More poetry please

Rhys David reports on an initiative aimed at bridging the gap between poets and the public

As we all know, Wales is a land of poetry as well as song, its practitioners responsible for some of our best writing in English as well as Welsh. But how easy is it for members of the public – many of whom will probably have had little exposure to poetry since school – to hear modern work? There are poetry readings in pubs and other venues across Wales and the really dedicated can find books of poetry in specialist bookshops and on websites. Yet, for the most part this is a world which passes people by yet could add immeasurably to their well-being and happiness.

All this is about to change. The H’mm Foundation, the name inspired by a poetry collection by R.S. Thomas entitled H’m, is aiming to bridge the gap between poets and people by bringing modern verse into the workplace. The foundation has already secured the support of more than a dozen well-known Welsh and English language poets in Wales, including the national poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, Jon Gower, Nigel Jenkins and Menna Elfyn.

The foundation will be launched formally on 7 December on the Glanfa Stage at the Wales Millennium Centre when leading poets will read their work in an evening of words and music. It is hoped this will encourage Welsh companies to sign up with the foundation to provide a platform for poets’ work.

They will do this by welcoming one or more of the poets into their workplaces to give readings and possibly short presentations on themes of interest. The poet or poets could be brought in for a one-off event, possibly a Christmas or other celebration such as the winning of an award or the meeting of special targets, or they could be offered a year’s incumbency as the company bard.

Depending on the type of arrangement agreed, the appointed poet could also advise on aspects of the company’s own written output. They could present their work in staff restaurants, in after-work events or whenever or wherever the company thought most suitable.

The initiative has had an informal outing at three recent IWA conferences. At our National Broadcasting conference in early October the audience heard a five-minute, lively presentation from the Porthcawl-based poet Robert Minhinnick. A week later the Swansea poet Dave Hughes addressed the IWA’s Youth Justice conference in Cardiff. And a week ago Merthyr poet Mike Jenkins enlivened the IWA’s city region conference, aimed at bringing Cardiff into a closer relationship with its Valleys hinterland. On all three occasions the poets received a warm response from delegates, no doubt welcoming some light, if occasionally serious relief.

The man behind the idea, Welsh businessman Ali Anwar, founder of CadCentreUK, the IT training provider, has his own deep interest in poets and poetry. “A poetry reading in the workplace can add immeasurably to the well being and happiness of staff,” he says.

Involvement in the scheme will cost participating companies only modest sums. A few hundred pounds for a session and a negotiated fee for a longer and deeper relationship is all it would amount to. The poets’ involvement would be fitted in around their normal jobs. While involved with the participating business the poet’s relationship would be with that business and not with the foundation itself, which would act merely as an enabler and intermediary.

Companies taking part in the scheme, particularly those at the very start, will gain valuable publicity as a forward thinking company with interests extending well beyond pure profitability, Ali Anwar says. Just as importantly, participation will have benefits for staff. It will project a positive image of a progressive business to potential employees and offer existing employees additional reasons for feeling good about the organisation within which they work.

Funding to set up the scheme has been provided by Ali and this will cover the cost of the website and initial administration. Companies interested in participating should contact: [email protected]

Rhys David is a trustee of the IWA.

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