When I attended the presentation ceremony for the award of Birmingham Poet Laureate at the Library of Birmingham on National Poetry Day I was certain that one of the other shortlisted poets would be the recipient of the award. They presented such inspired and original poems, and each of them seemed comfortable performing poetry before an audience. So when Brian Gambles, Director of the Library of Birmingham, opened a pink envelope and read out my name I was a little astonished.
It is an immense honour to be named as Birmingham Poet Laureate 2014/2015. I have lived in Birmingham for 47 years. During almost all of that time I have been involved in writing and publishing poems, reading them in public, running workshops, and organizing poetry events in the city, hoping to inspire students young and old. I very much welcome the opportunity to bring to the position enthusiasm, experience, and a genuine will to ensure that Birmingham consolidates and extends its reputation as a city of poetry.
Many congratulations to Serena Arthur, who has become the tenth Young Poet Laureate of Birmingham. I was very impressed by Serena’s confident and articulate appearance on Radio WM recently. Serena’s award is richly deserved, and I look forward to collaborating with her in a number of events over the coming year.
The first month since that awards evening has flashed by. Having done with celebrations, I am now feeling my way into the role. I have met people at the Library of Birmingham, and have a better sense of the expectations and responsibilities associated with the position of Birmingham Poet Laureate. I eagerly anticipate being involved in a diverse range of poetry events, from running writing workshops in local community libraries to reading poems of remembrance for World War I and for Holocaust Memorial Day. My aim is to continue the wonderful work done by my predecessors in the role, with the aim of raising the profile of poetry in the city, creating the conditions in which people can read and write poems, and engage in poetry events.
Many people write poems which they never show to anyone else. This is of course to be respected, but sometimes we don’t share our poems with each other because we are just a little embarrassed by poetry. Whereas we might share with each other our photographs, and might display a painting or perform a song, poetry has a reputation as a private activity. And not many people read and discuss newly published poetry. Whilst there has been an explosion of book clubs which provide opportunities for groups of people to share their views on novels over dinner, how many book clubs focus on, or include, contemporary poetry? Reading new poetry, and sharing poems with others and talking about them, are virtually essential ingredients in a healthy poetry culture, and in the development of high-quality poems. If in the next twelve months we can create opportunities for more people to read contemporary poems and talk about them with friends, and if we can encourage people to share their own poems with each other with a view to welcoming critical comments, something will have been achieved.
I would like to develop a programme of poetry readings in the city, to make new poetry available to as many people as possible. The first event is a reading by one of our leading poets, Simon Armitage, at the Library of Birmingham Studio Theatre at 7 pm on Sunday 16th November. This is a FREE event, but booking is essential. Get your tickets soon, as there are not many left.
I hope to meet as many poets and poetry fans as possible in Birmingham in 2014-2015. Please keep an eye on this blog, and on the Library of Birmingham website, to find information about readings, workshops, and events.