During his decade as Poet Laureate Andrew Motion was considerably more an activist than the man he followed, the late Ted Hughes. Where Hughes glowered darkly Motion sparked and shone. When Hughes stayed home Motion went out. He made it his business to engage with football terrace chanters, school-age beginners and the poetry world’s firmament of rising stars. Some writers seem to do this. They cause sparks and make them shower. Ezra Pound was a good example. Always full of energy for the art form in which he operated. Boosting T S Eliot, teaching Hemingway to box, promoting Basil Bunting. So too the late Bob Cobbing, a man who spent a lifetime pushing poetry into places that it otherwise would never have gone.
Some writers write and see the world as a sea to be crossed. Others have team spirit, see literature as a broad church and books as something for us all. In Wales you’ll recognise the names. The ones who run classes and share their talent. Gillian Clarke, Robert Minhinnick. The writers who front magazines and try to be inclusive: Zoë Skoulding, Kathryn Gray and in their day John Barnie, Mike Jenkins, JP Ward and the venerable Meic Stephens. The author-publishers who want others to follow the paths they have trodden – Alan Llwyd, Nigel Jenkins, Jan Fortune-Wood, Sally Roberts Jones.
The trick is knowing how to divide the time you have. How much for yourself and how much for the promotion of others.
Mab Jones (not her real name, well the Mab bit anyway) is one of the funniest women on the poetry stage. Funny enough to do the comedy circuit, a thing she’s done to great acclaim. Getting poetry to work with audiences who think the form to be an arcane hangover from school is no easy thing. You’d think the creation of her side-splittingly rhythmic verse would be enough to keep her fully occupied. Not a bit of it.
With Ivy Alvarez she co-manages the Poetry on Tap programme of monthly Sundays in Cardiff. In addition she has been running a series of what she calls “lady friendly erotic writing workshops”. These are held at Cardiff’s leading “family-run adult shop” Passion. Add to that her Jam Bones set which promote spoken lit, music and slam poetry at places like the Mackintosh Sports Club and the Promised Land in Dumfries Place and you’ve got a pretty full poetry life.
Her new venture is The Lit List, a free monthly little mag of poetry, comment and literature event listings for the capital. The publication’s print run of 1500 copies outnumbers potential audiences by a factor of at least five to one. The future, then, is a big one. Send information to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for your free copy.
A version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of 6th March, 2010