Meet Sally Carruthers, newly appointed Executive Director of The Poetry School, who talks here about
why the School has chosen to contribute to Poetry In Aldeburgh,
her plans for the next three years
plus that old chestnut - can poetry really be taught?
PJ: We’re delighted that the Poetry School has chosen to take part in PinA – can you tell us why?
SC:The Poetry School is incredibly excited to be part of Poetry in Aldeburgh. Our aim is to inspire and nurture poets by gently breathing on the embers of their talent. Leaving the confines of Lambeth Walk to achieve this is something which we really enjoy. We reach out via our website as far afield as India and the States, and aim to travel in person as well when the opportunity presents itself.
Festivals such as PinA represent the dynamic and exciting aspects of contemporary poetry and we are delighted to be part of this. We have all sorts of exciting plans for the weekend itself.Tamar Yoseloff (whose latest collection is A Formula for Night, Seren 2015) is one of our longest standing tutors and she will be reading from her work and introducing readings from Sandra Galton and Anna-May Laugher – two of her former students who have gone on to have their own publishing success. We hope that it will prove a stimulating afternoon of creative connection and poetic possibilities – a reading which demonstrates educational friendship in action. In addition we are planning a digital residency at the festival to extend beyond the physical audience and share the experience with those who cannot be there in person.
Poetry In Aldeburgh is a great opportunity to engage with new writers, showcase what we do, how we do it and hopefully make new friends as well as catch up with familiar faces.
PJ: You're newly in post. What is your ambition for the Poetry School over the next, say, 3 years?
SC: You're quite right, I have only been in post a few of months so have spent my time dipping my toes into the world of poetry again and getting to know the phenomenal team, board, poets who are our teachers and the students we are lucky to have. I am keen to form partnerships within the world of poetry and beyond where shared aims can add value to projects and activities – a creative hive is how I see it.
In 2017 the Poetry School celebrates its 20th Anniversary. We're already planning how to mark this momentous occasion – remembering the huge achievements of the past two decades whilst thinking about what wonderful possibilities the future might hold.
Over the next 3 years I think more, better, bigger and broader are words which spring to mind. We want to be inclusive, nurturing and creative and extend our reach to ensure that everyone who wants to write has the support they need. It would be great to make poetry a part of the everyday life of people who currently have the misconception that it is in some way ‘difficult’, ‘elitist’ or simply ‘not for them’.
In addition the lease on our Lambeth Walk base runs out next year, so we may think about a new home - watch this space.
PJ: There are people who say that writing, and especially poetry, cannot be taught – how do you answer that?
SC: It's fair to say that you wouldn't put a child in front of a piano and expect him or her to play like a concert pianist, or give an adult a pair of ballet shoes and send them to the Royal Ballet.
Everyone has their own unique voice but like a singer each voice can be trained. The rigour of poetry as an art lies in the application of form which leads to freedom of expression. It is helpful to know the structure of a sonnet, a villanelle or cento. Once you have those tools you can play creatively with them and the discipline forms the bare bones into which you can then breathe life.
Over the years we've found that poets find it helpful to share the experience of learning and creating. Many of our classes have a collective feel to them, a shared enterprise with time to read your own work, listen to that of your classmates and respond to and benefit from the supportive criticism of peers as well as that of the tutor.
While some may argue that writing cannot be taught it can most certainly be nurtured – an activity to which we are committed. We have an extremely high proportion of returning students who remain with us year after year, coming back for more, which suggests that our inventive and enthusiastic tutors are successfully passing on the skills, approaches and techniques necessary to develop new writers.
PJ: The Poetry School has recently expanded and developed its website. Are there any plans for live events to complement that? And are such events only for those who write poetry?
SC: CAMPUS our social network for poets is an integral part of our online offering and it is one of the channels we use to promote our live events – of which there are many. In addition to organising live events, readings, launches and generally celebrating the work of our students and tutors you would be surprised at how classes spill into evenings in pubs, how friendships and unofficial activities thrive. Recently our first cohort of MA students organised their own reading which was a great testament to their empowerment and sense of ownership of their work.
There are many events which might appeal to the broader poetry world beyond the confines of the school. The best way to find out about them is to sign up to CAMPUS, or newsletter or find us on Facebook. We promote a lot of live activity in this way.