Monday, 10 May 2010
Farewell to Creative Writing at the Art College 6
It is interesting to append here a list of the writers who came to read at the art school in my time. They came for basic rates, by personal request, some staying overnight, some having to hurry home. They usually came in two's, read for half an hour each, answered questions and had a drink. The list (and I will link them all) comprises:
That is without listing those whom I've already mentioned: Peter Scupham, Elspeth Barker, Patricia Debney, etc.
It is a rather extraordinary list. In fact it is literary history. I may have forgotten one or two writers. I am going by memory but am 99.99% sure of those names and have checked through editions of Birdsuit.
The readings were free, mostly in the lecture theatre. Was the lecture theatre full? No, it wasn't. Did all the students from our degree attend? No, they didn't. There wasn't a group email system. I made the posters, photocopied them, then ran round the various buildings putting them up with blue-tack or drawing pin or sticky tape. The class looked at a poem or two by whoever was coming, the week before they came. People take these things for granted. Then a new generation of students appear and don't know the things ever existed.
As for the art school, it barely took notice of them. It allowed us six poets a year for a few years, then four, then eventually none. It was slow strangulation. It wasn't the fees. The fees never rose. The writers generally gave us a piece or two for the annual book anthology, Birdsuit (various copies of which can sometimes be found for sale on the net). They charged us nothing for it.
I'm not sure now at what point the visiting writers were stopped. But everything was working to that end: the budget, the numbers, the advertising (they eventually stopped listing the names of the tutors on the website for fear of falling foul of the data protection act, so, by a brilliant stroke, no one applying for the course knew anything about its record or who was teaching on it), and the sheer indifference and neglect.
One year in the early 2000's I persuaded the Research Committee to fund a resident writer. Amazingly, they produced £5,000 for the purpose. The well-known poet, editor, and ex-external examiner, Christopher Reid, was appointed. But the college neglected to provide a room, a desk, a computer terminal, heating, decoration, in fact anything. Eventually we found a store-room and an old computer. Chris provided his own coat. He did a reading, he attended classes, he saw individual students, he edited Birdsuit and brought in work from people like August Kleinzahler and Alfred Brendel. He was there one day a week. C. and I offered him weekly accommodation. He reciprocated by good conversation and cooking a splendid meal. The principal of the college didn't come to any event he attended or organised. As a matter of courtesy I tried to arrange a meeting between the principal and Chris. The principal was not available.
The following term, when Chris finished, a fund-raising manager took the room over. It was immediately carpeted, painted, supplied with brand new furniture and the best computer possible. He stayed there a term, then, because the room was a transit room to another smaller store (a detail they somehow failed to consider) he asked to move. He was then given my room.
What was my fate? I was moved into the room that had been his, the carpeted, curtained, painted suite that he had occupied, and which had been the scrappy old store-room that had accommodated the college's one and only resident writer. I didn't get the computer of course. I did however get the hint.