The lecture theatre at Balliol college was bustling with enthused students on 6th February, as a plethora of exciting poets graced the room with undeniable vivacity and artistry. Among these poets was Stephen Romer, a talented orator and personality who selected a range of short poems to read, from thoughtful musings on love, to summers in a rustically portrayed France. Poetry readings are not exactly common Wednesday evening plans, yet, Romer, as well as the evening’s other poets, proved that such readings make for a unique cultural experience. Oxford is a holy grail for the keen culture-vulture, where musicians, actors, actresses, artists and dancers are constantly at work and contributing to the diverse patchwork-quilt of cultural opportunity.
Yet, poetry is rarely if at all, addressed within this seemingly diverse ‘quilt’, and, despite the presence of such inspiring poets, like Romer and also Hannah Sullivan at New College, (who recently won the prestigious T.S.Eliot Prize for poetry), this art form is simply not as popular as the others. Poetry, in all fairness, is hardly the easiest of activities to delve into- whereas dance, music and drama are all encouraged to varying degrees within education and remain subject options throughout secondary school. In contrast, poetry often takes a backseat within the curriculum, remaining only a fraction of the English subject specification. The sheer joy of poetry, through reading it aloud and exploring a raw emotionality of language, does not truly make an appearance during the slog of GCSEs, where only a few students will perhaps be inspired to become avid poets after studying a single anthology. As a consequence, poetry shys away from the cultural limelight at an early stage in our lives, and only later does it align itself with a small proportion of the population’s artistic tastes.
This is a desperately frustrating situation for the modern poet, whose work never receives the attention it truly deserves. Bookshops may offer cosy and homely poetry collections, displaying admirable diversity from Keats to Rupi Kaur (note the Blackwell’s poetry corner, a true treat for poetry lovers)-yet, being able to see the wood through the trees is the real struggle. How does a budding poetry-appreciator even begin to tackle this highly intellectualised art form and successfully choose a poet they like, when the choice stretches for literary miles and miles? Book-shop browsing can often be more intimidating than therapeutic for someone who has little knowledge of poetry, and can take up an awful lot of time and willpower.
Thus, this leads me back towards the delight of poetry readings- if such readings were normalised and organised more frequently within schools, bookshops and even theatres, poetry could then be made significantly more accessible, alluring and entertaining. Romer’s poetry reading truly offered an exquisite escape from a rainy Wednesday evening reality-in so passionately conveying an intensity of emotion transported straight from rustic France- and, when surrounded by like-minded souls, the atmosphere was simply just one of genuine contentment and joviality. Poetry is as engaging as any play, musical or ballet; when orally performed, poetic tradition can thrive and reveal to the sceptics its deserved place within the cultural quilt. When it can finally be seen as less of an intellectualised art form, then perhaps local theatres will be boasting of a visit by Alice Oswald or Don Paterson, rather than the tired posters of yet another Lloyd-Webber musical.
Image credit: Carol Highsmith