Saturday, 16 July 2016

Inspiring and depressing

Kate Clanchy's recent feature in The Guardian, titled The Very Quiet Foreign Girls poetry group, was both inspiring and depressing.

The inspiring aspect was the way Clanchy described how she used poetry to help her disadvantaged pupils, demonstrating once more just how powerful verse can be as a positive influence on traumatised children. The depressing aspect was her point of comparison with a very different group that she had taught some years before:

"I had judged the Foyle and run the course back in 2006, and seven years on, the Foyle young poets group I had taught were scything through Oxbridge, publishing poetry pamphlets with Faber, writing for the national press, and all the time networking frantically. By mixing together this group of exceptionally talented youngsters – many of them privileged but a few definitely not – that course had forcefully changed most of their lives. I wanted some of that for our students: not just the poetry, but the sense of entitlement, and, yes, the networking too."

I have absolutely nothing against the Foyle Young Poets scheme, quite the opposite in fact, while I understand and share Clanchy's well-meaning argument. My concern is with the portrayal of that first group's achievements, with the implicit definition of success and the conception of poetry as a career that revolves around "networking frantically". Verse is a vocation, never a career.


  1. Oh, I really agree with you on this. And I feel that while some of them didn't come from privileged backgrounds, the opportunity to "network" means that a certain privilege was there, after all.

    I know I'll never be what I think of as a "career poet", and I'm quite happy with that. I think it gives me a slightly better chance of remaining uncorrupted. ;) Ok, I'm sort of joking when I say that, but not entirely. I would rather just write what I want/need to write - it's lovely to get published, but I don't want to find myself writing to get published, or to achieve some other measure of success like that. I always get wary and irritated when I see articles or workshops like "How to write political poetry", or just "How to get published", or "How to get published in x journal, " or "How to win a prize"... I'm just like...really? If I'm not a "career poet", at least I don't feel the pressure to achieve those sorts of markers of success.

    1. I think it's all about making a living for those who choose to try to live by their writing. Someone from the BBC once told me I was very lucky to be able to choose to write what I wanted, rather than to have to write what I got paid for. This may be extended to all the courses, workshops, competitions, etc etc that "professional poets" undertake to pay their bills.

    2. Hi Clarissa and James,

      I saw a an article the other day about promotion for mid-career poets. That was also very depressing!

      I don't think luck has anything to do with being able to choose what you write. Deciding to separate your writing from your income stream is the key.

  2. Dear Matthew

    I couldn't agree with you more. In Britain, unfortunately, it tends to be the good networkers who get published rather than the good poets.

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish