I took my first step in to a Royal Society of Literature lecture this week. Hosted by David Harsent, it was a discussion between him, Lavinia Greenlaw and two young poets Ahren Warner and Emma Jones on what it was like to be a poet.
I’m a big fan of everyone’s work that did a turn at the lectern (and very lucky to have had Ahren read for Selected Poems) and it was good to hear the back-stories of both the more established poets and the younger poets.
I won’t go in to details about the night, which is succinctly summed up by the TLS and perhaps more scatter brained by me on Twitter, but when it came to the Q&A, it was obvious that people had other problems with ‘being a poet’.
Some of the questions were unfortunately phrased, as if the young poets owed the audience something, like the secret to how they got to be published. Someone asked whether or not getting their work to smaller presses would get them well known.
What the night showed, more than anything, was that there was no one way of getting to be on the stage of the RSL.
Obviously, I’m all for the small presses. It’s what Selected Poems at the V&A Reading Rooms is all about. I’ve seen countless times how poets who are starting to make their way in the industry have got where they are by being involved with small, independent presses.
But they aren’t a direct ticket to the stars, which several audience members thought. People who love poetry and want to be able to showcase and celebrate it drive small presses.
Although it was good to see the poets debating the reality of being a poet, and taking my first steps in to the Royal Society of Literature, I was aware of a wider poetry world outside that hallowed lecture hall. I just hope that the audience know of it, too.
I wonder if there is any way of telling this prime poetry audience about the possibilities of smaller presses – showing them that it isn’t just a hop, skip and a jump on to the Faber list.