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‘Making Poetry Work’ at the Poetry Cafe

Yesterday evening I was at the Poetry Cafe for a Poetry Society/Society of Authors event called ‘Making Poetry Work’, billed as a discussion about the ‘business’ of poetry. Being a member of both organisations I felt drawn to it – plus of course I have an interest in the business of poetry in the shape of Telltale Press.

The blurb did say it was aimed at ’emerging’ writers and although I didn’t take that as meaning ‘young’ I think that probably was the intention. As it was, I was probably representative of the average age of the audience. There was a panel: Kayo Chingonyi, Kirsten IrvingClare Pollard, Kate Potts and Emily Hasler of the Society of Authors.

The format was that Clare Pollard led the panel though a series of questions to do with getting published, how to make a living as a poet (or suitable day jobs to work in around it!) and typical poet career progressions. It was fun and lively, with a good size audience. Only late on did we get to business issues and although I was hoping for more discussion of the publishing business of poetry – readership, sales, distribution, margins and so forth – there wasn’t time and it probably wasn’t on the agenda anyway. It was interesting to hear the advice and opinions of the panellists, but at times I was itching for topics to be thrown open to the audience. I sensed there was quite a bit of knowledge and experience in the audience that would have enriched the conversation. But with a large agenda to cover the time was handled well.

After a chatty break we had brief readings from all the poet panellists and I really enjoyed that – it felt like a lovely antidote to all the ‘businessy’ stuff that gets me fired up (but not always in a good way). Powerful readings, especially from Kayo who I’ve not heard before.

It was great to encounter one or two familiar faces, including Hilaire – makes me realise I’m starting to make London poet friends and be part of something there. I was also very pleased to meet Kirsten Irving, whose magazine Fuselit was one of the first I sent off for when I was starting to write poetry, and I was transfixed by the amount of work and love that had gone into its production, including a little bag of sea creature fridge magnets that came with it. Kirsten said she didn’t often get face to face feedback and she seemed genuinely pleased. It reminded me how important it is to tell people when you’ve appreciated something they’ve done. And producing a poetry magazine has to be pretty thankless at the best of times. Thank a poetry editor today!


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Robin Houghton 2021