I once read a call for submissions to a young poets anthology that required all poets to have been born since 1970.
People born since 1970 are legally allowed to be grandparents; they remember the fall of the Berlin Wall; they were alive when John Lennon and Bob Marley died. I'm not saying they're old, per se, but calling them 'young poets' seems to rather miss the point. If young poets are 42-year-olds, then the established poets that are thrust into the public eye and into the school books of kids are still no further from the dusty cliché of poetry than they ever were. And I, for one, am sick of it.
Every time I go to a poetry gig, every time I host a night, every time I look to see who won a slam I see younger and younger talent coming through and lighting up stages. By young, I don't mean 40-year-olds, I mean 18-year-olds; people only just old enough to be in the venue itself, let alone capturing it in enraptured silence.
Ask anyone who considers poetry to be more than Wordsworth who the current poets they admire are and you'd be hard pushed to find anyone as old as 40. Even the esteemed and established likes of Aisle 16 are only just turning 30. So why do so many publishers insist on publishing 'Young Poet' anthologies that, quite simply, don't feature young poets?
This is where Burning Eye Books stepped in. The CEO, Clive Birnie, set out with a vision to start publishing performance poets, and as part of that vision he wanted to publish an anthology of young poets who could truly be classified as such. He approached Jack Dean and I to edit this and, one year down the line, we've just launched it.
The reason I will harp on about this book isn't because of my involvement in it -- though that has been an honour and a privilege -- but because it features some of the poets who I watch on stage and think, "wow, that person is incredible and they're only just starting out."
That is what brings us here. Not to raise the flag of performance poetry in a Stage versus Page war, but to give another side to the story; to offer up the voices of people who have won acclaim from audiences before critics, and from the people who actually got to experience their talent first hand and understand why they are so important.
It contains 21 poets who Jack and I managed to convince that taking their work and putting it a book was as exciting a prospect as we found it. Luckily for us, they bought it too. What came about from this is an alternative book of young poets that will switch people on to what is happening in poetry that they might not know about. If a poetry fan picks up this book they will be hit with poems unlike any others and, upon reading about the poets, they will be able to go and see these energetic young poets perform these very poems and light them up. That is something so exciting for poetry; to be getting new faces into audiences with the desire to learn more about the surge in performers and poets that is going on just below the surface.
This National Poetry Day the theme is stars. Well, without wanting to go too cliché, I'm going to bite the bullet and say that if you're looking for stars, you could do a lot worse than to read the poets in Rhyming Thunder to see who the stars are; stars that are only going to get brighter.
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