Ledbury Poetry Critics to expand its groundbreaking mentorship programme

Since Ledbury Poetry Critics launched its first year-long intensive mentorship programme in 2017 recruiting and mentoring 12 critics of colour, it has been responsible for increasing the visibility of poets and critics of colour. The programme was founded by Sandeep Parmar and Sarah Howe with support from Ledbury Poetry Festival. They have now been joined by co-organisers Vidyan Ravinthiran, Janine Bradbury and Alycia Pirmohamed. Dave Coates will continue his invaluable statistical work for Ledbury Critics in 2021.

Its latest annual report, released in June 2020, found that since the Ledbury Poetry Critics programme was founded, the percentage of poetry criticism by reviewers of colour in the UK press had more than doubled. Graduates of the programme are now be found in positions of influence across the UK media, whilst Ledbury Critic Mary Jean Chan became first ever poet of colour to win the Costa Prize for Poetry in 2020.

The Ledbury Poetry Critics programme has now been awarded funding by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to expand as they set a long-term goal that more critics of colour should publish reviews and take up editorial positions—a professional level that remains overwhelmingly white.

The expanded network of critics will participate via a series of free public panel events, workshops and masterclasses in 2021. These will be hosted by Ledbury Poetry Critics partner organisations: the London Review of Books, the Royal Society of Literature, the Scottish BAME Writers Network, the Forward Arts Foundation, Spread the Word, Poetry Ireland and Literature Wales.

In addition, an accessible and protected database of the findings taken from the report will be made publically available to readers, critics and researchers of UK poetry culture.

Applications open on the 15th February and close on the 15th March 2021 and should be made to Sandeep Parmar Sandeep.parmar@liverpool.ac.uk

To apply, please include
– A covering letter of up to 500 words expressing your interest and any experience in poetry reviewing. In this letter, please outline why you feel you would benefit from participating in Ledbury Poetry Critics
– A brief sample review of a recent poetry collection, pamphlet or live poetry performance (by any contemporary poet) of up to 800 words. This review may be published or unpublished.

  • Emily Berry, Editor of The Poetry Review says, ‘The high standard of the work produced by the first round of Ledbury Critics gives the lie to the demeaning notion often trotted out by detractors of diversity schemes that ‘quality suffers’. In fact this scheme has been hugely enriching to poetry reviewing culture overall… reviewing culture urgently needs more of this kind of attention and input if it is to remain alive.’
  • Ledbury Poetry Critics co-founder Sarah Howe comments, ‘The immense success of the programme’s first round is a tribute to the hard work of its eight talented participants. Article by article, they are changing the culture. I hope that the gains of the last year or so won’t prove a brief comet, but a more lasting change: ultimately, it’s up to reviews editors to take up that mantle in their ongoing commissioning.’
  • Jade Cuttle, Ledbury Critic and Commissioning Editor (Arts), The Times says, ‘The Ledbury Critics Programme has been absolutely crucial to developing my credentials as a critic – I’ve been asked to write for publications like the Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, The Poetry Review and many others as a direct result of being selected for this brilliant scheme. The intensive workshops, one-to-one mentorship and critical feedback has really helped to hone my craft, and in ways that reach beyond the proclaimed eight-month duration by developing long-term professional relations.’
  • Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, says, ‘Learning about our heritage and culture and participating in the arts can deepen our perception of our history and of ourselves. The EDI Engagement Fellowships will enable researchers to connect their scholarship with diverse communities across the UK and bring about positive change. Arts and humanities research has tremendous potential to help people to embrace different viewpoints and to build a fairer, more inclusive society.’

Partner Organisations and Mentors
2021 Partner organisations: London Review of Books, Royal Society of Literature, Scottish BAME Writers Network, Spread the Word, Literature Wales, Forward Arts Foundation and Poetry Ireland.

2021 Mentors: Sandeep Parmar, Sarah Howe, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Jane Yeh, Will Harris, Jay Ying, Vahni Capildeo, Kit Fan, Nisha Ramayya, Jeremy Noel-Tod, Dzifa Benson, Jade Cuttle, Dave Coates, Khairani Barokka, Leo Boix and Seán Hewitt.

The Programme and Application Process:

Over the course of the Ledbury Poetry Critics scheme, you will be assigned a poetry critic mentor with experience reviewing for national journals, magazines (print and online) and broadsheet newspapers. You may already be an emerging critic with a few published reviews, have some or no critical or academic background, or you might be strongly committed to becoming a poetry critic in the very near future and keen to explore issues of diversity in British poetry.

The scheme involves:

  • At least five one-to-one mentorship meetings (to be conducted virtually) with one of our mentors
  • Critical feedback on the writing of poetry criticism and on a poetry review between April 2021 and December 2021. These reviews will be pitched to the editors of the Times Literary Supplement and The Poetry School
  • The opportunity to build a community with other critics of colour through informal virtual meet-ups and the scheme’s “buddy system”
  • Future advancement opportunities, such as undertaking one of LPC’s 10 Editor-in-Residence positions across our partner publications or becoming an LPC mentor
  • An online resource library where critics can share information

Please note that this scheme is unfortunately only open to poets/critics resident in the UK. Travel and accommodation as well as costs associated with mentorship and residency/events are entirely covered. For applicants with additional accessibility requirements, or whose participation would be hampered without financial aid, the Ledbury Critics programme is pleased to offer additional funding in the event of their successful application.

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Ledbury Poetry Critics Report