Tuesday 21 May 2013

The State of UK Poetry .. again

Salt's decision to no longer publish new single-author poetry books has helped precipitate a wider ranging discussion. I've little to add to the debate other than agreeing that the growth of the Creative Writing sector is happening faster than the rest of the UK poetry world can cope with. Here are some articles that are worth a read

  • Why is poetry not popular? ("Poetry is not popular, and in its current form, it can’t be. While the novel performs every aspect of its story-telling function, from reading in the airport to studying it at university, poetry has become a marginalised aspect of its original purpose" - the Judge)
  • So. Farewell then / Salt poetry books ... ("A free-market capitalist system is no less bizarre, in its dealings with literature, than any old-style communist regime that favoured socialist realism and sent other forms underground" - Charles Boyle)
  • The Health of Poetry ("We seem to be moving towards a model where people are kept ‘emerging’ for as long as possible – preserved in a kind of hopeful limbo, where they can gain lots of encouragement and support, but also spend lots of money on mentors and Arvon courses and MAs and competition fees and retreats" - Clare Pollard).
    ("When Arts Council England made its last round of funding decisions, support for writer development was massively increased at the same time that presses like Arc, Enitharmon and Flambard were told their annual funding was to be scrapped … Print on demand isn’t compatible with promoting poetry to a wider readership" - Neil Astley)
  • Ripples on a smooth sea, or storm in a teacup? (Adrian Slatcher)
  • Mapping Poetic Emergence 1.0 (an "attempt to describe some of the significant stages which are usually observable during the process of poetic emergence.")


  1. It's all a bit depressing to see that a person who simply enjoys reading poetry, makes a few tentative attempts to write their own, becomes better at it, and sends a few pieces out just in case, can be slotted into a sort of 'national poetry schematic'.
    The concern for me might be that these things become set in stone. That is a poet does not conform, rising through the stages in a proper, stately and poetry-appropriate fashion, then they are somehow 'not doing the thing properly'.

  2. Looking through bios in mags, it feels like Creative Writing students and teachers are taking over. Blake Morrison recently wrote - "Of course, there are still writers who make their way without ever having gone on a creative writing course. But whereas once they were the majority, now they're becoming the exception. That's in part because literary agents and publishers have begun looking to creative writing programmes to find new talent" ("Changing English", V.20.1, 2013), which ties in with Matthew Stewart's recent post about poetry only being written by "poets" - http://roguestrands.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/poets-second-jobs.html

    Nicholas Royle in the Times Higher Education made some interesting points a few weeks ago. He wrote that "It is obvious ... that [Creative Writing's] recent and remarkable expansion is closely bound up with the marketisation of higher education". Univ CW courses are profitable, but if they're going to be acreditted courses they need to show they're serious and professional. Maths is lectured by people with maths Ph.Ds, so why should Writing be any different? Well, that's what the inspectors say.

    You got your books out just in time Vanessa, before the vicious circle closed. Still, it's never too late to go legit and take a Creative Writing degree :)

  3. You are kidding, I hope! It was a professor of writing who told me not to write The Coward's Tale, because the 'establishment wouldn't like it'. Direct quote. I got out of there fast, I'm afraid.

    and I know many many writers who have not done cw degrees... so the circle has not yet closed. Although sure, it is mostly those who have completed a cw degree who are then offered the teaching jobs to tutor the next generation... and so the cookie continues to crumble.

    Extrapolate - if writers are being channelled into writing only what their teachers deem correct, erm... where do we end up? And the other q is, do high marks at university or elsewhere equal publication contracts in the real world?

    Sadly... probably not. I have a colleague who was awarded a distinction at MA for her novel manuscript. Sent out twice by a top agent...and no one wants to publish it.