Press Release: Ledbury Poetry Festival, Sandeep Parmar and Sarah Howe launch new mentoring scheme to tackle ‘predominantly white critical culture’ in poetry: Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics

Application deadline: Friday 20 October 2017

Ledbury Poetry Festival in collaboration with award-winning poets Sandeep Parmar and Sarah Howe have launched a new mentoring programme to encourage diversity in poetry reviewing culture, aimed at supporting emerging critical voices: Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics.

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 pulled together by blogger critic Dave Coates (The State of Poetry Criticism) 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. Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics offers an intensive eight-month mentorship programme for 8 emerging BAME poetry critics that will focus specifically on redressing this imbalance in UK poetry culture.

sarah-howe.jpgSandeep Parmar

Co-organiser of the initiative Sandeep Parmar, who is funding the scheme with her prize money from winning the 2017 Ledbury Forte Poetry Prize,  says, ‘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 T.S.Eliot Award winner identifies the root of the problem. ‘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 8 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 says that ‘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 20 October 2017.

Full application details for Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics are on the Ledbury Poetry Festival website www.poetry-festival.co.uk

For media enquiries about Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics and Ledbury Poetry Festival please contact :
Becky Fincham at Bigmouth Book Events & PR on becky@bigmouthpresents.com / 07545 760590 or Phillippa Slinger, Festival Manager on manager@poetryfestival.co.uk / 01531 636232