Last night I took part in a fantastic event with Helen Mort, Malika Booker and Rommi Smith at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds. The event was part of the Debating the Book series, which includes a wide range of readings and talks across Yorkshire. It is an exciting year for poetry at the University of Leeds. The Poetry Centre has some great readings planned, and I am working with Malika and Helen (Douglas Caster Cultural Fellows) as a Cheney Research Fellow in the Leeds Humanities Research Institute. It’s especially great to be working with such strong female poets.
The readings were captivating: Helen read some of her new work, and some poems from Division Street, Rommi read pieces from her commissioned poem for the Rugby World Cup, which was read in Millennium Square in Leeds, and Malika read some new pieces and a few poems from her stunning collection, Pepper Seed. I read from my new verse story, Persephone.
As well as the readings there was a fascinating discussion, which ranged from the importance of slam as a way of encouraging young people to love language to the problematic lines that are often drawn between ‘performance’ and ‘non-performance’ poetry. We also talked about expanding our understanding of ‘books’, and thinking about how people themselves might be ‘Living Books’. There was also a lively discussion about teaching poetry in schools, particularly about challenging some of the received ideas of ‘poetry’: questioning the idea that poetry must be difficult and pushing for a more inclusive curriculum which goes beyond the canon of white male poets. The audience was warm and engaged, and it was a lovely intimate discussion, which extended many of the issues raised in the Future of the Book debate, chaired by Melvyn Bragg.
It’s a busy time for poetry in Yorkshire, and you can catch myself, Helen, Malika and Rommi at various events over the next few weeks. There’s lots going on – some events connected to National Poetry Day, others to the Ilkley Literature Festival and the Off the Shelf Festival of words in Sheffield. Malika is reading at ‘Sex in the Afternoon‘ tonight (12 October, West Yorkshire Playhouse), and there’s also Word Up in the Trinity Art Space. There’s also What I Might Have Said with Helen Mort and Leeds Young Authors at the White Cloth Gallery in Leeds on Tuesday 13 October, Verse Matters in Sheffield on Thursday 15 October, and Word Life’s film poem projections, which includes one of Rommi’s poems, for Word Life and Off The Shelf Present: Poetry Light Night on Friday 16 October. And that’s just this week. Phew!