Begun in October 2007 by the then Director of the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre, Dr Rachel Buxton, the Weekly Poem initiative was set up to promote the work of independent presses and their poets.
Rachel recalls that in 2007: 'I was very keen to develop a higher profile for the Poetry Centre, but since we had no physical presence in the form of a space or room we could use and designate as "The Poetry Centre", I thought that we should develop a strong online presence, including a regular blog or similar - this would also give us a far greater reach. But I needed to think of a kind of content which would have sufficient value for the reader to want to subscribe. And then I had the idea of linking up with a range of presses, who would provide poems in return for the publicity of being part of the weekly poem project.'
Working closely with Chris Jennings in Publishing, whose technical expertise and ideas were invaluable, Rachel set up the infrastructure to support the initiative, and then contacted six to eight presses. 'We got the critical mass quite quickly', Rachel remembers. She solicited six to eight poems from a group of publishers, and then sent one out each Monday for free to anyone who signed up - a successful system which continues in exactly the same form today.
The publishers have been excellent partners and, according to Rachel, the Weekly Poem initiative 'increased the reach of the Poetry Centre significantly, and it still provides a weekly reminder to all subscribers of the Centre's existence, and generates a lot of good will - and that kind of publicity and profile is priceless. And I like to think we've brought a lot of pleasure to our readers as well.'
In the seven years since it began, the Weekly Poem has sent out over 200 poems to a list of subscribers which now numbers over 1000, and has promoted the work of more than twenty different publishers. Some of these, like Enitharmon and Anvil Press have been there from the very beginning and continue to send us their work, but the Weekly Poem has also drawn on some of the finest independent publishers in the UK and the US, such as Arc, Seren, Shearsman, BOA Editions and Copper Canyon Press, as well as relative newcomers such as CB editions and Penned in the Margins. Almost all of these poems are still available to read on the Poetry Centre's Weekly Poem.
Although the publishers always send us work by new writers, we also feature poems by better-known poets such as Isaac Rosenberg, whose 'Break of Day in the Trenches', published in an edition by Enitharmon after being rediscovered in the British Library in 1995, we featured in 2007. Subscribers have also enjoyed 'My Friend Mary Stone From Oxford Mississippi', by Lucille Clifton, published by BOA Editions in 2012, and a section from 'Smoke' by the Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio, and translated by Susan Briante.
Since the Poetry Centre is part of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Brookes, one of the aims of the Weekly Poem in recent years has been to bring readers to poems and poets not writing in English whom they would perhaps not ordinarily encounter. Weekly Poem readers have travelled the world each Monday, taking in places as far apart as Estonia (Kristiina Ehin)) and the Levant (Gabriel Levin), Mozambique (Sebastão Alba) and the Isle of Skye (J.O. Morgan). Amongst many poems in translation, Anvil sent us 'The Potter's Field' by Ivan V. Lalic, translated from the Serbian by Francis R. Jones, whilst Arc contributed the Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti's 'The Three Cypress Trees'. Enitharmon provided us with David Harsent's translation of the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos's 'The Crane Dance', and we also featured János Pilinszky's 'On a Forbidden Star', translated from the Hungarian by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri, and published by Worple Press. Sometimes these poems are posted in the original language as well as in translation, such as Amarjit Chandan's 'Who's playing', which was presented in the original Punjabi, as well as in English translation.
These poems frequently elicit comments from our readers, who have e-mailed to say that the 'emails that contain fresh new poetry on a weekly basis are great', and that they have 'been enjoying these for a few years!' One correspondent spoke for numerous others when they observed: 'I have encountered many poets I had never come across before through these posts. It is always a voyage of discovery!' Specific poems sometimes result in a cluster of e-mails: poems like the Danish writer Carsten René Nielsen's 'Photography', translated by David Keplinger and published by BOA Editions, which one reader described as 'brilliant', whilst another called it 'a remarkable piece of work'. In a similar way, the posting of Alvin Pang's 'The Burning Room' led one reader to comment that it was 'a fine, moving and thought-stimulating poem'.
The poets themselves even get in touch either directly via e-mail or via Twitter, as Polly Atkin did when she tweeted: 'I'm super chuffed to see @brookespoetry have one of mine as their #poemoftheweek', after we posted her poem 'The Glorious Fellowship of Migraineurs', a poem itself which resulted in a considerable amount of correspondence from fellow sufferers! Reading the Weekly Poem can even spark off a dialogue between our readers and the poet themselves, such as when Liz Ashworth used the American poet Matthew Zapruder's 'Letter from a Lover' as stimulus for a creative writing class in Wales. So intrigued was the class by the poem that they entered into correspondence with the poet, and Zapruder answered their questions. According to Liz, it 'was exciting because they'd never experienced anything like that - and it was useful for them to find that even famous poets are just people, too.'
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