BBC Scotland appoints a poet in residence

Rachel McCrum Rachel was introduced as BBC Scotland's Poet in Residence to its Radio Scotland audience on National Poetry Day, Thursday, 8 October.

Meet Rachel McCrum, BBC Scotland's Poet in Residence for the next three months.

Already an award-winning poet, Rachel won the 2012 International Women's Day Slam, Edinburgh and the 2013 Callum MacDonald Award.

She will be joining us as part of a collaboration between BBC Scotland and the Scottish Poetry Library, with an aim of bringing poetry to audiences across the country.

"The BBC did an open application for this role - which was brilliant," said Rachel. "The call went out and because the poetry scene in Scotland is really close knit, everyone was sending it to each other.

"The emphasis of the advert was 'early career poet' with an emphasis on an ability to work in broadcasting and workshops. It said you would need to create 12 commissions within three months.

"There were over 70 applicants and it felt lovely, open and equal. It was quite strange though because I knew a lot of people going up for it.

"Every poet does something different, so I went into it thinking that if the thing I do isn't what they want at this time, that's fine. But they did want what I do, and I was offered the role the day after the interview.

"I was told keep it to myself... that was interesting because I'm not the quietest, and I had to keep it secret from the interview in July up until the announcement of my residency in October!"

A community theme

Born in Donaghadee, Northern Ireland, Rachel graduated from Oxford University and has lived in New Zealand and Manchester, before moving to Edinburgh five years ago.

Her main platform as Poet in Residence will be on Radio Scotland's arts and culture programme The Janice Forsyth Show, but she will also be contributing to a diverse range of BBC Scotland programming and will work with BBC Scotland's The L.A.B. to deliver poetry workshops to primary and secondary schools.

Start Quote

The Scottish Poetry Library is delighted that BBC Scotland is recognising the lively and thought-provoking contribution poetry makes to the cultural life of Scotland”

End Quote Robyn Marsack, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library

"Having a few months from finding out to starting the residency has been really useful, it gave us time to set up the project and see what would work.

"Basically it's going to be very busy," explains Rachel. "I've got to do four workshops with the BBC L.A.B with local schools, and I am going to look at the theme of community across these.

"I want to explore that theme with the reach and the resources of the BBC and the Scottish Poetry Library, it's a great opportunity for me to delve into something I'm really interested in, and get others involved in poetry at the same time."

Robyn Marsack, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library, says: "The Scottish Poetry Library is delighted that BBC Scotland is recognising the lively and thought-provoking contribution poetry makes to the cultural life of Scotland by appointing a Poet in Residence. Rachel McCrum is a generous poetry presenter as well as a distinctive lyrical voice in her own right, and I am sure that she will make poems and friends for poetry wherever she goes in the next three months."

The 12 commissions will include collaborations with people Rachel has worked with during the workshops and programmes within the BBC - enabling the people she meets to add to the project organically.

She has big plans for the project and is hoping to create videos of her performances and will be crowd-sourcing some of her poems using social media.

BBC presenter Janice Forsyth will be featuring Rachel on her programme: "Rachel is an exciting, emerging voice in poetry and has been steadily building her career as poet in Scotland and abroad. Last year she went to South Africa as part of the Commonwealth Poets United Project and has been a Poet in Residence in as wide ranging places as the Harvard Centre for Hellenic Studies, Nafplion, in Greece and Dunbar, Scotland.

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I like the idea of having new poems out there in the atmosphere, and that's what I will be doing”

End Quote Rachel McCrum

"Rachel's brief for the residency is to explore communities across Scotland - from football fans, migrants and refugees to urban and rural groups - and to reflect on current and topical issues. I believe that Rachel will also bring a great deal of freshness and creativity to the role, revealing poetry as a truly exciting art form."

The process

With so much to do in only three months, Rachel admits that she has taken on a huge challenge, but believes she is ready to become a poem-making machine.

"Everybody does it differently. I like to do a lot of reading around a subject before writing about it. I usually spend a day reading on the subject and seeing what images, angles or voices pique my interest.

"I make hundreds of messy notes and sift through them. Sometimes I write in form if I'm a bit stuck. Then I edit hard.

"Usually that process takes a few days. I will have to get a bit quicker doing this. The interesting thing is knowing when it's done, and allowing time to go back to the poem if you need to.

"I'm just really looking forward to engaging groups in poetry and being able to explore poetry with them, and to them, and what it means to them.

"I like the idea of having new poems out there in the atmosphere, and that's what I will be doing, travelling all over Scotland and seeing the body of work grow - not just from me but from a much wider engagement with poetry.

"The point is there will be poems!"

During her residency Rachel will also be blogging, you can follow her journey online here.

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