I went to the launch of the Foyle Young Poet’s competition at the Sage this week. Was surprised that anyone would express surprise that there are few North East entrants. Foyle and Poetry Society feel far away from the North East and I don’t see much publicity around. Quite apart from the fact that it feels like lots of teachers are battling issues in ways that may make them feel getting their kids into a random poetry competition isn’t the answer. However I was left feeling that it would be wonderful if there was a sudden huge influx of North East lads and lasses entering and they stormed the competition in future years. Twice winner Caroline Bird read-I really enjoy her work and wondered how on earth she found and used such a strong poetic voice so early (first collection published by Carcanet at 14). She said she went to a Steiner school, which seems not unconnected, though their emphasis on everyone being equal she said, meant her early literary success was played down (maybe even derided a bit) there. What was huge for her and fellow two times winner Richard O Brien was going on an Arvon Course, being treated like writers and meeting other young writers. Richard has started an E Zine, Pomegranate, to publish some of their work.
I’ve also had random useful chats with Mel, the Tyne and Wear Museums Hub Literacy Officer who said maybe museums could host young writers groups, and with Colonel Bob Stewart. Former commander of UN forces in Bosnia. He was a guest on Radio 4’s Saturday Live when I was poemming and defined leadership as inspiring people, and having good and definite ideals to do it with. I’d been thinking about and wondering about leadership, since I’m on this Cultural Leadership Development programme. I also spoke to Isobel who helps co ordinate the programme and she was saying i’ve to make sure I take out of it what I want. I’m still thinking on that.
As I left Broadcasting House pondering these matters, a couple stopped me and asked which direction the Oxford Street shops were. I pointed vaguely to the right and said they were that way. Then said Regent St was the other way, but hesitated and said it wasn’t but superfluously added “You’ll get to them sooner than you think though” as they walked off. A minute later I was in a newsagents looking at crisps when I heard a man’s voice round the corner asking the counter assistant which way the Oxford Street shops were. I was torn between revealing myself and saying “Told you so” when the assistant confirmed they should head right, and making sure I stayed looking at Hula Hoops an unnaturally long time so they wouldn’t feel embarassed. I felt I had failed a test of leadership. Clearly I’d been vague, unconvincing and somehow seemed like the sort of person who would lie about the best way to the shops.