A report commissioned by the Centre for New and International Writing at the University of Liverpool has highlighted a stark lack of diversity within poetry publishing and, particularly, poetry criticism.
The report found that although the rate of coverage by black and ethnic minority critics, and coverage about black and ethnic minority poets, has more than doubled since 2017, the reviewing sector is still overwhelming "too white".
The research, titled "The State of Poetry and Poetry Criticism in the UK and Ireland 2009–2019", draws data from 26 magazines and newspapers, including the Guardian, Poetry Review and the TLS, examining a total of 6,804 review articles.The study was helmed by Dr Dave Coates and Sandeep Parmar.
Of the 6,804 articles published and recorded in this data set, 391 (5.75%) were written by black or ethnic minority critics. Of those 391, just 201 were published between 2017–19. The report also found that Asian critics are almost three times as likely to have been published than black critics.
The London Review of Books was found to have published 105 articles by 39 different critics, all of whom were white. They also published book reviews of 127 different books, all by white authors.
Of the 10,677 books reviewed in the data set, 701 (6.57%) were written by black and ethnic minority poets. This figure remained around 6% to 8% from 2009 to 2016, before taking a leap to 13.3% in 2017. Critical attention to books by poets of colour has remained at this level since, constituting 15.5% of all reviews in 2018, and 15.6% in 2019.
Of the 43,239 poems published in the data set, 19,165 (44.32%) were written by women and non-binary people. This percentage has risen year on year since the beginning of the data set, from 37.6% in 2009 to 49.6% in 2018 and 49% in 2019. It has never been above 50%.
In a joint statement the report's authors said: "Although we have seen tremendous change since 2017, critical culture must continue to expand to accurately reflect an increasingly inclusive poetry culture. For a granular reading of our data on a magazine-by-magazine basis see our extended online report. The disparities between each publication are, we believe, as crucial as our over-arching observations.
"The analysis here has begun to account also for the differences overlooked by categories such as BAME and it is worth noting that within these statistics Asian critics are almost three times more likely to appear than black critics. Removing racist structural barriers within criticism must also recognise and account for these differences. The Ledbury Critics Programme is committed to further scrutinising such inequalities. We hope this data analysis is enlightening and that it encourages reviewers and poets of colour as well as editors and readers from across the UK and Ireland to act collectively and consistently, towards equality and diversity in poetry criticism.
"Implementing lasting, longer-term structural change is complex and requires a shared belief in equality among commissioning editors, critics and indeed readers of poetry and reviews."
The report was comissioned by the university for the Ledbury Critics Programme, in association with Ledbury Poetry Festival.