- Of poetry, pounds and pineapples
What are the rewards for writing poetry? What financial return do we get? What cultural acclaim is there for a minority sport like poetry?
These are all questions that those who practise the art might well ask themselves. And it’s not until you begin to get published and do a few public readings that you start to understand something of the rewards.
In financial terms they are slight, unless you are on the GCSE English Literature syllabus or published by Faber, Carcanet, Picador or, perhaps, Bloodaxe. There will be the odd £50 here, the occasional £20 ‘for expenses’ there, but by and large poets perform their work for love and that’s not an inconsiderable thing.
A while ago I was chosen as one of the 8 ‘Postcard Poets’ for the West Midlands by ‘Poetry on Loan’, an organisation that’s Arts Council funded and which does a tremendous job in promoting poetry in the libraries of the West Midlands region.
I wasn’t chosen at random as a good number, perhaps 30 well-known poets, were asked to submit poems on the theme of ‘onwards, upwards, freedom’ and interested and informed librarians made the final selection. This was done anonymously. In other words the librarians had no idea whose work they were reading.
Brenda Read-Brown runs ‘Poetry on Loan’ and, by chance, she was chosen as one of the poets along with Jeff Phelps, Emma Purshouse, Dave Reeves, Phillip Monks, Sara-Jane Arbury and Jon Seagrave, also known as Johnny Fluffypunk.
We assembled at Rugby library recently for our first outing though it is unlikely all 8 will be found in the same room again. Logistically it must be a nightmare getting people from all corners of the region together on the same evening when most are quite busy to start with.
The event went well and when I was introduced for my 12 minutes-worth, I remembered having done a reading at Rugby Library 20 years ago with Basir Sultan Kazmi and Debjani Chatterjee, when our outfit Mini Mushaira was in great demand. At the end of that reading we had been presented with pineapples. It was a lovely and thoughtful if slightly comic moment.
I mentioned this as I tried to break the ice with this ‘new’ audience. They laughed. I thought no more of it until, as I finished my set, a young librarian came up to me and gave me two pineapples. I was speechless, for once, and touched by his kindness and good humour.
So, perhaps one of the rewards for writing and performing poetry is intangible. The reward on this occasion went beyond the financial, although a fee is always appreciated. It had something to do with love.
To find out more about ‘Poetry on Loan’ please go to: http://www.poetryonloan.org.uk
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