters and spoken word artists who are widely published in the UK, Europe, North and South America, Africa and New Zealand. Members have been shortlisted for the Carnegie Prize and Philip K Dick awards and prize-winners in, e.g. Writing East Midlands Aurora and Leicester Writes competitions. Members have also judged short story and poetry competitions.

Leicester Writers’ Club Is not insular. The Club itself has held events for Everybody’s Reading, Leicester Writes and takes a stall at States of Independence. Members have performed at most of Leicester’s spoken word nights including Shindig, Word!, Anerki; Novel Exchanges, Cultural Exchanges, The Journeys Festival and supported Refugee Week programmes. Members teach at Writing School East Midlands, lecture in Creative Writing at De Montfort University and two members have set up a writers’ development service to help writers achieve their goals, The Writers’ Shed.

Two Club members have supported Leicester Writers’ Showcase from its inception and all 12 events have featured at least one Club member.

Despite all this the Club and its members feel overlooked and invisible.

Farhana Shaikh of Dahlia Publishing, Leicester Writes and The Asian Writer, spoke of the incredible talent and humility in Leicester. She tries to harness a community where anyone can join in. Dahlia Publishing has provided opportunities, e.g. “Welcome to Leicester” poetry anthology and “Lost and Found: stories of home from Leicestershire writers” short story anthology. Writers should be celebrated a lot more. Leicester Writes monthly meet-up at Bru started in May 2013 and provides an informal space for moral support and to share news. Novel Exchanges, which meets quarterly, features established writers alongside local writers to create a nurturing environment. Leicester achieves a lot despite lack of funding and support. She created a writer’s residency at Bru to disrupt normal writing commissions which focus on history or cultural traditions to try to break down barriers to getting people involved.

The Leicester Writes Short Story competition was set up with support from BBC Radio Leicester and the Bristol Short Story prize. It had a Leicester launch and, of 102 entries, 50% were from within Leicestershire. Local talent stood up in comparison with national talent. Leicester can acknowledge that Leicester writers are talented. Initiatives like Leicester Writes Short Story Competition enables Leicester’s talent to see how it is doing and shows there is talent here. Leicester Writes Festival was set up to celebrate that talent and offer workshops for local writers. It also brought meet the publisher/pitch your novel events to Leicester by inviting London-based publishers and agents.

Dahlia Publishing champions regional and diverse voices. She concluded, “It’s a shame to feel invisible.”

Matthew Pegg of Mantle Lane Arts and Mantle Lane Press based in Coalville talked about how they had started as a group who organised festivals, went into schools, libraries and worked with community groups but felt they’d become too diverse and lacked identity. After Matthew had completed a Creative Writing MA at Nottingham Trent University so felt writing would be a good focus. Set up the Red Lighthouse project offering writer support and development, creative writing community projects and a small press publisher aimed at children’s and Young Adult writers. Created two writing for children events, Wolves and Apples including readings and masterclasses. The third Wolves and Apples event will be on 17 March 2018 with Celia Rees and Linda Newbery at Ramada Encore in Leicester aimed at beginners. Also looking to set up a training course for writers in participatory work, e.g. going into schools, libraries, etc. Started a songwriting project for people with dementia which will lead to a CD. Undertakes playwriting in schools with Curve and assistance from Rob Gee which will end in a showcase event at Curve. Mantle Lane Arts is also setting up a literary festival in Coalville with Joanne Harris as the main guest. Mantle Lane Press started with an oral history and branched out into small format books, a good size for poetry pamphlets and novellas, and anthologies. A third anthology and two further small format books are planned so far. The press was an interesting learning curve, especially on marketing. Non-fiction books are easier to market based on the topic. Fiction and poetry heavily rely on author involvement. Mantle Lane has supported the recent exhibition in Coalville about the first 50 volunteers who signed up to join the First World War and is undertaking a project with the National Trust based in the West Midlands.

Michaela Butter liked Bobba Cass’s idea of not being tied to the page, that the Leicester Writers’ Club were not insular, Leicester Writes’ creating space for anyone, disrupting models through commissions and inviting national organisations to come to Leicester, and Mantle Lane Arts reaching out to children.

Discussion from the floor talked about the cross-over between literary arts and other arts such as visual arts and music and recognising those talents in writers. Leicester was felt to be vibrant but lacked local support, e.g. it was easier to get a book reviewed in the Washington Post than in the Leicester Mercury. There was a mention of paying artists properly; there was a heavy reliance on voluntary work to organise events which meant performers weren’t always paid. Leicester has an eco-system of beginners to professionals. Farhana Shaikh talked about how she’d got funding to do a series of workshops in a local library because travel costs can deter people taking part in central events. Emma Lee said that if writers approached Leicester Writers’ Club and it was clear they didn’t have the experience to join, the Club pointed them in the direction of other, more relevant groups and Writing School East Midlands. Matthew Vaughan of Leicester Libraries talked about the libraries having an intern and one of the intern’s jobs would be to create a directory of writers’ organisations in Leicester/shire.

After an interval, during which a significant number of the audience left because it had begun snowing, the panel reconvened.

Henderson Mullin, CEO Writing East Midlands talked about WEM and its role as a catalytic organisation which worked to help writers help themselves. There were limitations due to funding and WEM having the equivalent of 3.5 full time staff. WEM offers writers one to one advice, mentoring, critical reads, Writing School East Midlands, writers’ conference and residencies. He briefly discussed the literary scenes in Norwich which highlights internationalism supported by UEA and its UNESCO City of Literature Status. Edinburgh is focused around its festival. Manchester is lively and recently won UNESCO City of Literature status. Birmingham’s scene was growing stronger, especially in Moseley. Nottingham was coalescing around its UNESCO City of Literature status. Derby had a book festival and was developing their spoken word scene through a couple of collaborative and motivated individuals. The common thread in all these successes was a sense of identity and strong theme. There were questions: did these initiatives benefit everybody, who gets prioritised, who controls  projects, how these effect diversity and multiplicity and whether literature can become part of the city’s culture, e.g. involve universities and local authorities?

James Urquhart Relationship Manager Arts Council England (ACE), talked about the richness and diversity of the scene in Leicester. ACE’s mission was achieving art for everyone and he was positive about the role of volunteers. He asked how writers can reach out to new audiences and felt raising the profile of writers relied on developing and sharing audiences and sharing and promoting each other. He cited the example of a project done by Maria Taylor where three “page poets” and three “stage poets” were invited to share a stage. He mentioned looking at creating partnerships and looking at non-arts organisations and potential funders, reaching out to Leicester’s twin cities and investigate touring and/or inviting festivals to Leicester. ACE were not there to tell artists what to do, it was down to artists to approach with ideas. He finished by asking, “Who are you invisible to?”

This last point provoked a discussion about organisations such as ACE reaching out to artists who might feel they couldn’t initiate contact either because they didn’t know what the organisations could do or felt jargon was a barrier. James Urquhart responded that, like WEM, he had a large area to cover and didn’t have the resources to do outreach as well. The point about funding bodies not being directional was mentioned. James was asked why ACE didn’t recognise stand-up comedy as an art, a question he couldn’t answer.

It was felt Leicester needed more confidence in what it was doing to create a joined-up picture and perhaps this event could create that forum. At this point the meeting was wound up – it was 9.30pm and the snow was getting worse.

There will be follow up meetings likely to take place in July and December 2018.

 

“Joy” Sasha Dugdale (Carcanet) – poetry review

These poems focus on memory, including memories that are best forgotten or at least buried, and recording of memories, particularly who records, and the effects of remembering and recording. Central to this collection is the title poem, an imagined stage monologue with Catherine Blake, widow of William. The title poem starts

“A dark stage. A woman in a rocking chair. Catherine Blake

Silence.

They don’t want me here… they don’t want me…”

Wives of famous husbands often find themselves sidelined or ignored as if an inconvenient reminder someone knew the husband better than his fans. But Catherine Blake was not ignored by William,

“So you freed me from the angel and you taught me what you knew so I should never bow to you I should be your equal in all practical matters and thenceforth you gave me a free hand to colour, and even draw which I willingly did. And stitched and bound your books, and I cut the linen and polished the plates and made up inks and did all the work of an engraver at your side.

See my hands? Here. Look.

You said they were the hands of a craftsman.

Where to put them? (She rubs her body with them.) They have never lain so long in my lap. They begin to gnaw at the air. (She lays them palm up on her lap) Two twisted vessels. All the craft trickles out of them…”

Here the strange place of widowhood emerges. After spending so long being defined as part of a couple, particularly the part that managed the house and enabled the more famous partner, there’s an emptiness and a search for a re-definition. Here it’s captured not just in what’s said but also in Catherine’s gawky, uncoordinated movements. It’s a visual poem. Catherine Blake didn’t just lose her husband, but also her creative partner – she worked alongside William Blake – so it not just re-identifying herself as a widow but also whether to continue the creative work in progress. That dislocating sense of widowhood is also picked up in “The Widow and the Kaleidoscope” which ends,

“the lightest movement will perturb
the pattern translates itself around the whole
in new perfections always perfect always
fearfully falling into new associations.”

Dislocation can also come from being disconnected with family roots. Here a friend travels to her place of origin, “How my friend went to look for her roots”,

“- If you’re from here then why don’t you stay with your family?

– My family left.

So, asked the woman, why come here then? Which, thought my
friend, was a reasonable question, as the darkness came hard across
the open land and up the street and nowhere to sleep that night
except an empty room where the builders kept their tools
on a pallet and under a thin blanket.
She slept hardly at all that night, for fear of falling off the mattress,
she rued her purpose and scratched her skin
and vowed she would leave at dawn if she had to walk.

Dawn arrived, the pink sky was vaster than anywhere she’d known.
Geography is a strange thing, this town left beyond
the known world, the comfortable road, on the edge of nothing
from where her family had been plucked
with a million others, carrying only memories of home

walking, walking out of the town.”

There may not seem to be much joy here, except in the afirmation that leaving was the right choice.

Sasha Dugdale has a deserved reputation for translating Russian writers so there’s no surprise in find a sequence, “Days” inspired by reading Svenlana Aleksievich’s book on women’s experiences in the Second World War, “The Unwomanly Face of War”,

“7
My daughter does my hair in two pigtails
I like her holding it and twisting it up
I remember someone else putting it up
When I was a child.
I remember how she brushed it.
Me, in a hospital bed with a beaker.
I remember how she combed it
Carefully. Me in the parlour
With the candles lighting the way.

8
I have no right to grief
I am whole
I have no right to grief
I am whole
I have no right to grief
I am whole

9
My wife was a stenographer
She typed the word rape
Forty times in one hour
She sat in a bank of woman
Making records of what had been done
And she felt herself to be lucky
To be alive and unscathed…”

History tends to be written by victors and women’s voices during war struggle to be heard. They are often the ones left on the home front, keeping families together, raising children, or forced to leave and set out on treacherous journeys to seek refuge with the additional risk of sexual violence. Section 7 shows a hankering back to the simplicity of childhood and being looking after, a wishful hope that someone else might share the burden of motherhood albeit briefly. Section 8 uses its repetition like a mantra as if the speaker is trying to be something she is not. Even if still physically whole, the mental scars mean the narrator is irrevocably changed no matter how often her mantra is repeated. The factual description of Section 9 belies the inevitable secondary trauma of the stenographer in recording war crimes that they had either blocked out or survived. There’s an irony in the voice being her husband’s rather than hers.

At face value, there doesn’t seem to be much joy here. Other poems take in the joy of a walk or of physical acts such as canoeing. But, looking beyond the surface, the joy emerges in the ability to remember, the ability to tell one’s story in one’s own words. The mantra “I am whole” seems entirely out of place for one traumatised by war, but it gives the speaker agency, gives her a sense of power over who she is, enables her to rebuild herself and create a narrative for herself where she is whole. The stenographer’s job in recording women’s voices describing the crimes against them is vital. Sasha Dugdale’s “Joy” is vital reading.


 

 

 

 

Writing is Not Lonely unless you make it so

There are two myths in writing that are not true. The first is “write what you know” which is limiting, restrictive and should be “know what you write about”, i.e. do your research. The second is that writing is a lonely business.

It isn’t. Sure, you have to actually have to put the words on the page yourself and that’s generally done when you’re alone. But “alone” is not necessarily “lonely”. Even when alone you write with the knowledge of what you’ve read, you turn to other writers for inspiration, suggestions and advice. You join writers’ groups, either online or IRL. You don’t have to be alone when you write either. You can write surrounded by people (providing they don’t become a distraction), e.g. in a cafe.

Once you’ve got the words on the page, formed them into a poem and edited it as far as you can, you start thinking about beta readers, workshops, editors. You might take your work in progress to a writers’ group or post it in an online forum for comments. When you’re ready to submit, you read magazines and try and find the right place to place your poems.

Writers now are expected to get involved in promoting their work, particularly poets. Most poetry books are sold at readings rather than in bookshops. That means getting out and giving readings. A local open mic slot is a great way of meeting other poets and getting feedback on your work. But if you just turn up, read your work and leave afterwards, you might find that slots become unavailable because no one wants to listen to your performances if you won’t stop and listen to others. If you turn up unprepared, either mumble or shout into the microphone and make your audience uncomfortable, you’ll also find you’re not invited back. By all means, tackle uncomfortable subjects but poor presentation can ruin the best of poems.

But what if you want to set up your own events? You book the venue, do your own publicity, figure out your own set list and turn up hoping for an audience. But you don’t do that in isolation from others. If you want your event to be a success, you check local listings to ensure you don’t clash with a similar event. After all, giving an audience a choice of two events on the same date and time usually means they won’t go to either. You liaise with the venue to get the booking that suits you and to get the equipment you need. Obviously having the venue staff on your side by being polite and clearly communicating what you want gives you a better chance of a successful event. Being bullish and making unreasonable demands risks loss of cooperation and assistance, which will negatively impact on your event. When you do your own publicity, you rely on others to use your press releases, display your leaflets, share your event on social media and tell others about it. They will only do this if you have written your press release professionally, your leaflets are attractive, you have made it easy to share on social media (and not guilt-tripped people into sharing) and your reputation is such that people are willing to tell their friends and contacts about your event. The audience will only turn up if they’ve enjoyed previous readings by you or they trust the venue or they trust the person who shared your event. If you’re unrehearsed or show your audience contempt, they won’t be back.

What if you decide you want to do a reading with other poets, e.g. a festival event, a reading with a group with the same publisher or a themed event, e.g. to raise funds for a cause or to draw attention to a campaign? You can’t do it alone. You need to see who is available to read with you (reputation will take you a long way here), check availability of venues, check what other events are taking place, be sure who is doing what to avoid duplication or worse that some key task is not undertaken because everyone thought someone else was doing it, be clear about who is doing what publicity and whether there are any restraints on publicity (some venues will insist they do the publicity for certain channels, if you use a venue owned by a local authority you may need to do publicity through their press office). When deciding on a reading order, it’s best done collaboratively. A reader might need to leave early, another reader might prefer to read later in the order. If one person dictates the reading order without reference to others and hasn’t taken into account readers’ needs, upset and friction occur. A good team works towards a consensus with sensitivity towards the needs and approaches of individual members. If one team member assembles publicity material, they should check with other team members that the material is agreed by all and be prepared to make amendments. If two team members simultaneously produce material, a positive team will work to merge the best ideas from both. If a team is already discussing material produced by one member and, during the discussion, another member produces new material, suggests this new material is an alternative and is not talking about merging ideas, this member is not working collaboratively. When team members are asked to choose between material A and material B, they should refuse because they are actually being asked to choose sides, which divides a team.

For the event itself, everyone needs to be clear about the part they play. Someone running late without notifying or apologising (or having a good reason to be late) or someone failing do to what they’d agreed to do (without good reason; emergencies occur) puts stress and pressure on the remaining team members who may still be able to put on a smooth event or may find it impossible to put on the planned event. The disruptive team member(s) will find themselves isolated.

That isolation will come about through lack of invitations to join readings, other poets declining to join events organised by someone with a reputation for being disruptive or showing a lack of respect for others, audiences staying away and people no longer making recommendations and shares on social media. That’s when a writer becomes lonely.