Perspective: Banging the Drum for Poetry; Tomorrow Is National Poetry Day and Also Sees the Start of the Acclaimed Birmingham Book Festival. Roshan Doug Is Supporting Both and Hopes the Midland Public Embraces Its Literary Heritage

The Birmingham Post (England), October 9, 2002 | Go to article overview

Perspective: Banging the Drum for Poetry; Tomorrow Is National Poetry Day and Also Sees the Start of the Acclaimed Birmingham Book Festival. Roshan Doug Is Supporting Both and Hopes the Midland Public Embraces Its Literary Heritage


Byline: Roshan Doug

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young person with a fortune maybe in want of a poem to wet the lips of his soul. So you might be forgiven this month for thinking the world's gone poetic (and potty).

That's because for Birmingham, October is the month of poetry and literature. For instance, tomorrow, National Poetry Day, will get every poet in the region performing their pieces of verse to anyone who wants to hear, while the newly formed National Academy of Writing, under the leadership of Martin Eggleston, lays a number of workshops in the city for budding writers.

Simultaneously, the nationallyacclaimed Birmingham Book Festival - which also gets under way tomorrow - is hosting a series of readings from the great and the good and will also choose its seventh poet laureate.

Poet laureate for the city. What's all that about? Well, it is a rather cheeky title created by Birmingham's former literature development officer, Jonathan Davidson, who now runs the city's book festival.

People might argue, for instance, haven't we already got a national laureate in the form of Andrew Motion? Why, therefore, do we need a city laureate? They might be right.

There's no doubt that Andrew is doing a fine job in representing poetry in high literary circles. But I do believe, along with Jonathan, that there is so much that needs to be done at a grass root level in schools, libraries and the local community. And that was the aim behind the setting up of this post some seven years ago.

It goes without saying, therefore, that the person appointed will need to be deeply versatile, someone who can bring their own style to the arena. But most of all, he or she will have to write to order from writing for royalty to writing about the lice (it's a long story, let's not go there).

Other former city laureates - there must be a collective noun for a group of laureates - have carried out such work with varying degrees of emphasis depending on their personalities, expertise and interest.

I know, for instance, Simon Pitt, the fourth laureate (1999-2000), did a huge amount of work in schools by using his very fast, witty, humorous performance poetry; Brian Lewis (1996-97) and David Hart (1997-98) focused on the thought provoking, contemplative verse; Sybil Ruth (1998-1999), who is now the literature development officer at the MAC, took poetry into the wider community by using the No. 11 bus route as the basis of her poetry project which in turn proved to be very popular with the poetry loving public; our present laureate, Roi Kwabena, has spent a year doing workshops in schools and community centres with the aid of an African drum.

However, essentially, to be a poet for the city, one has to be aware that you are taking on a public persona. And that means representing the city in festivals, readings, talks and working closely with the council officials, library services, schools and community organisations. Not to mention the media. You need to be a speaker, an entertainer of some kind, someone who has the confidence to talk about poetry with a certain degree of confidence and authority.

It's a relatively conservative title bestowed upon with the civic honour and, generally speaking, it can be fun where during nearly every interview or a reading you do, you're asked what a poem is. This, of course, can be a minefield.

But, as everyone knows, poetry has a variety of meanings and it's usually its ambiguity that actually shifts it away from realms of prose to verse. …

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Perspective: Banging the Drum for Poetry; Tomorrow Is National Poetry Day and Also Sees the Start of the Acclaimed Birmingham Book Festival. Roshan Doug Is Supporting Both and Hopes the Midland Public Embraces Its Literary Heritage
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