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Bedford: a poetry town?

It is remarkable how the live poetry calendar in Bedford has progressed over the last few years. The regular monthly roster now includes the Poetry Cafe, Ouse Muse, the Swan Theatre Poetry Nights and Pass On a Poem. Less frequent or occasional events have also blossomed – the Poetry Lunchbox, performances at The Place such as ‘Made in Bedford’, and our participation in national programmes like Poetry by Heart and National Poetry Day.

I attend a lot of poetry events outside Bedford as well – and the quality of the reading and writing in the town stands up well. Although we seem to have few out-and-out ‘performance poets’ compared with other locations, we have a very good supply of quality writing, well performed. (If you have not been to a poetry slam or similar that may sound a finicky distinction – but it will be quite obvious to anyone who has been exposed to that kind of environment.)

So far so burgeoning! Where do we go from here?

If all these activities are going to become robust and sustainable I think there are three challenges we need to address.

1) Fragmentation. Overall the audience for poetry events in the town numbers close to 100, but only 10-15 attend each of these series of events. Can you find time to support more than one event in a month – even on an occasional basis that would help?

2) Demography. We don’t have enough young poets at our events – in consequence when an under-30 poet does come and perform, although they are always made welcome, I imagine that they feel a bit out of place. We need a small caucus of three or four younger poets. I would be very surprised if they did not exist in Bedford, but we need to find them and get them involved.

3) Publicity. This may be the key to solving both 1 & 2 – our limited (essentially zero) budgets mean that we are not able to get the word out widely, or frequently or far. Is there a better way of doing this, perhaps a way of ding it jointly which would (like the old beer ad) reach the parts that other publicity just doesn’t.

I’m just about to start planning the Ouse Muse series for next year – and so fairly shortly a little electronic survey will be coming your way if you are on the mailing list. Please take the time to fill it in – and if you have any bright ideas let me know.