'Good For Poetry':  Poet-in-Residence, Stella Bahin

'Good For Poetry': Poet-in-Residence, Stella Bahin

My blog before last, ‘For Poetry’, quoted a friend who’d spoken positively and emphatically of a regular poetry event being good for poetry and good for the place it happened in. Although I’d partially concurred with their opinion, I’d also found my friend’s statement somewhat problematic. So, I’d begun, firstly, to explore what poetry might be for, and what poetry might essentially be, if we can do anything for it.

Since that blog, after formulating some further thoughts on the subject, I’ve juggled all competing priorities aside (again) and plonked myself down (again) to put some of those thoughts into words. And to begin, secondly, to move onto putting some thoughts about what might be ‘good for poetry’ into words, too. (Referring to the last blog’s reminders of the writing process with the bracketed ‘agains’ and with the mention of the personal priority-juggling and the plonking.)

When Blake moved with his beloved wife Catherine from built-up London to the countryside of Felpham in 1800, into the building he had found unsurpassably beautiful (now, a little altered, and known as ‘Blake’s Cottage’), set, as it was, among lush fields, with a sea view; he was imaginatively inspired and creatively productive. This home was “propitious to the arts”, as Blake put it.

Until, that is, the damp of the cottage seeped rheumatically into the couple’s bones both; and his patron’s disinterest in Blake’s self-determined artistic output, as opposed to Blake’s commissioned artistic output, had been made clear. Before then, though, that initial period, and place, might be said to have been ‘good for poetry’.

Poetry in this case as, not only the songs that are sung for the necessary supper, but the songs that are sung replete, for joy, and in health, and with optimism: good for that. Poetry like a beyond-industry but blazingly vivid ‘Tyger!’ in the unreachable, unlit, un-graft-in-able, ‘night’.

Of course, sometimes poetry comes out of adversity, and suffering, and in veiled response to censorial oppression, for example. (But then, still, back to the ‘Tyger!’) So, although Blake’s idyllic location and happy circumstances were good for his poetry at the time; if we think of the poetry, and not of the beleaguered poet – which obviously, for a poet, could easily be extremely awkward unless the poet’s devotion to ‘poetry’ embraced martyrdom – it might be possible to say that hardship, in a means-justifying-the-ends way, is also ‘good for poetry’. (Thrown willingly to the ‘Tyger!’ if not the lions?)

Whilst Blake produced his poetry in elaborately illustrated etchings published in costly, limited, forms; it is true that poetry can be recorded inexpensively with even half a pencil and scrappy paper. Or be typed into a borrowed-if-necessary device. Or be scratched into a softer object by a harder one. Or can be produced and passed on without any writing materials at all: orally and aurally. Or in sign language, by hand. (Or by touch.) By any poet with the remaining or abiding strength, time, and will, so to do.

Nonetheless, as low-cost as it can be; for many, poetic productivity has its price. I asked a practicing, published, poet chum, if she would kindly tot up the hours and money she’s spent on making, performing, producing, and purchasing poetry, and attending and facilitating poetry events, within the last year. One hundred and twenty hours, and, one thousand two hundred and eighty pounds, she reckons. (Thank you for that, my friend.) Whatever the figures – which surely vary and can be much higher all round – the time and the money have to come from somewhere. And that’s not even going into the mud, wet, and tiers of it all.

Returning to what poetry might possibly be for, some poets (and writers) dislike being offered work with no pay as an ‘opportunity’ whilst others heartily grab it. Hence, all poetry costs residing, apparently eagerly, with those poets. Understandably glad to have an outlet they didn’t have to put in additional energy, hours, and possibly money, to create for themselves, on top of everything else they fit into their lives. Some poets, such as my chum (and I), do take on various organisational roles in poetry at various times, too.

“Poets aren’t used to being paid, they leap at the chance of unpaid work, any work!” said one experienced poetry organiser, who is an aspiring poet, to an invited volunteer co-organiser who is an acclaimed established poet. The poet didn’t say in reply, “Well yes, that’s true, that’s me; I leapt to help you behind the scenes when you asked, didn’t I…” but whose expression, which had previously been one of pleasure in the role they’d accepted, and in the ensuing (simple, not lavish) hospitality they were currently enjoying; became thoughtful-looking. Neither protesting, nor disagreeing. Accepting the status quo. Not outwardly responding to the, what, insensitivity? The barb, unwitting or not?

The Sovereign dangling the pay; the poet, sitting on their hands fearing for their tongue? Their dignity? Not all poets are so reticent in reaching for the purse, whatever its stamp, or logo, in greater fear for their empty stomachs, bare cupboards, and silent-when-shaken china piggies: “I’ll take my chances, ta.” Not all poets are quite so quick off their feet for every bit of slavery that comes their way, either: “Yeah, I’ll be the judge of my ‘chances’, thank you matey.”

Many poetry organisers will feel humbled by any shortfalls in their resources and are often in the same, entirely, or largely, self-funding situation: doing it, well yes, maybe ‘for poetry’, too. (As the ‘any work!’ organiser states as their main motive, with plenty of evidence to support that stance.) Some organisers may feel pragmatically stoical about any lacks in available funds, dipping into their own resources (including time) and what granted pots they can. ‘For poetry’ can be a useful and even appropriate concept in some circumstances. Gripes off my chest, yes. Passion has its place.

Passion for Blake, for example. As contagiously exhibited by the busy BlakeFest 2017 team of organisers; reflected by their line-up of incredibly talented artists, including poets, soon to be appearing in Blake’s former hometown. Though some may sometimes wish it were otherwise; between the poets and other artists themselves; the organisers; and funders: each show, act, reading, performance, installation, is almost invariably AN ABSOLUTE BARGAIN to any audience member. And this is most certainly true of Blake Fest 2017. Follow the links to check out the prices.

Follow the dandelion trails.

The next question is, if poetry events, and the other creative arts events can, under certain conditions, cautiously, be said to be ‘good for poetry’: can great arts events also be said to be ‘good for the place where they happen’, in this case – COMING SOON – Bognor? I think, not automatically. Not without the right, considered, input. Which is what I’ve been trying to say in this blog and in ‘For Poetry’. With it, and only with it: YES! And this is what Rachel, Olivia, Mikey, and Sedge, and others, are doing their level best to achieve, right now. It is going to be, simply – GOOD – all round: BlakeFest 2017.