Here’s my (thumbed) copy of 154, published by Live Canon, whose poetry competition closes in *looks at calendar* three days’ time! Ah, so much to unravel! Live Canon are not actually a poetry publisher per se; they are an acting ensemble who perform poetry theatrically. Part of the prize for being shortlisted in their competition is to see your work performed by them live on-stage at the prizegiving ceremony. In fact, the prizegiving ceremony is essentially a public performance of top-rated poems with a winner crowned in the closing moments. I’ve attended twice, though I’ve never been shortlisted myself, and found it a refreshing alternative to poets performing their own work. There’s a strange, bubbly kind of curmudgeonliness directed by poets towards actors-reading-poetry, in part because it’s sometimes used as a cheap ploy for attention (“Say! That’s the Hound out of Game of Thrones reading Ted Hughes! Now I like Ted Hughes!”) at the cost of the integrity of the poem itself. When the Forward Prize readings in 2014 were staged with celebrity actors brought on to ham their way through the shortlisted poems, there was a sense in which the deserving poets were being denied their moment in the spotlight.
But outside of publicity stunts, there’s really no reason why we can’t have both variations. Actors-reading-poems doesn’t always work, but then, neither does poets-reading-poems.
Initially, Live Canon only published the competition shortlistees, I believe, in anthology form, but in the last year they’ve started producing unique collaborative book projects, usually linked to a seasonal event or time-appropriate theme. 154, for example, was published around the time of Shakespeare’s birthday, and paired with a day-long live performance of each of Shakespeare’s sonnets, followed by a contemporary reply or take on them by a modern poet, staged at the V&A. Needless to say, these were hugely varied and lots of fun.
I also contributed to their Christmas anthology, New Poems for Christmas, along with Kirsty. We sent them our ‘Stocking Filler’ poems from the previous year’s Sidekick advent calendar. So, uh, there’s a poem in there that adoringly compares a toy soldier to a dildo.
As with Laudanum (see previous post) and the Emma Press (see many previous posts), I feel really well vindicated by Live Canon’s enterprise and their efforts, because I’m all about the anthology/collaborative book form as a major form for poetry in the 21st century. I expect we’ll see the major presses start to take on the form with even more appetite over the next few years.