In a frankly surreal start to the New Year, I find myself appointed Hampshire Poet 2016. (I don’t yet know if I’m allowed to call myself any kind of laureate, but I’m fairly sure there’s no sherry involved. Pity.)
Someone has fulfilled this role every year since 2008, when the council celebrated the National Year of Reading. S/he acts as a combination of tame verse-maker for special occasions, local ambassador and general poetry aficionado to visit schools, lead workshops and enthuse about words to anyone who will listen. My tenure follows Joan McGavin, last year’s Laureate, and Brian Evans-Jones from the year before.
When I was younger and more malleable, a job application would bring out the prissy swot in me. What are they looking for? Do I have all the correct qualifications? Does my CV look big in this?
Now? Well, I have a more relaxed approach. I reckon if someone is going to work with me, they should know what they’re letting themselves in for. Which is why I ended up in November drafting the requested half-page saying why I wanted the post, and choosing two poems to send them.
My application started thusly:
Why I would like the title
Mainly for the outfit. I’m thinking superhero lycra/cape? No, wait: sorry. I do take this seriously. It would mean I could discuss poetry with people and organisations I couldn’t approach on my own.
I have to acknowledge my debt to Shelley Harris, who researched her novel Vigilante by dressing as a superhero and going out in a real town centre, helping startled people. Half of me really yearns to do the same as Poetwoman (I need a logo and maybe a pushup bra), but if I ever dressed in lycra to visit my kids’ schools they would put themselves up for adoption before lunch.
Honestly, I never thought I stood a chance. This post has been held by serious academics, and my closing lines were:
If you’re looking for an academic poet with a current university teaching post, I am not your woman. If you would like someone with energy and her own car to travel the county trying to excite people about poetry – and then spread the word effectively online – I would give it my best shot. I think it would be a really interesting year.
I sent a heartfelt, if idiosyncratic, application and left the decision entirely up to them. Let’s hope they don’t regret it. On Thursday I have my first planning meeting with Hampshire Cultural Trust.
I joke about a lot of things, and think there are many people who take themselves as poets far too seriously. Get me drunk and I could name names. I do take the work seriously: you can’t write anything worth reading if you don’t. But for myself, there is a healthy dollop of scepticism. To communicate and be remembered, you have to find some common ground with your audience, and often the quickest way there is via a laugh.
I’m hoping to meet loads of people in the coming year, and leave them with a little bit of poetry in their soul. They may even have written it themselves, to their own surprise.
You can read Hampshire Cultural Trust’s official announcement here.