Ledbury Poetry Festival launches BAME critic mentorship

Ledbury Poetry Festival launches BAME critic mentorship

Ledbury Poetry Festival has launched a new mentoring programme to encourage diversity in poetry reviewing culture.

The Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics initiative, developed in collaboration with award-winning poets Sandeep Parmar and Sarah Howe, will offer an intensive eight-month mentorship programme for eight emerging BAME poetry critics that will focus specifically on "redressing [the diversity] imbalance in UK poetry culture".

According to the organisers: "In the past decade, publishing and mentorship schemes targeting BAME poets and writers, profile-raising events, national prize winners and judging panels, as well as crucial cultural debates around race, gender and ethnicity, have dramatically improved the diversity of British poetry. However, reviewing culture has not kept pace with this important shift towards a more inclusive poetry community of readers and writers."

Recent statistics analysed by critic Dave Coates show that reviewers and poets of colour are "hugely underrepresented" in broadsheet and journal publications, with only 4.3% reviewers and 8.1% poets from BAME backgrounds.

The new mentorship programme will attempt to "redress this imbalance in UK poetry culture" and support emerging critical voices.

Co-organiser of the initiative Sandeep Parmar, who is funding the scheme with her prize money from winning the 2017 Ledbury Forte Poetry Prize, said: "Our critical culture, in the form of reviews, does not accurately reflect poetry's range of voices and backgrounds. Partly in response to the staggeringly low statistics of BAME writers in reviewing culture (detailed by blogger critic Dave Coates), this mentorship scheme promotes critical writing and its values as an essential aspect of a robust literary culture."  

Sarah Howe, co-organiser of the programme and TS Eliot Award winner, agreed, saying: "At present the work of minority poets who have triumphed over the hurdles and made it into print is then too often met by silence in a predominantly white critical culture not yet well equipped to read such writing", says Howe. "By nurturing a new wave of critics of colour and offering them a platform, we hope to kick off a wider conversation about race within the culture of reviewing, interrogating and expanding its terms. I can think of nothing more timely."

The successful eight applicants will be assigned a poetry critic mentor with experience reviewing for national journals, magazines (print and online) and broadsheet newspapers. Resident in the UK, applicants may be an emerging critic with a few published reviews, have some or no critical or academic background, or might be strongly committed to becoming a poetry critic in the very near future and keen to explore issues of diversity in British poetry. 

The Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics programme consists of two residential workshops in Ledbury and London, one-to-one mentorship and critical feedback on the writing of a poetry review which will ultimately be shared with a number of collaborating partner publications.

Head of literature at UEA and Sunday Times poetry critic Jeremy Noel-Tod, who will be leading one of the practical seminars, added: "Poetry publishing in the UK is now rapidly starting to wake up to - and make up for - its neglect of BAME writers, and literary journalism needs to follow suit. Editors know this, and they are looking for new voices who can file confident, original, quotable, critical copy. This scheme promises not only to widen the range of books reviewed, but also the way in which criticism is written."

The experiences of the participants will be part of a live discussion about poetry reviewing culture and diversity at Ledbury Poetry Festival in July 2018.

Applicants should send a covering letter and sample review of a recent poetry collection, pamphlet or live poetry performance (by any contemporary poet) of up to 800 words to Sandeep.parmar@liverpool.ac.uk  or by post.  The deadline for applications is Friday 20th October 2017.