Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Who cares about poetry?


I'm musing the meaning of the fact that a poetry reading I attended on Sunday was also attended by, at my estimate, another 300 or so others, and in a small town in North Wales. The occasion was the Caernarfon stop on Laureate Carol Ann Duffy's 'Shore to Shore' tour of the country coinciding with Independent Bookshop week, celebrating poetry and community and the independent bookshops at the heart of communities. She is accompanied on the tour by Jackie Kay, the new Makar of Scotland, Gillian Clarke, the outgoing National Poet of Wales, Imtiaz Dharker, and on each stop of the tour by a local poet, on this occasion Ifor ap Glyn who is taking over Gillian Clarke's role. Entertaining musical interludes are provided by the musician John Sampson.

It's true that Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay always command big audiences, due to their hugely accessible and moving poetry which has given them prominence in school curricula, but it's easier to find this unremarkable in large towns such as Manchester, and here the audience was not especially young. People had clearly travelled for miles around North Wales to this event in Caernarfon's Galeri. Is it a result of the starvation of rural communities when it comes to national public/cultural events? Or is it because this is Wales, land of the bards? Though many people in the audience were clearly English. In any case, the whole audience around me was totally engaged in the poetry, which was dynamic, entertaining, deeply political, utterly moving, and utterly relevant to the current political events. It was an evening that showed that poetry matters, and it most certainly mattered to this audience. And afterwards the local bookshop holding the event, Palas Print, did a roaring trade.

Something to chew on at a time when publishers are telling us that the public has no appetite  for poetry (or short stories, or indeed any form of serious creative literature). All honour to Picador, Carol Ann's publisher, who are behind the whole tour.




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