Poetry in Cambridge

Peter Howard on Schools, Scholars and Societies

The scene in Cambridge is diverse and fragmented (it's not all the Cambridge School, though that exists, is important and misunderstood), so if it were someone else writing this article, you'd have a different starting place and a different set of stopping-off points. But I'm going to start with CB1, an internet café and second-hand bookshop at 32 Mill Road. It hosts readings fortnightly, organised by Michael Bayley. As well as fine local talent, luminaries such as Alison Croggon, Paul Durcan, E.A. Markham, Don Paterson and Penelope Shuttle have read there. It's a good place to meet poets, especially during the post-performance gathering in the pub. You can find further details at www.badstep.net/cb1/index.html.

CB1's frequent open mic slots and encouragement of local poets have fostered an emergent performance poetry scene. The Joy of Six quintet – of which I'm a member – is part of that (see www.joyofsix.co.uk). And there are other venues where you can spout your poetry. Borders Bookshop has occasional open mic readings: to join the mailing list email Brad Evans ([email protected]). If you're a student, or can persuade a student to take you along as a guest, then Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) student union runs open mic nights which include poetry. 'The Eclectic' is fortnightly on Tuesdays (8-11pm, free entry).

I've mentioned one of Cambridge's universities; the other is Cambridge University (CU) of course. Between them they provide many resources and events, though these are not always well publicised outside academic walls, and not always timed to suit those with day jobs. Cambridge Writers' Guild is targeted mainly at students. It keeps members up to date with events in the city, organises workshops, open mic evenings etc. There's a website for posting new writing: www.srcf.ucam.org/cwg. To be added to their mailing list, email [email protected].

Peter Manson is the current Judith. E. Wilson Poetry Fellow in the CU English faculty. A charitable fund finances the appointment of one Creative Writing Fellow a year (often a poet) who runs workshops and classes, which are pretty much open to the public.

Cambridge does well for poetry and literature festivals. Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry is a weekend of readings, performances and discussion, emphasising modernist developments in contemporary poetry. The 2005 event was in April; view the international cast of poets and performers at http://www.cccp-online.org/

If you prefer your poetry a little less arcane, then Cambridge WordFest also happens in April. It's a broadly based literature festival, with a healthy dollop of poetry. It puts on a good show, with many events over the weekend. For information, email Helen Taylor at [email protected] who can also provide support and advice to poets via the Cambridgeshire Writers Network she organises.

Cambridge Poetry Summit is another full weekend, but they've not let on when the 2006 event will be. Visit www.cambridgepoetry.org for the latest information and much else. The site hosts pages about Equipage and Arehouse, publishers of experimental and avant-garde poetry, and lists details of readings organised by CU.

We haven't finished yet. There are lots of writing groups in Cambridge. Here are some of them. Cambridge Writers Poetry Group is a subgroup of Cambridge Writers (£16 p.a), which meets monthly at the Friends Meeting House in Hartington Grove. Email Harry Goode at [email protected]. Quite separate is Cambridge Poetry Group, meeting on the first Thursday of each month, at St Luke's Church, Victoria Road, 7.30pm. There's an (optional) set subject each month. It's not a workshop or critical event, and you're welcome to come to a meeting before joining. (£15 p.a.). If you're a member of the Poetry Society (which you probably are, if you're reading this) then check out the Cambridge 'Stanza' group. It meets informally to discuss members' work and any other issues related to poetry. Contact Helen Mort at [email protected]. New faces are always welcome.

Cambridge is also home to a number of small presses, some so small and so short-lived you need a microscope and a stopwatch. Everyone at Bad Press Serials lives in London now, but get under the wire because CU is still their main supplier of baffling copy – they've published poetry by several dons and students. They promise (eventually) to use the website to archive recordings of readings given in Cambridge. Landfill poetry publishes high-quality pocket-sized editions of new poem sequences. See www.landfillpress.co.uk. But the 'big' small press is Salt Publishing, which publishes over 40 books a year focussing on poetry, biography and literary criticism by authors from the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Caribbean and mainland Europe. It was named 'Publisher of the Year' for 2005 by the Woodcraft Circle of native Writers and Storytellers in the USA.

Finally, I maintain The Cambridge Poetry Page which tries to keep up with this lot.