March 2019 will see Nottingham searching for its second Young Poet Laureate. When the first was chosen, on National Poetry Day 2017, the questions was asked of her ‘why does Nottingham need a Young Poet Laureate?’ Georgina Wilding has spent the time in-between then and now answering that question, with indefatigable energy and immense talent.
Georgina, like her work, is grounded and built in Nottingham. Whip smart and a bit wicked – her work is searingly honest, multi-layered and meaningful. Evidence, if you need it, is in the gut punch of a poem An Auntie at a Birthday Party which was written as a commission for the Royal Shakespeare Company, dealing with the themes of generation gaps, domestic violence and love.
Georgina onstage with Gillian Clarke, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay and Imtiaz Dhaker
It’s been a whirlwind year of performances, appearances, running workshops, doing interviews and writing, sharing stages with (among many others) Carol Ann Duffy and Imtiaz Dhaker, and performing in Poland and Granada. In 2019, she will hand the reigns over to the next Young Laureate, but Georgina is just getting started…
You’re coming to the end of your year as Young Poet Laureate for Nottingham. You’ve had a busy year. What have been the highlights?
So much has happened that I feel proud to have been involved in, but I suppose the real stand out moments in my memory are probably performing in Granada for World Poetry Day, and joining a press conference with the Mayor there. He
The UNESCO World Poetry Day in Granada
was such a charming character, and the UNESCO team in Granada are some of the most kind and funny people I’ve worked with yet!
I really enjoyed my trip to Krakow for the Off Milosz poetry festival too. I was honoured to be invited along to a literary awards evening, and seeing the prize winners hear their names called and crumble with pride really lit my soul on fire – all at once I felt incredibly proud for these people I had never met, and also a burning desire to have my name called for such an award, for a collection of my own work one day. It was great performing there in Krakow too, because I got to meet poets from all over the globe who have absolutely cemented their place in my heart now. Our UNESCO network is such an invaluable thing, really.
Closer to home, I was lucky enough to be invited to support the Shore-to-Shore gig where Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Gillian Clarke and Imtiaz Dhaker were touring their work in support of indie bookshops. That was a pretty humbling experience; when the invite to perform came to me I almost choked on my tea! Being on stage and sharing my work with four incredibly powerful female voices in poetry really made me feel as though the entirety of womanhood could stand up and be counted. Also on the topic of gigs, I got to perform alongside Roger McGough at Nottingham Poetry Festival and he told me he thought I was cool, so I can pretty much die happy now.
I’ve had some great commission requests come in, too, which has led to me writing poems for organisations such as The Royal Shakespeare Company – again, an invite that made my belly flip! You can view the finished piece and accompanying blog here, if you like.
I’ve also been running workshops for the likes of Left Lion Magazine and Nottingham Together. I’ve found the work that I’ve done within our communities incredibly rewarding, and it’s great when projects culminate in something concrete for everyone to look back on. With that particular project, I ran 6 workshops across Nottingham with poet and Left Lion editor Bridie Squires, and gathered up all the participants’ poems to create this Sound of Music pastiche, “Our Nottingham Things”.
And the lowlights?
Tricky. There is definitely both sexism and elitism deeply embedded in some individuals and organisations within our literary community, which was an incredibly disappointing find along the way.
I’ve also felt being YPL quite a learning curve because you’re often invited to events where you have to discuss not just your work but yourself, your journey and your influences. Though I think it’s important to be transparent, actually doing so can knock you a little off kilter. I’ve had a gentleman approach me after an ‘in conversation’ event I was talking for, and explain to me that he was discussing my working class roots as I spoke. He thought that, although some people can “brand themselves” working class to gain work (apparently), he had decided that I was genuine and gave his permission for me to carry on (what a relief!)
I’ve learnt that the divide between “page” and “stage” poetry is still very much present and accounted for, too. Though I can’t tell you how proud I am that “spoken word poet” Danez Smith has just won the Forward Prize for best poetry with their collection “don’t call us dead.” Seeing that really gave me hope that, perhaps, there is a Venn diagram of poets crossing said divide and working to eliminate it. I hope that all of us in our respective camps keep fighting the good fight, and work to better educate each other, represent diversity, and collaborate as much as we can in the industry.
Georgina with Roger McGough
What’s next for you?
Earlier I touched on my goal of becoming a published poet. I’m not sure why this feels so important to me now, as I’ve spent the last 6 or so years of my career very happily bouncing from stage to stage. In my time as poet laureate I’ve been further immersed into the literary scene, and despite desperately trying to trample feelings of imposter syndrome, I have found myself in many a room looking around to find someone else I can identify with, and struggling. Working class women in publishing/poetry/literary circles are hard to find. There are so many stories yet to be told, and I think discovering that is really something that is driving this new goal of mine. I want to be able to learn more and improve my work in the coming years, so that I feel I can send it off to publishers in the hopes of being able to release a debut collection of my own. Currently, two incredible poets, Caroline Bird and Roger Robinson, are mentoring me towards achieving that publication goal. I think that means that this time next year I’ll be squirrelling away in libraries and coffee shops more than anything else, so if anyone out there is looking for a writing buddy to get their heads down with, you know who to call!
Although, saying that, I have the trip of a lifetime coming up in January 2019! Every year, Jaipur, India, holds its very own literature festival, and I’ve been desperate to go and find out what it’s all about. Earlier in the year I decided I wanted to go and listen to the work of the poets reading there, interview some local publishers about their taste and styles, and hopefully set up a collaboration between Notts and Jaipur for the future. So, I submitted a funding bid to Arts Council England, and my application has been accepted! I am beyond excited to take inspiration from somewhere that feels so exotic in comparison to my Arnold-girl norm, and I’m desperate to see if I can pick up any difference in the poetic-eye-for-detail across cultures. I’d really like to try and film a DIY documentary whilst over there, but I’m not sure if that’s a little too ambitious!
There are also some incredible new projects set to hit Nottingham in the next year, but I’ve been embargoed on the lot of them, so you’ll have to watch this space!
We talk a lot at Writing East Midlands about losing talent to London. Is it important to you to be in the East Midlands?
I agree that migration to London is a shared problem across the Midlands. Though, I’ve definitely felt the pull to London myself at numerous times in my life, especially recently as I’ve been looking for some more poetic education. The majority of poetry-specific evening classes, mentored groups, programmes and-so-on seem to reside in London at the minute, and that’s really difficult to see. However, it’s sort of the same reason I want to stay here and fight for what we need. It’s so apparent that we need more funding in Nottingham – across almost every industry too, but let’s focus on poetry for poet’s sake.
I see poetry so often being lumped in aside other genres – be it in degree studies, creative writing evening groups and so on, but we really need to work on setting up poetry specific places – we absolutely have the audience for it. That’s also why I set up Mud Press when I graduated. Mud is a publishing house that will only ever represent poetry – how many of those are left?
I understand that to further my career as a poet I absolutely have to travel, and I’m not opposed to heading into London – or any other UK city for that matter – to work. But, I really believe that Nottingham has so much untapped potential, and we just need some outsider help. No matter where my career might take me, I want to ensure that I’m always a representative of Nottingham, and that if I can help, I will help. A perfect example of this is Henry Normal. He gives back to Nottingham in leaps and bounds, what with setting up Nottingham Poetry Festival, becoming City Art’s first ever patron and much more. If I can have even a quarter of his success and still give back to my community I would be impeccably proud.
Do you find that there are limitations to what you can achieve in Nottingham?
That’s a difficult question because part of me is a big believer in defying the odds and making your own luck. My first job in the publishing industry was with Jenny Swann and Di Slaney of Candlestick Press, which I got by emailing on a whim and offering to clean the tables and make the teas, if only for a chance to earn a wage whilst seeing inside the world of publishing poetry. However, as I mentioned previously, I do feel like I’m personally struggling to find a place in Notts where I can go to learn how to write better. Also, what would I be doing if we hadn’t been granted the title of becoming a UNESCO City of Literature, with Sandeep Mahal at the helm of devising a laureateship programme? I think it’d have taken me a lot longer to make the connections I have without that programme.
And I know it’s not just us poets, either. I have friends with high end qualifications, experience, and talent in music, art, film, production, and almost all of them have gone to London because put simply, that’s where the jobs are.
I wonder if our high-street could work harder to employ local talent, or even to run short-term programmes in store? I’ve seen retailers such as Republic (fashion) hire DJ’s to play live sets on their shop floors. Maybe Specsavers could have an artist in residence, sketching portraits of customers in their shiny new frames, or Viccy Centre could employ a gaggle of local bands to play in the foyer on rotation. I don’t know, I just feel like if you look to cities such as Leeds, who are really trying to boost their creative economy with the help of corporate business, we could learn a lot.
If you could change one thing about the poetry scene in the East Midlands, what would it be?
I’d make sure we had easier, more varied access to specialised education outside of degrees or learning for qualification’s sake. I’d also like to see more of us having access to mentors. It’s very easy to look up to the writers we admire and feel as though they’re playing in a totally different field to us, and that we have no idea how to access it. If we only had the infrastructure in place to financially support mentors for our writers, I think we’d see a huge difference in the variety of the literature that comes out of the UK in the next decade. God knows we’ll need it with everything that’s going on in the political arena right now. It seems to me that it’s the artists who are here to stand and speak for the people, and we’ll be relying on them to document what’s coming now more than ever.
If you could write your future autobiography in one line, what would it say about the next 10 years?“With her PhD in poetry and women’s studies, Dr Georgina Wilding is announced winner of this years TS Elliot Prize for her debut collection ‘some-clever-title-that-hasn’t-been-born-yet’, amidst news of her internationally stocked publication house, Mud Press, being crowned most exciting Indie Press of the century.” – I mean, if you’re gonna go for it, go for it, right?