Letter from the Director - Spring 2001

Christina Patterson

 

"Nothing is so beautiful as spring," said Gerard Manley Hopkins. At the time of writing (end of March) it's a statement that has to be taken on trust. The temperatures are still low enough to make the wait for overcrowded and erratic buses something of an ordeal. (Yes, Wendy Cope was right in her assertion that "You wait for about a year / And as soon as one approaches your stop / Two or three others appear.") Public transport appears to be on the brink of collapse. Here at Betterton Street, we're in the middle of a huge building site. Our building literally shakes as demolition work continues around us. Dreams of escape from our urban dystopia to rural idylls are shattered as foot and mouth disease spreads like wildfire across the country, leading to massive culls of healthy animals and piles of rotting corpses waiting to be destroyed.

However, poetry thrives in such conditions and poetic activities have continued unabated. Here at the Poetry Society we're delighted to join the chorus of approval for John Burnside's success in the Whitbread, Michael Longley's T S Eliot triumph and Gwyneth Lewis's £75,000 NESTA award (see front page of the Spring 2001 issue of Poetry News). She joins me and Don Paterson in "Online: poetry.net", a Poetry Society Debate at the Ledbury Festival on 7 July at 5.30pm exploring the relationship between poetry and new technologies. By the time you read this, we'll have celebrated our own National Poetry Competition at what we hope will be a glittering ceremony at Tate Modern on 5 April. Our warm congratulations go to Ian Duhig, the first poet ever to have won the competition outright twice (competition award details here).

 

In spite of the building works, we've continued to be a poetic oasis in the heart of Covent Garden, with readings from a wide range of poets and groups including superb Studio Poetry events with Kit Wright and Jo Shapcott. Jo read some of her new versions of Rilke for the first time, explaining that the attentive poetry studio audience made "excellent guinea pigs". John Agard cooked a fabulous Caribbean dinner on 23 February, accompanied by plenty of rum punch with that authentic Caribbean kick, followed on 30 March by a delicious Iranian meal from Mimi Khalvati. 'Moving Word', our new series of screenings exploring the connections between poetry and film, got off to a spectacular start on 8 February with a sell-out event with BBC director Peter Symes. The series, generously sponsored by Royal Mail, has attracted audiences from both the film and the poetry world and continues until the end of June.

 

We've recently undertaken a variety of fruitful collaborations including the Poetry School/Poetry Society lectures on twentieth century poetry at Somerset House. The whole series sold out in January, and so far we've had rigorously stimulating insights from Michael Schmidt on modernism, Michael Donaghy on post-war American poetry and Sean O'Brien on recent poetry in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Also at Somerset House on Tuesday 26 June at 7pm, poets Denise Riley and Iain Sinclair join London Eye architect David Marks, Jonathan Glancey, architecture correspondent of the Guardian and me to discuss the connections between poetry and architecture. The event is part of Architecture Week 2001, funded by the Arts Council of England.

 

poetryclass, our national programme of website and INSET training for teachers, funded by the DfEE, continues to gather momentum. We now have nearly forty poets on the team, with bookings from around the country. Meanwhile, poets continue to do workshops, readings and projects in both primary and secondary schools, visits that are not necessarily part of the National Literacy Strategy or the curriculum or any other government initiative, but which are about the creative development of the individual. One such school visit, with John Agard at Morpeth School in Bethnal Green, took place on 22 March. His audience was 15-16 year olds and included one very special guest, the Queen, who smiled with pleasure at Agard's idiosyncratic humour. The visit was part of a royal literary day which included visits to publishers Bloomsbury and to Waterstone's, Piccadilly, and culminated in a literary reception at Buckingham Palace. Further evidence, if needed, of the ways in which poetry cuts through hierarchies and appeals to people across the whole social spectrum.

 

This spring sees the publication of our most ambitious and exciting Poetry Review for some years. 'Seven Years On: A New Generation Retrospective' offers a snapshot of the contemporary poetry scene and includes new work from Simon Armitage, Wendy Cope, Helen Dunmore, Carol Ann Duffy, Sophie Hannah, Andrew Motion, Paul Muldoon, Sean O'Brien, Don Paterson, Jo Shapcott, Hugo Williams and Benjamin Zephaniah.

 

Thank you for your continuing support for poetry. We do hope that you will continue to enjoy the full range of benefits that membership of the Poetry Society offers and the increased efficiency in our membership services. We do, as always, welcome any suggestions or comments. It's snowing outside, but I hope as you read this that spring has come.

Poetry News, Spring 2001