Saturday, 6 July 2013

Beeston Poets, up and running... moving on

In 1996, when Five Leaves was merely a small twig we published Poems for the Beekeeper, an anthology of poems from the first fifteen years of  Poets in Beeston (that's Beeston in Nottinghamshire). Poets in Beeston had been a substantial series of annual readings by the top names in British - and sometimes world - poetry. Contributors included Danny Abse, Fleur Adcock, James Berry, Alan Brownjohn, Catherine Byron, Wendy Cope, Robert Creeley, Kwame Dawes, Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Dunmore, Gavin Ewart, UA Fanthorpe, Elaine Feinstein, John Harvey, Adrian Henri, Selima Hill, Mick Imlah, Jenny Joseph, Jackie Kay, Liz Lockhead, Michael Longley, John Lucas, Roger McGough, Ian McMillan, Wes Magee, Adrian Mitchell, Henry Normal, Brian Patten, Tom Paulin, Nigel Planer, Peter Porter, Peter Redgrove, Christopher Reid, Vernon Scannell, Penelope Shuttle, Jon Silkin, Ken Smith and Charles Tomlinson. The collection is well worth buying still (yes - we have some left!) for a snapshot of the best the poetry world could offer from the 80s and 90s.
It is pretty remarkable that these, and so many more, pitched up in the back room of a suburban library to read. The County Council was happy to fund the series, and it was run personally by Robert Gent, the librarian there. Robert also edited the collection.
Prior to attending Beeston I'd had no interest in poetry at all. I'd started doing bookstalls at the events on behalf of the shop I was working in, and, well,  you have to listen, don't you? In due course Five Leaves published the collection, launched with a memorable reading by Jackie Kay, to celebrate the first fifteen years.
Some time afterwards Robert left the library and I took over running the series. In Robert's absence it was not the same, and I was also starting to organise poetry readings across the county. Rather than putting all the available money into Beeston I decided to abandon the series... with new sets of readings in Newark, Worksop, Ollerton and other far flung parts of the County. And Southwell Poetry Festival was established.
Many years later, though Southwell Poetry Festival survives as a County Council project, the readings across the county vanished, the Council has little money and other public readings tended to be of a performance nature.
Together with Nottingham Poetry Society and Nottinghamshire Libraries, Five Leaves reestablished the Beeston Poets series, on a shoestring. Naturally Jackie Kay was in the first series. The first year ended last night, with Martin Figura's Whistle performance - which will stay in people's memories for a very long time. The series is established. Pippa Hennessy had been the key figure in this, given that she straddles Five Leaves and the local Poetry Society.
We've given it a year, which shows there is a demand for the "formal" and traditional one person or group reading, without the need for open mics. All the readers can perform, but they can be read with pleasure on the page. But our resources are tight and we can't afford to give up work time so generously any more. Other projects are calling our name. Beeston Poets will, I hope, thrive. It will be up to the group which has come together this year as to how it will continue. It would be nice to think that at some stage there will be a second volume of poems for the beekeeper. Go well.

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