GPS usually means something to do with phones and sat navs but in poet Ric Hool’s case it stands for Global Poetry Systems. Ric is from Abergavenny and is author of the excellent Voice from a Correspondent. He has recently been appointed to make a Welsh contribution to the new Southbank Centre plan to map the UK’s poetry world. When the irrepressible Lemn Sissay, the Centre’s poet in residence, decided to collect all the poetry available in the complex he discovered much more than a shelf of books. Lemn found text engraved in memorial signs, on stage in the words accompanied by great classical music, rhymes in the memories of visitors, poems from the greats in celebration of concerts they had attended, stuff on posters and graffitied on the walls. It struck him that verse actually penetrated much deeper into our psyches than we realised. It was all around us. Security guards wrote it in the depth of night. Parents sung it to their children. Students used it to change the world. He decided to do some mapping. He found poetry in quantity. The results were enormously encouraging.
The project has now been rolled out as a pilot right across the UK. A dozen poets and activists from Belfast to Birmingham will be devoting a week soon to collecting the poetry where they live. They’ll be scooping up everything from gravestone memorials to part-recollections of W H Auden and William Shakespeare, from poetry on the shelves in newsagents to brand new pieces made specifically for their locations.
Ric will be working his patch with diligence. He doesn’t have long. The results will be compiled into a Southbank Centre managed web site and, if things go well and funds from the Cultural Olympiad arrive as they should, there’ll be an exhibition right across the ground floor of Queen Elizabeth Hall. Cases of text. Works from the great and the good and the trying hard. Interactive posters. Giant maps that play verse recordings when you stand on them. Photographs of poetry in the landscape. Engravings. Poems knitted into bed quilts. Memories of books. Actual books. Words on the sails of yachts. Poems in newspapers. Verse workshopped by local school children, recalled by immigrants, written in paint and chalk across the city’s back lanes and city halls.
The precise extent of the geographic area Ric will be covering is yet to be agreed. Too large and poetry will get lost, too small and there won’t be enough. Expect it to be Abergavenny and environs. The town and the hills. The bookshops and the schools. The south-east Wales GPS project is a co-operation between Academi and the Southbank Centre. Dave Woolley will be running another will run from the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea.
A version of this blog appeared in The Western Mail on Saturday 2nd May, 2009 as The Insider