The number of BAME poetry reviewers writing for national publications has more than doubled in the last two years, a report has shown, although the London Review of Books (LRB) has only published white poetry critics reviewing white poets throughout the eight-year span of the research.
'The State of Poetry and Poetry Criticism in the UK and Ireland 2011-2018' was commissioned by the Centre for New and International Writing at the University of Liverpool and compiled by compiled by poetry critic and research assistant, Dave Coates. The research explored whose poetry is reviewed and whose reviews are commissioned and published. It examines how these results relate to poetry prize culture and the diversity of editors.
The report, published today (Friday (21st June), found that through mentoring of new BAME critics and collaboration with commissioning editors, programmes such as the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics have more than doubled the total number of BAME poetry reviewers writing for national publications in the last two years. Of 4,866 articles published, 245 (5.03%) were written by BAME critics, with 115 published in 2017 and 2018, comapred to 130 between 2011 and 2016.
“My sense is that in the long term, critics of colour will find in-roads into every poetry reviewing platform, and editors will be encouraged, by a revived interest in reviewing, to raise the profile of reviewing on their pages,” said Sandeep Parmar, who co-founded the Ledbury scheme with fellow poet Sarah Howe. “On the whole, the programme has received tremendous support from editors and, where necessary, we will keep reminding those few who have yet to take action”.
Howe added: “The immense success of the programme’s first round is a tribute to the hard work of its eight talented participants. Article by article, they are changing the culture. I hope that the gains of the last year or so won’t prove a brief comet, but a more lasting change: ultimately, it’s up to reviews editors to take up that mantle in their ongoing commissioning.”
The research found that between 2011 and 2016, British and Irish poetry magazines and newspapers published review articles by BAME critics 130 times, amounting to 3.7% of the total for those years. Between 2017 and 2018, in the two years since the launch of the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics scheme, BAME critics have been published on the same platforms 115 times equating to 8.3% of the total. Of these 245 articles written by BAME critics, 117 (47.8%) were written by fellows of The Complete Works mentoring programme, the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics mentoring programme or both. (The Complete Works was launched as a national mentoring scheme for advanced Black and Asian poets in 2008 while the latter programme was founded in 2017 to encourage diversity in poetry reviewing culture and support emerging critical voices.)
However across the eight-year period of research, it was found that the LRB has published 70 articles by 33 different poetry critics, all of whom were white. Those 70 articles reviewed 86 different books, all of whom were white poets. Of those 83% are male. By contrast, the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) is one of only five platforms to publish more than 20 articles by BAME critics, constituting 3.6% of their total.
Of the 30 editors of the publications surveyed, all 30 were white. Of the 48 co-editing staff members, 34 were female or non-binary and seven were BAME. Six of these seven were fellows of either The Complete Works or the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics.
Around 13% of the UK population identified as BAME at the 2011 Census. Of the 26 magazines in the data set still regularly publishing, five surpassed this figure: Poetry Review (14.5%), Poetry London (18.3%), Oxford Poetry (18.5%), the Poetry School Blog (20.4%) and Modern Poetry in Translation (21.4%).
Gender bias was also reflected through the research: “Though female critics are roughly as likely to review female poets as not, male critics review male poets 66.9% of the time, compared with just 28.9% female poets." The data set showed that there were never more than 50% of poems published by women and non-binary people. In ten of the 39 magazines surveyed, less than 40% of contributors were female or non-binary. In two of these, the figure was lower than 30%: the LRB (29.4%), and the TLS which featured only 27.8%.
The Poetry Review’s editor Emily Berry said: “The high standard of the work produced by the first round of Ledbury Emerging Critics gives the lie to the demeaning notion often trotted out by detractors of diversity schemes that 'quality suffers'."
The publication of the report also marks the start of the second round of the Ledbury programme, as four new mentees join the existing cohort of eight poetry critics: Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Joanna Lee, Stephanie Sy-Quia and Sarah-Jean Zubair. Whilst in the US, a sister programme based on the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics model will launch in November 2019 co- ordinated by the poet Ilya Kaminsky along with Parmar and Howe.
The research draws data from 26 magazines and newspapers, including the Guardian, Poetry Review and the LRB from January 2011 to December 2018, examining a total of 4,866 review articles.