Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sunday Things

James Lasdun won the national short story prize. He's a good short story writer and poet, although frightfully patrician at times. You can usually pick up his collection The Silver Age, reasonably cheaply, and I'd recommend it, though as you can see, it came out in 1985, so although an undervalued writer in many ways, he's no new kid on the block(he's undervalued on the web as well, a mere stub at Wikipedia, and his publisher only barely acknowledges his existence, but I found a very good recent interview from Identity Theory) But these things take time; and I was reminded of that last night, at a very successful Verberate as part of the Chorlton Arts Festival. In a room overlooking the quiet of a bowling green it was quite easy to close your eyes in quiet comtemplation, only to be drawn back to the room by the sparkiness of the performers. I enjoyed the whole night; and the catholic nature of the event - fiction, poetry and music - is part of its appeal to me. Yet, this event, like so many others in Manchester is in some way an offshoot of the city's creative writing courses - mainly the MMU one now - in that without a publishing industry as such, there are a large number of writers studying and writing in the city at any one time, and an event like this sees graduate students from the last ten years of courses, some tutoring, some writing plays and poetry, a few published, a few self-publishing. It made me wonder whether, though its valuable to go on one of these courses, universities - particularly in the UK - might be the very worst places to let literature flourish. It seems that the things university's could provide: a magazine and events culture (similar to American universities, and in the UK, UEA), are almost absent. I would guess that the creative writing courses are net contributors to the university's finances rather than taking from it - and that whatever money they do spend is probably on high profile names as a "draw". At least the MMU backs up its collection of quality poets, Carole Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage and Jeffery Wainwright, with having a poetry MA, but too often you've got poets taking courses in fiction - when its the rare example - James Lasdun for instance, of Jackie Kay - who makes both work. And, inevitably, people need to make a living. Outside of arts council largesse, or university tenure, I guess we can move quicker, more imaginatively; but until we provide a real alternative - as I think Verberate and some of the magazines are beginning to do - the universities will be the main place where literary culture in this country flourishes; probably, I fear, to its detriment.

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