For the last couple of months I’ve been turning this blog post over and over in my mind, writing it, re-writing it, deleting it, starting over again. A couple of months ago, the news came out that the Contemporary Literature Programme at The Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere had lost its funding from the Arts Council.
The Contemporary Literature Programme covers the fortnightly reading series over the summer and the workshops that are held at various intervals throughout the year. It pays for one lucky poet to be Poet-in-Residence in Grasmere, living in a cottage on site and being given time to develop their writing, as well as running workshops and giving readings to the local community. The Contemporary Literature Programme also funds a full-time Literature Officer, AndrewForster, who organises the readings, workshops and everything else that goes on to do with Contemporary Poetry.
The loss of the funding does not seem to have been in the news, or on social media very much. There was an article or two, there were a few outraged tweets and Facebook statuses. Then it kind of faded away.
I’m not writing this as an interested outsider, outraged about another northern arts organisation losing their funding. I care deeply about the Wordsworth Trust and feel very connected and invested to it. I go to pretty much every reading that they have over the summer. I attend most of the workshops. And I count Andrew Forster, the Literature Officer as a close friend. We met first of all through the Trust and Andrew has been encouraging and supportive of my poetry. When I was first starting out he gave me a lot of help and advice on everything from publishing to tax returns.
If the Wordsworth Trust didn’t put on the readings on fortnightly Tuesdays throughout the summer, I wouldn’t get to see world-class poets as often. The nearest place to go and see poets of international calibre would be Manchester, two and a half hours away on the train for me from Barrow in Furness. So for purely selfish reasons, the decision to not fund the programmes is really upsetting for me. It means more cost, more time, more commitment to get to events. I know poets who can’t afford, whether because of time or money to put in the extra time travelling around to see things. For them, the Wordsworth Trust is their link to what is going on in the wider poetry world, past the world of open mics and poets that they write in groups with.
I do believe it is crucial for the two things to exist side by side. There should be open mics which give poets who haven’t read before a chance to perform or give more experienced poets a chance to try new work out. But there should also be the readings that the Wordsworth Trust organise where poets come and read who are inspiring and who change the way we think about things.
I also feel sad about the Poet in Residence position now, I’m assuming being put in jeopardy. Each poet has brought something unique to Cumbria – I will never forget Carola Luther’s warm-hearted kindness and interest in other people, and her poems that made me see the mountains that surround Grasmere differently, or Helen Mort’s wonderful poem about running down the Coffin Path, or Adam O’Riordan’s beautiful poem about the double wash-stand in Dove Cottage, and lots, lots more.
I don’t really know why I’m writing this, except that I didn’t want the passing, or winding down, or fading or changing of the Contemporary Literature Programme to go unremarked. I would love it if you felt able to write to Andrew Forster at the Wordsworth Trust, and tell him if you have benefitted from the Literature Programme in some way, and if you feel that it is important that it continues.