The Wordsworth Trust

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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.

 

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7 responses »

  1. An important post Kim, thank you. I was lucky enough to read at the Trust last year and be involved in the Dorothy Wordsworth festival. I felt honoured to be included in such a high profile programme – that seemed so well supported by the public. You are right about Andrew Forster. A literature officer not only experienced and knowledgeable but generous too. I always followed the residencies with interest. Rebecca O’Connor’s Wordsworth pamphlet is a favourite of mine.

    • Hi Rebecca – thank you for commenting. The DW festival was fabulous – and your Writing Motherhood event was one of the highlights for me. Andrew Forster can always be trusted to have his finger on the pulse and often brings in exciting poets that I haven’t necessarily come across before, and I’m sure most of the audience haven’t either. There are the old favourites every year like Simon Armitage, but this is balanced by less well-known, but still equally exciiting poets – Liz Berry’s reading this year was one of the best for me. I hope that Andrew’s vast experience of programming brilliant events is not lost from Cumbria

  2. Like you I am amazed there has not been more outcry about this. One of our Cumbria Writing Squad members said to me the other day that the Trust was the only thing on her horizon linking her to and inspiring her to engage with living contemporary poetry and even that was difficult, expensive and took an hour to get to.

    It is incomprehensible to me that an organisation that spouts the objective Great Art For Everyone should shrink its national portfolio for literature in the north west to a couple of cities, imagine the outcry if the theatre or gallery infrastructure were limited to Manchester with one outpost in Liverpool.

    It is similar in Yorkshire, the Writing Squad is delighted to be funded as part of the portfolio, but we are also aware that if you travel the five stops of the branch line we are on between Ilkley and Leeds, you pass all the literature portfolio organisations between Nottingham and Newcastle.

    • Hi Steve – thanks for the comment and the information. It is shocking – that there is so little left in the north west. Although the fact that the Writing Squad are funded is excellent news – I know you all do great work. I hope that there are reading and workshop series left for those young writers to go to when they get too old for the Writing Squad though – that is the worry. We have the same problem in music education – money is put in at the younger end with every child learning an instrument for a year, but there is little if any thought given to how this is then developed. Anyway, better not to get me started on music education!

  3. You shouldn’t have felt conflicted. What you say is eloquent and right. Cutting relatively tiny bits of funding that has huge unquantifiable benefits isn’t just wrong. It’s stupid and wicked.£30+ billion on a train no-one wants…..and this is under a government no-one voted for. I’ll stop before I start swearing.

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