We got some real excitement going on in the area. I loved it. It got me going too. Cleveland poems will be a key part of my next collection.
- Paul Hyland, from his placement in East Cleveland mining community
The 2-year Poetry Places scheme brought poetry into so many different environments, and provided such different outcomes, that I'd just like to describe a few of its overall accomplishments.
For poets who participated (and they now number over 120):
Some were commissioned to write (out of a specific environment) - to simply soak up the local environment and come up with a written 'translation' of the experience. (Dorothea Smartt at Brixton Market, Sophie Hannah in Leeds, Claire Calman at Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Kate Clanchy at British Red Cross, Jackie Wills in the Surrey Hills, Simon Armitage for the New Millenium Experience)
Most conducted writing workshops within their designated communities, encouraging anyone to write and to share their writing with others. (Julia Copus at Apna Gar Age Concern, Mario Petrucci at the Imperial War Museum, Eva Salzman at Bromley By Bow, Bernadine Evaristo at Museum of London, Paul Hyland in East Cleveland, Stephen Knight at The Museum Of Me, David Hart at Worcester Cathedral)
A few didn't ostensibly create new poems during their placement/residency; instead they devoted themselves to interact and encourage poetry writing and reading in their community. (West Midlands Library's Poetry on Loan; Rose Flint's Mobile Poet Project; Michael Donaghy as Reader in Residence)
For organisational partners:
The further they strayed from an 'arts organisation', the more the organisations involved seemed to transform from an optimistic though perhaps fuzzy anticipation of a poet in residence to genuine post-residency enthusiasm for how it touched the participants. Of course, for the high-profile corporations there was a lot of PR involved, but what's heartening is to read the actual behind-the-scenes account of corporate staff responding to poems arriving via e-mail, or to employees at all levels voluntarily taking lunch hour to attend a poetry workshop. Also, businesses who took on poets in residence often 'shared' them with schools, local youth or community groups. [Poet in The City, Marks & Spenser, London Zoo, ARCO, BBC]
Community organisations who are game to try just about anything (that's funded) to expand their services were most benefited by poets who took control and designed a cohesive programme of outreach, interaction, and encouragement of novice writers. [HMP Wymott, Nottinghamshire Community Drug Service, Brixton Market, Wales Forestry Commission, Wigan Borough Council]
Literature festivals and other arts organisations were grateful to apply for a funded poet to carry their existing creative program to new levels of community outreach - Poetry Places projects in this context tended to put poets out in the community rather than sequester them in a reading roster. [Blackpool Borough Council, Clotworthy Arts Centre, National Poetry Day in Cumbria, Poetry Can Project in Bristol, Bath Poetry Festival's Mobile Poet]
How are we going to continue this concept, this momentum of poets in the community, without earmarked funds and administration from The Poetry Society per se? After two years of it, we'd like to leave a legacy which can be easily continued.
With the decentralisation of funding from the Arts Council of England to the Regional Arts Boards, it appears that individual poets and community organisations will need to seek funding locally to establish further poets-in-residence. Given our extensive archive of reports from the Poetry Places scheme showing exactly how things worked, there are lots of free ideas out there for the taking - please use them in future proposals to funding authorities! By the conclusion of Poetry Places (Spring 2000) The Poetry Society will have developed a poet-oriented 'strategy document' for putting together a poetry residency and asking for funding.
Corporate schemes for poets in residence: poets should take note of the successes here and think of ways to knock on doors with a well-devised 'business plan' for enriching a corporation's package for its employees. Poets in residence are generally paid £5,000 for 6 months (2 days a week). One poet in conjunction with e-mail and intranet can make a vivid difference in enhancing cultural life as well as corporate image.
Libraries (and bookstores) as the new 'Poetry Places': we firmly believe that the ethos of this scheme has the potential to live on in the context of publicly accessible libraries and bookstores. Bookstores??? More on that later, but we invite propositions from any bookstore in the country to join the poetry-explosive Waterstone's Deansgate in partnering with The Poetry Society to become a 'Poetry Promoter Poetry Place'. We plan to build up a network of these, involving internet links and special offers... As for libraries, thanks to the dynamic efforts of a group of 16 libraries in the West Midlands, we aim to formulate a Poetry Place package for libraries across the UK which will promote the reading of poetry.
Poet in Residence on the internet: if you're interested in the opportunities of setting up (or becoming) a poet in residence on the internet, there are some critical issues which have come up in our experience at The Poetry Society. A comprehensive report can be found at www.poetrysoc.com/places/burnside - and if anyone has any response or separate experiences to add to this, I'd love to hear about it. Other Poetry Places internet residencies (click for links) include Matthew Sweeney at National Library for the Blind and The Commonwealth Institute.
SOME RELATED NOTES
BT (British Telecom) is about to kick off a virtual-poet-in-residence project with Roger McGough that I'll be watching closely; this is slightly different because it involves inter-company intranet only. However, the Poetry Society will be posting reports from his residency on our website, and I'll give a commentary about their activities and response.
Check in periodically to read the transcripts as they come in from the Poetry as Public Art event at the British Library and Poets in Cyberspace.