Monday, 10 January 2011

New Year Resolutions

I've been neglecting the Poet's Soapbox of late. I have to blame that on pressures of the day job, a new course of study, and all the 101 little things that conspire to get between an artist and his favourite pleasures. But with some significant changes in my personal circumstances, I start 2011 determined to give the Soapbox the attention it deserves.

To that end, I’ve come up with a couple of new year's resolutions for my blogging.

One is that I need to do it more often. The core of this blog will remain the Soapbox articles I produce for the National Association of Writers' Groups' excellent LINK magazine. But in order to improve interactivity, I’m going to intersperse these with some personal reflections too.

I'm already drafting a linked series of articles on my experience running an open mic night for poets and spoken word performers (which I’ve given the provisional title of Open Mic Surgery). Regular readers will know that I believe performance to be the lifeblood of poetry. If I have one aspiration for the Soapbox, it would be that it encourages people not to be intimidated about standing up and reading poetry in front of an audience. For those who don't have the good fortune of an open mic on their doorstep, I also want to offer some encouragement that starting one up may not be as difficult as you think.

I'm keen to have other people's insights to offer, not just my own. So if you've been involved in setting up an open mic, or you're an MC or organiser of one now, please leave a comment here or email me (at the usual address) and let me know about your experiences. In particular, have a think about the following questions:

How and why did you get started?
How do you publicise your open mic?
Do you have guest features? How do you find people who are willing to feature?
Have you come across any problems or difficulties in running the open mic? How have you dealt with them?

I'll try and incorporate as many responses as possible into the Open Mic Surgery articles as they evolve.

The other new thing I intend to do with the Soapbox is to write reviews of poetry books.

I seem to pick up poetry books all over the place. Books by poets I hear at readings; books by guest features who've come to Speakers' Corner; books that just seem to get sent me randomly in the post (there have been a whole stack of these in the last few months!). Now that I have more opportunity to spend quality time with these, it seems only fair to do what I can to give the most deserving ones a bit of publicity.

Most of the titles I get are published by small presses, and never get the kind of exposure that the Seamus Heaneys and Carol Ann Duffys of this world seem to automatically deserve. But some of them are every bit as good as the latest Heaney or Duffy. Others – well, poetry is like any artform, a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. I want to be able to praise and promote the writers who really deserve it. But I want to be honest, too. No poetry collection is flawless. If I offer criticism here I will intend it as constructive criticism, and hope that the poets concerned will accept that criticism in the spirit with which it's meant – kindly.

Once again, reader feedback will be welcome. If you've read one of the books I've reviewed, and want to offer your own thoughts, please do (especially if you disagree with me!). The one rule to remember, is be helpful, be constructive; comments that aren't will just be deleted. And if you've read a poetry book you would like me to review – or are a poet yourself, and want to send me a review copy – please leave a comment on the Soapbox or by email in the usual way.

It only remains for me to thank my existing readers for their loyalty, and to hope I get some new readers in 2011! Happy new year.

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