04 June 2009

Poetry Runway: Promoting Poetry, One Contestant At A Time

UPDATE: As Jack Ross has pointed out (see the comments), Project Poetry is a much better title than Poetry Runway.

I went to Palmerston North yesterday to read in the Stand Up Poetry series at the very impressive Palmerston North City Library. I really enjoyed myself: I had a great time reading to an appreciative audience, sold plenty of books, had a lovely dinner before the event and lengthy pub discussions about poetry afterwards, and enjoyed meeting lots of new people and some poets I'd only met virtually before, including series MC Helen Lehndorf and my overnight host, Tim Upperton.

And it was on the way home from Palmerston North that the idea came to me. If reality TV shows could work for modelling (America's Next Top Model), fashion (Project Runway), and the chance to enjoy the sexual attentions of Brett Michaels (Rock of Love), then why not a similar show for poetry? Because Project Runway is the only one of those shows I actually like, and because I have no imagination, I think it should be called Poetry Runway.

Here's the set-up: fifteen arriving poets are selected to enter the competition, under the wise mentorship of a debonair poetry expert (Billy Collins, perhaps, or Margaret Atwood, or, if available, T. S. Eliot). Each week, they must complete a poetry challenge - a pantoum, a villanelle, a book-length encomium to Elizabeth the First - and each week, they must present themselves to the judges (obviously, the panel must be chaired by a supermodel, but the other members could be distinguished poets). Each week, one poet will be eliminated.

For three months, weekly at 8.30pm, we inhabit these poets' lives. We see them triumphant, we see them despairing, we see the tears of each eliminated poet as they are given ten minutes to return to the workroom and pack away their laptop and thesaurus. We get up close and personal with the bitchy and the noble; we see the proud humbled and the meek exalted.

For the lucky winner, the rewards are many: a year-long poetry residency at a distinguished Midwestern university, guaranteed publication of their next collection, possession of the final Humvee to roll off the assembly line, and a seven-page spread in Elle magazine. But first, the top three contestants must face the ultimate challenge: putting on a half-hour poetry show at New York Poetry Week while the city's leading poets chatter obliviously and clink their glasses.

Poetry fever would grip the world. Slim volumes would sell like slim hot cakes. Watercooler conversations would revolve around Heid Klum's harsh comments on the use of ampersands. The show would be franchised, and here in New Zealand we'd all get to compete for a brand new bus pass and a chance to fall over in front of Jason Gunn.

I have the vision. All I need now is a television producer with a lot of money and very little common sense. Are you out there?

Portions of this blog post not affecting the outcome have been removed in consultation with the producers.

15 comments:

Meliors Simms said...

Oh, it's not often I am drawn to that awful acronym, but truly Tim, I did LOL reading this post. I would watch Poetry Runway, and as always with reality tv, be thankful that I am not desperate enough to crave such debasement for myself.

Meliors Simms said...

still sniggering

Tim Jones said...

Listen to them, the sniggerers of the night. What music they make!

Helen Rickerby said...

I. Love. This. Idea.

I'd totally watch it. Especially the US original show. The NZ show would be a bit of a cheap knock-off, and while I'd watch it, I'd hate myself a little bit for doing so.

showyourworkings said...

I love this. I was just saying this week that our MA class feels like project runway minus the boot-offs.

Kay said...

That's funny ... I am also a fan of Project Runway and think you should really push for this Poetry Runway idea ... I also enjoy Survivor ... do you think a Poetry Survivor would be a go-er?

Tim Jones said...

I don't like Survivor as much ... but if it was Poetry Survivor, in what remote part of the world should it be hosted? Poetry Survivor The Snares sounds promising, but I fear for the birdlife.

Ross Brighton said...

I'm not sure if the NZ show would be a knock-off, it might be better. Poetry here, in my opinion, is far less cliquish than in, for instance, the states - witness the divisiveness of Ron Silliman's us (experimental) vs them (mainstream) attitude.

Here we have Michele Leggott, an experimental poet, becoming laureate, with no complaints.

Tim Jones said...

Good point, Ross. I think that there are some cliques in poetry here, but they don't divide along technical or stylistic lines - more to do with who publishes whom.

I hope your launch on Friday goes well!

Ross Brighton said...

Point taken. In Twenty Contemporary NZ Poets, Of the 58 books credited nearly half (25, or 43%) are published by VUP, 18 (31%) by AUP and a measly 11 by small-press publishers (the others are 1 by Otago, one by Oxford and a Manhire poem from the London Review of Books).
My review is available here:
http://ignoretheventriloquists.blogspot.com/2009/04/politics-of-anthologising.html

Tim Jones said...

I should do the same exercise for Voyagers, but off the top of my head, AUP is well represented but VUP not: that has a lot more to do with who was willing to be included than with whose work we wished to include.

The VUP/AUP dominance of the anthology you reviewed (really well-written review, by the way) is maintained in recent Montana Poetry Award finalists - see recent discussions about the awards on Joanna Preston's blog: http://jopre.wordpress.com/

I should say here that I like a lot of the books VUP and AUP produce, and I'm not saying that these books are unworthy of being finalists - I think The Lakes of Mars, for example, is a fine collection. The problem is that the gatekeepers of prizes and anthologies often appear to be wearing rather large blinkers, VUP inscribed on one, AUP on the other.

Ross Brighton said...

I'm a fan of a lot of work coming out of AUP, Michele has been a formative influence on my work, and I really like Michael Harlow, Tusiata Avia and Selina Tusitala Marsh (I've got a review of Fast Talking PI on my blog as well). A cursory look through Chris Price's latest makes it look very promising, and I'm also a beg Ian Wedde fan. I Haven't read the Orsman, but will have to look into it.
With regards to VUP i can't say I'm very enthused. They do release some good stuff, but so much of it leaves me cold. All I've got on my shelf is two Bernadette Hall titles, and Keri Hulme's Lost Possessions. I did go to school with Ele Catton, so should read The Rehearsal, but haven't got around to it. As you can probably guess I'm far more of a poetry boy than a prose one.

Tim Upperton said...

Hi Tim. A great pleasure to have you read here in Palmerston North. I enjoyed the conversation afterwards, too. Hope to see you at the BNZP reading at Te Papa on 20 July.

Best wishes,
Tim

Tim Jones said...

I'm looking forward to being there, Tim, if we aren't all in quarantine by then! And I haven't forgotten about that interview - will be in touch.

Tim Jones said...

It was great to have this proposal picked up on by the Huffington Post, but it turns out I'm hardly the first to have this idea - see this 2006 post by Seattle poet Peter Pereira:

http://thevirtualworld.blogspot.com/2006/09/poetry-runway-season-three.html