Symposium After-thoughts

Bookshop May 19

So there have been three. That would suggest that this Symposium is a sustainable and repeatable event.

What have we discovered in doing this? We’ve discovered that people will come to a poetry event. We’ve discovered that people will come to a poetry event to listen to poetry – as many of those reading this piece did. Many creative people I respect hugely just sat, and took it all in. We’ve discovered that people like to opportunity to talk about poetry together. A regret that I have is that I know that in moving on the event sometimes that I am cutting short valuable conversations. We’ve discovered that what many writers really value is the chance to read alongside each other in a ‘long format’. If an open mic night is the equivalent of a (sometimes very very good, and sometimes not) 7” single, then the Symposium function more as the ‘Long Play’ version. We’ve discovered that people like that – which isn’t to say that there isn’t space to go for a comfort break, or have a coffee. We’ve discovered that poets with a back catalogue liked to be asked to read, and they are generous with their time when asked. Apart from those that aren’t. We’ve discovered that they find the Symposium audience warm and encouraging. The same is true for the range of our ‘Featured Writers’ – some of whom have had one pamphlet out, some of whom have had many collections published. Those of you who heard me talk about the writers we have coming to the next November edition know that poets are coming from further afield to be with us. This is all very wonderful. And it is wonderful because of the individuals that come and make it: you.

Poets like to read their work. Or they like the chance for people to get to read their work. I want to cultivate the kind of event that reinvigorates the love we all have of literature – as a vibrant and plural medium. So, the wonderful people who devote their time (sometimes their lives) to a poetry press, the saints who run poetry magazines, and the rich variety of writers that we have need to rub shoulders. Not long ago I was at a fairly prestigious poetry event as a punter (of course). I overheard a conversation between an established poet and someone like me (another punter – although of course, most ‘punters’ at these big-ticket events are poets from a lower league… aren’t we?). The conversation ran like this:

Punter (to established poet): “Are you going to x’s reading, tonight?”

Established poet (testily): “God, why do people always ask me if I’m going to readings? I give readings; I don’t go to readings”.

This exchange exemplifies some of what is wrong with the tiny bubble of the poetry world. So, to be clear, here’s a hastily drawn view for the future of the Symposium. (a) It needs to be free – it has to be inclusive so that anyone can come; (b) we need to build access to as many different social groups who might be interested in poetry as possible – this has implications for us; (c) the mix of ‘Featured Writers’ and structured open mic allows a dynamic that is unique to events of this kind; (d) ‘Featured Writers’ are crucial – how do we maintain the links we have, whilst also approaching other names, and uncovering more? (e) Open mic is also crucial – writers want to rub shoulders with other writers, and be heard by them, and speak to them; (f) the pop-up bookshop is the heart of the event – and that anyone can sell their work is hugely important; (g) you are crucial – please keep coming to the Symposium as we try to build the infrastructure to support poetry in our town and in our region.


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