I recently read an interview in The Telegraph with that prince of poets, Roger McGough. He and I have something in common. Almost. His poetic talents led him from a working class estate in Liverpool to the twee suburban shores of Barnes, south London, where I happened to be born. My poetry led me in precisely the opposite direction. Poetry is, for the most part, a meritocracy.
In this interview, among his many pearls, McGough said of poetry: "It's never going to be the new rock 'n' roll, nor should it be." He is, of course, correct. What interested me about this comment was simply the fact that it needed saying at all.
If you saw an interview with a celebrated judge in, say, 'Wigs and Gavels' magazine, you'd be more than a little surprised if he felt the need to say that law is not the new rock 'n' roll. Why is poetry any different? Surely the only possible reason is that some people think poetry could be more populist, popular and, perhaps, puerile. But who are those people? Not poets. Not McGough anyway.
All of this seems particularly pertinent during festival season. Over the last few years, presumably because we're all getting older, music festivals have decided they need to 'grow up', and a whole bunch of new festivals have emerged that seemingly emphasise the point. How can you tell if a festival falls into this category? One surefire way is to see if they have a poetry arena/tent/grotto or treehouse.
Over the last few years many poets who are comfortable on stage (and frankly, a few who are not) have taken to traipsing around the English countryside throughout July and August to perform at the likes of Glastonbury, Camp Bestival, The Big Chill and Port Eliot. These can be nerve-wracking events, but, weather-permitting (ie, rain) they can also present an exhilarating opportunity to perform in front of large, captive crowds and feel - whisper it quietly - just a little bit like a popstar.
Perhaps the most successful of these poetry stages is at the Latitude festival - the 'largest poetry event in Europe' apparently - which is programmed by the extraordinary and energetic Luke Wright.
At Latitude, I stood outside the heaving tent with some of my favourite poets - Charlie Dark, Francesca Beard and Aoife Mannix. As the crowd whooped, we discussed child care, who follows who on Twitter and the perils of sleeping under canvas. It wasn't, truth be told, very rock 'n' roll.
Telegraph: Roger McGough interview
Luke Wright's site
Charlie Dark's MySpace page
Francesca Beard online
Aoife Mannix's site