Get with the programmer
March 9, 2009
Lilias here. We’re putting together the events programme for April into July, and as usual I’m pleading for extensions on all sides. An extra week? A couple of days? OK, would end of the day be all right? But despite a wee bit of hair-tearing and melodrama, putting the programme together is one of my favourite things. I get a little obsessive about it, interrupting Jane or Peggy or nearest victim to demand whether they think we should try to persuade X to come and read from her latest collection (what do you mean, you think travel from Alaska could be a problem?), or whether they can think of the ideal novelist to recall poetry about cockroaches for a special themed evening. Or worse, a tantalising prospect is dandled in front of us: there’s the option to invite Y, but we’d have to work out the travel, get round the fee question, and fit in with existing commitments on three continents in the same week.
Don’t think I’m alone in that, either – Fantasy Literature Programming is as much fun as Fantasy Football. More. This week, though, it really would help if I got my mind firmly onto the next stage, of definite dates, and checking start times and arrangements, and trying with Jane’s help to write descriptions of events which are irresistibly attractive and crystal clear and will fit in the available space – print costs, folks – so preferably no more than about 11 words.
Nobody ever has as much cash as they’d like for poetry programmes. Every time I think self-pityingly about how we’re on a shoestring, I end up talking to someone who’s working with half a shoestring. And also, as a literature friend often reminds me with an affectionate smack to the head, you don’t always need funding to make things happen, and sometimes you want it more to validate your ideas than to get things underway; to an extent, sometimes ingenuity and lateral thinking is more useful than a magic financial wand.
There’s no doubt that a bit of belt-tightening is necessary about the next programme – though honestly, we’re rarely guilty of extravagant behaviour at the best of times. So it seems even more important that I try to make sure that any event that will cost more than usual has the best possible chance not only of looking interesting, but of actually making lots of people throng to the library. Yesterday I idly added up the likely cost of a pet event I’d been thinking about – the likely fee, accommodation, travel and so on – then divided it by 50 (the maximum number of people we can usually squeeze into the library for a reading). Just one poet reading, and a full audience rather than a workshop-sized event. Even before taking into account the possible proportion of full-price and concession price tickets, the number made me howl and redo the sum in case the calculator was playing up. OK, we are subsidised with arts funding partly so that we don’t always have to play safe, and so that the events don’t have to make a profit or always break even, and very grateful I am for that too! But that particular pet event is staying safely in my imagination for the near future.
Honestly? So far? John Burnside and Linda Gregerson. Jen Hadfield (yep, the T S Eliot prize one). Meg Bateman with poets from India, poetry of New Zealand and – courtesy of Ryan and his Reel Iraq colleagues – Saadi Yousef, Sinan Antoon, Gulalal Nouri and Al Mozany…
Right; Jane’s handed me a first proof. Got to go.