Friday, May 30, 2008

I applaud women who speak out about inequality, especially nowadays. But women who use feminism theoretically and don't have the guts to apply it get a disappointed thumbs down.....I have been through one of my faithless-about-poetry patches and it was fuelled by an email on who might succeed Andrew Motion as poet laureate.

This bandwagon's a bit like any stagecoach crossing a dark wood...those archetypal highwaymen are somehow comforting, aren't they? If you don't let ethics intrude.

Imagine inside this stagecoach are the favourites for laureate. According to the Guardian they are Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage and James Fenton. For what it's worth, I reckon it's between Duffy and Armitage. I think Fenton's a bit too distant. I'd add in John Agard, who truly is a poet of the people, with utterly superb credentials, and Moniza Alvi who's less well known, maybe, but is nevertheless taught in schools (as Agard, Duffy and Armitage are) and writes superb, topical, relevant and truly accessible poetry. And while we're at it, Grace Nichols, another remarkably accessible poet.

The Independent's contribution is to list five other female contenders: Jackie Kay, Wendy Cope, Fleur Adcock, Ruth Padel and Lavinia Greenlaw.

This is where the journey becomes more interesting. The Indy's list is based on a press release that went out earlier this week. I was forwarded it by a fellow poet. At first reading, it makes a valid point - there's a vast number of good women poets in the UK who are ignored when it comes to big prizes. Let's use this occasion to celebrate them. Fantastic. Of course. I'm all for that.

Then the press release - which, incidentally came from the Ledbury Poetry Festival director, Chloe Garner - quotes a few names as contenders. On top of the first batch of contenders she adds some more....Now, these names are good poets but not all would be laureate material by any stretch of the imagination. One of these extras has just two books out, another just three.

I was amazed someone in that position could be naive enough to suggest names with so little experience they'd never be in the running - even if they were men. Apart from anything else, it's handing ammunition to anyone who's inclined to disagree with the fundamentals of equality. When I wrote about equal opportunities in the 80s there was regular discussion about people being set up to fail by liberalism or cynicism. Have we learned nothing?

I could speculate why some of these other names were quoted. I fantasised that maybe this woman director would give a voice to those of us writing in the margins. So I thought I'd look at the Festival line-up and do a head count of men and women appearing there. Given this blazing press release about the "many splendid female poets from all generations" writing in Britain today, I was hoping for ample evidence of us in the programme.

Hmmm. A quick count reveals a rough split of about two thirds to a third. Yeah, the gender represented by the two thirds is the boys. And those splendid women poets from all generations are yet again gagged.

Comments in an email, maybe, to Ledbury, asking for a money-where-your-mouth-is programme for next year?

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