P is for … Reasons to be Cheerful
The last time I wrote a blog for the Poetry Summit it was January, eight months and a different world ago. Who would have thought way back then, that the ‘p’ word defining 2020 would not be poetry but pandemic? My diary (I’m old-school and use a paper one, don’t @ me) is full of crossings-out: the whole of the Oxford Literary Festival including events I’d organised on the children’s and young people’s programme with (gulp) Nikita Gill, Rakaya Fetuga, Jinhao Xie, Troy Cabida, and another with (gulp again) Allie Esiri, Samuel West, Diana Quick, Hugh Ross and Gina Bellman; a big scribble blots out 13 July, which should have been the date for the joyful and inspiring extravaganza that is the CLiPPA award ceremony at the National Theatre.
Looking back though, even if our year has been marked by a peculiar silence, for me as for many I’m sure, it has been punctuated by poetry. Moments I’ll remember include sitting in the garden listening to Roger Robinson’s new recordings for the Poetry Archive; the brilliant Forward Meet the Poet sessions featuring readings from the ten books shortlisted for the Forward Prizes and question and answer sessions with the shortlisted poets; Laura Mucha’s Dear Key Workers thank you poem to the NHS, created with the help of children cheered me hugely (and still does).
Now though, after all the cancellations and postponements, there are real reasons to be cheerful, amongst them the news that the CLiPPA Show will go on. Thanks to a new partnership between CLPE and The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, the CLiPPA will be celebrated in the Festival’s programme for schools and families, and the winner announced in a very special Festival Poetry Show on Friday 9 October. The Poetry Show will be introduced live by CLiPPA judges, Valerie Bloom and Steven Camden, and will feature performances by the shortlisted poets. Schools across the UK and beyond will be able to watch the show for free, and then, thoroughly inspired, join in a special post-event shadowing scheme and create their own poetry performances. By the way, the shortlist will be announced on National Poetry Day, 1 October, another big date that’s certainly not going to be crossed out.
If that isn’t enough, just take a look at the autumn poetry publication schedules – there are some extraordinarily good collections coming out. Many of my favourites are highlighted in the National Poetry Day recommended lists, including The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice by A F Harrold and Mini Grey, SLAM!, the collection we were so excited to celebrate at the Oxford Literary Festival, and She Will Soar, a superb new collection edited by Ana Sampson, but The Girl Who Became a Tree (Otter-Barry Books) by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Klaus Flugge Prize winner Kate Milner, is heart-stoppingly powerful, a mesmerising exploration of grief and renewal, while I haven’t stopped thinking about Punching the Air by Yusef Salaam and Ibi Zobo since I read it this summer. HarperCollins will publish in the UK on 1 September, make sure you get a copy.
And one other thing that’s making me happy: in my last blog on here, I’d suggested that as part of the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of Books for Keeps, the UK’s leading children’s books review journal, we might create a new BfK Poetry Guide, and we’ve decided to do just that. It will be published on National Poetry Day – when else? – and will be packed full of features, interviews with poets and of course reviews of the outstanding new poetry being published for children. You can get in touch to find out more or with feature suggestions (email@example.com), and sign up for our newsletter to get it delivered to your inbox on National Poetry Day. (PS if you missed our July issue, there’s a great interview with Joshua Seigal by Liz Brownlee that I highly recommend).
Andrea Reece is Managing Editor of Books for Keeps.