While a doctoral candidate at the University of Nottingham, I found myself longing to contribute to the cultural and literary life of the city, and to build a bridge between the community outside the university and the community within that institution. The Nottingham Poetry Series (NPS) was what I came up with. I figured that a multifaceted approach would both draw and serve the greatest number of people, so from the start the NPS included a reading series (three times per year, three readers per evening), workshops, and community events such as a Big Read-style city-wide poetry club.
The NPS began in 2009 and carried on until I left England in 2012. The series hosted a dozen readings, several events open to broad participation, ten workshops, and a conference. The conference, which took Lucille Clifton’s declaration “I am an American poet: this is American poetry” as its title, welcomed nearly fifty writers to Nottingham for a week in July. Six poets from the US gave workshops, craft talks, and readings, and all the participants camped out in my backyard, eating soup and bread volunteers and I cooked in my kitchen. The conference was underwritten by in-kind support from local businesses, a grant from the local council’s art fund, and a grant from Arts Council England.
Leading up to the conference as well as following it, workshops were the backbone of the NPS for me. I designed and taught ten courses of two to six weeks in length. These were for adult students, most of whom had a little to some experience writing. It was one of the best things I’ve ever gotten to do to work with a number of these students intensely, both in courses and one-on-one, over the course of three years. In the months before I left the UK, I taught a final course to several advanced students. Each student prepared a book-length collection of poetry and provided substantial editorial feedback to her peers. We finished the NPS with a reading by these students and I felt really touched that the work I’d started three years prior would continue in theirs.