Poetry Borderlines

So, Borderlines has been and gone for another year. As I sit with the least bankable end of the festival’s activities (that would be poetry, if you’re not sure what happens round here…), the festival always throws up a lot of questions in my mind. Here’s three of these thoughts.

Thought 1: why aren’t the ‘Poetry Breakfasts’ all year? People would come to them. Malcolm Carson does a great job as mc. The venue is accessible. The point I’m really trying to make is that a wider readership, listenership and penpersonship would be accessed if more poetry events happened in the day. Look at the demographic for poetry. Not every writer of poetry is happy to venture out after dark to places that have toilets that angels would fear to tread in. I remember the earliest incarnation of Speakeasy and its venues… and its stairs… and its toilets. There’s something to be said for the day time.

Thought 2: as the workshops this year were (as they usually are) quite good (but too short) and there is a volume of ‘work’ (for want of a better word), what happens to it? Could the festival be part of the promotion of this work. Does the forward thrust of cultural writing in Carlisle ‘GO’ anywhere as a result of Borderlines? Could there be a ‘Borderlines’ publication, where the big(ger) names sit alongside local high-quality writers? Events where the big(ger) names read… why aren’t local high-quality writers reading alongside them? There seems to me (and maybe this is my fault) a bridge yet to be built between the writers that roll in, and the writers that live in. Perhaps a festival organiser might claim that the far-flung poetry open mics were designed across the fortnight for this purpose – but is that how they are working? What is the mix of big(ger) name poets to open mic-ers; and where is it held? And is it held in Carlisle, where it’s needed? Also, how many excellent non-fiction writers live in the area? How many excellent fiction writers – in shorter and longer forms. Where is their stage?

Thought 2.5: almost everyone who attends a poetry event is a poet. This is not the case for non-fiction writing events – or at least it isn’t as extreme as that. It won’t be the case for fiction, although there will be some truth in it. Poetry events have to work in a different way: there’s a different model. Like folk clubs many moons ago, the community aspect of a poetry night means that people come to read and listen. The evening is a doing – not an entirely passive event. Think of the audience that came together for (one of the) launch(es) of This Place I Know last year, at Borderlines. People came to do. And – perhaps sadly – then they all left. There are many scurrilous attempts by publishers and event runners to ‘monetise’ this, whereby you might pay to be considered for publication, or pay to read; this is not what I would call good practice, exactly. Instead, you/we could be inclusive and boost audiences for poetry and support poetry at the same time. There are those that despair of the standard of local poetry and view it in the same way as they would view local watercolours overpriced and hung in a local cafe… if that is our mindset then ask how the ‘art’ of Carlisle could be made better. What about a range of free workshops, in addition to the costly ones?

Thought 3: I went to the festival bookshop to buy a poetry book. I really did. I didn’t find it. I wanted to part with money. And I didn’t. Poetry would sell, if it was given more of an opportunity to. Maybe I missed it. Maybe it had all sold out. Maybe.

And then, at home, I found the books easily online – of course. Not the same, though.


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