When I was first invited by Durham University and New Writing North to be the laureate of Durham Book Festival in 2017, one of the early conversations I had was about how we might showcase the work of other young and emerging poets.
The phrase that had been buzzing around political spaces for the last few years was the idea of a Northern Powerhouse; the notion that you could harness the energy of the various metropolitan centres of the North and create an economic and creative power-base which might be able to rival London.
Claire Malcolm suggested a showcase which might bring the newly emerging stars of poetry together, to share and multiply their collective energy; our Rich Seams showcase was born, and was one of the standout hits of the 2017 festival.
We knew that the work hadn’t been completed though; we knew there were loads of poets we hadn’t been able to include who deserved a mention, who were making the poetry scene in the North of England richer. Thus, the idea of the podcast began to take shape.
We decided almost immediately that we wanted newer poets; everyone could already name the last great generation of poets from the North, who now occupy most of the high offices of poetry. For the first time since that generation had begun to emerge in the 1980’s, it felt to us as though there was a new generation on the rise; winning prizes, making documentaries, headlining events, drawing crowds. It was that generation we wanted to talk to, and it’s that generation you can hear on our Rich Seams podcasts.
It only occurred to us part-way through the process that what we were doing was actually quite rare. There has been a really welcome rise in poetry podcasts lately, but very few of them feature long-form discussions between poets; most consist of reading and discussing a single poem. When poets are first starting out, or making their way through the first decade or so of their poetry life, they’ll generally be given a 15/20 minute slot with others at a festival reading, perhaps there’ll be time for a short Q&A with a couple of quick answers to audience ponderings, and then back on the road somewhere else. The fact that this podcast might open up a space for poets to, maybe for the first time in a public arena, expand and extend their thinking about the roots and routes of their own work is something I’m immensely proud of.
This is a very diverse cast of poets you’ll have been listening to if you’ve followed the series so far (and I hope you’ll continue to do so as well); this is a North of England which looks very different to how it looked 20 or 30 years ago. A lot of the battles which I think our poetry had to fight back then have now been accepted as won; the fact that we should write in our own voice, maybe even our own accent or dialect, the fact we might write about insalubrious places, real places, places we’ve lived and worked and grown-up, are now accepted standards of poetry. If a previous generation of poets in the North of England had to fight for these things, this new generation is taking them forward, out onto a global stage.
Two things remain true:
- The north of England still produces a vastly-greater number of the nation’s top poets than its population might statistically suggest it should.
- There are still people who say ‘Northern poet’ as though that might be a genre of poetry; it isn’t, as you’ll continue to hear in these conversations, the North is vast, and rich, and international.
You can listen to Rich Seams on the New Writing North podcast below, on Soundcloud, or on the podcast player of your choice.