Skip to content

‘The future of poetry’ – Coffee House Poetry at the Troubadour

So, to the Troubadour last night for poetry, discussions about poetry and the big bad world of digital – a ‘colloquy’ of five poets from diverse backgrounds. In the first half we had readings from Carrie Etter, Hannah Lowe, Gregory Leadbetter and Richard Price, and in the second they formed a round table chaired by C J Dallat.

I’ve not been to a Troubadour colloquy before – it wasn’t as packed as the themed nights can be, but then again it was up against several other events including the launch across town of Luke Kennard’s Cain (Penned in the Margins).

The format was a good balance – very different poets, none of whom I’d heard read before (except Hannah Lowe, but I’m not sure if I’d seen her live or on video). I particularly enjoyed Carrie’s short but electrically charged set. When I said hello to her in the interval it turned out she reads this blog (thanks, Carrie!) …it was also a pleasure to meet Richard Price and to thank him for recently selecting my poem ‘The Houses are Coming’ for Poetry News (yeah, just thought I’d get that in – I’m learning!)

So what’s the future of poetry, in a time when the internet and technology such as print-on-demand put publication in the reach of just about anyone?

There was some agreement that print publication still carries more kudos than online, with Cahal Dallat even suggesting that magazines have gotten so big and so numerous that maybe they’re just publishing everything they’re sent, with no sense of gatekeeping. (Although I wonder if he hasn’t had to go through the magazines submissions process recently?!)

Richard Price bemoaned the fact that digital just isn’t fulfilling its potential yet, and that as a creative person he wants to do more stuff differently. It’s true that just replicating online what print does perfectly well does seem to be the slightly disappointing standard at the moment.

Cahal then brought up the idea of links within digital text (or lack of). I have to agree with him, but sadly the positioning of links within (for example) news stories was hijacked a while back by advertisers who thought it was a jolly way to insert more ‘information’ (ie ads) in a piece. It did remind me of a project I did for my Digital Media MA sixteen years ago, which was an alternative website for The Royal Pavilion in which internal hyperlinking allowed the viewer to explore the building and its history in a non-linear fashion. Typical media degree stuff and probably not commercial. But maybe I need to get my poetry thinking cap on and be more creative in this way. Then again I’m sure it’s already happening and that digital creativity has gone way beyond throwing in a bit of video or animation. Someone did mention hyperreality but let’s not go down the whole Baudrillard road now although this is quite an entertaining video if you’re curious (but do not watch if you are of a nervous disposition!)

One thing I was burning to say but missed my chance (and then went off the boil) was that I don’t think it’s helpful to characterise young people as ‘digital natives’ and somehow innately tech-capable, which was suggested at one point. The flip side of this theory is that anyone who didn’t grow up with mobiles and touch screens is incapable of getting their heads around anything digital. I know from my work with people my age and thereabouts (sometimes a lot younger) that there is a ton of defeatism when it comes to tech. Completely intelligent and utterly capable people throw up their hands when it comes to mobile phones, computers not doing what they expect or any mention of Snapchat. But kids! They can do it their sleep! Oh yeah?

Actually, I’ve heard my husband say MANY times how surprised he is that his sixth form students can be clueless when it comes to technology – they lack basic digital skills such as how to search for information online or how to assess what they do find. They don’t know how things work. At all. But what young people have is a lack of fear. They don’t fear tech and they don’t fear gadgets, and they don’t fear the consequences of messing about with tech. They have the attitude ‘I don’t know how to do this but I’ll fiddle around until I find a way’ – something that is as rare as rare can be in your average over-40-year-old. I really think that fear is the key inhibitor to our full exploitation of new technologies, not age. Please can we pass this idea on, and thereby liberate us oldsters once and for all from the shackles of ‘we’re not digital natives so it’s harder for us’ ? Thanks.

Oh dear, not having taken notes last night I seem to have turned this post around into a bit of a rant rather than recording faithfully what the panel came up with… sorry.  But it was genuinely stimulating and the audience was lively. Great stuff.

Big thanks as ever to Anne-Marie Fyfe for organising these Coffee House Poetry nights, they are gems.

A shame that Southern Rail are still keeping up their go-slow, which meant I didn’t get to my bed before 1am. The price to pay for living by the sea…


Published inBlogEventsPublishingReadings


  1. One of the regrets I have about too many Poetry Events is that almost all consist of hurried “readings” with little time or interest in discussion, whereas Anne-Marie and Coffee House must be applauded for “getting it right”.
    I’m just sorry that I live 250 miles away, an can afford to get to London only 3 or 4 times each year which never coincide with these discussions and Qs & As.
    Bet Hannahnand Greg were on top form – stars of Wenlock Poetry Festival

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thanks for commenting Christo. I do moan about Southern Rail but at least London isn’t that much of a trek for me 🙂

  2. Very good post and as a teacher I agree about the levels of incompetence to be found amongst the ‘young’. It’s also combined with a rapidity of clicking that doesn’t help them derive much of depth from whatever they are exploring. A bit like channel switching. Though they also don’t watch to much. And yes also about the untapped possibilities linking, images, animation etc. Perhaps there is something out there that is a specifically digital,poem.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Martyn and thanks for your comment. Glad I’m not the only one less than star struck by the ‘digital native’ narrative! A specifically digital poem… maybe. All I know is that anything I might think of will have already been done. Bring it on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Robin Houghton 2021