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The State of Poetry and Poetry Criticism

Added on June 30, 2020. Download this resource

The Ledbury Poetry Critics 2020 annual report on race and poetry was published on 25 June 2020.

Since the 2017 launch of the Ledbury Poetry Critics programme (at University of Liverpool’s Centre for New and International Writing) clear progress has been made in increasing the diversity of poetry reviewing. Surveying over thirty UK poetry magazines and newspapers from 2009 to 2019, the quantitative success of Ledbury Critics is profoundly clear: although reviews by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicity (BAME) critics account for only 5.57% of all reviews over the ten-year period (6,804), over half of all these reviews by BAME critics were written since 2017 (201 of 391 total). Put another way, since the Ledbury Critics programme was founded criticism by non-white poetry reviewers has doubled.

This remarkable achievement may be statistically small compared to the still considerable imbalances that persist—but this exponential increase demonstrates that there is a surfeit of highly skilled BAME poetry critics. However, implementing lasting, longer-term structural change is complex and requires a shared belief in equality among commissioning editors, critics and indeed readers of poetry and reviews. Three years on, it is still found that resistance or indifference to inclusivity remains in certain reviewing platforms. At some newspapers and magazines, white writers and editors at all levels replicate and reinforce the racial power structures that keep UK and Irish poetry and its critical culture white, either by choice or by failing to interrogate their commissioning and editorial practices.

With the move towards more qualitative measures of how race and reviewing co-exist in UK and Irish poetry, it is hoped that it is not empty optimism to start looking toward wider social and structural change in the future through an expansion of what constitutes a poetry ‘review’.

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