The Live Canon poetry competition, open to all ages and with a special prize for a poet who lives, studies or works in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, is set to close for entries on Monday 8 July.
The origins of the competition can be found ten years ago when a young creative by the name of Helen Eastman approached James Haddrell – artistic and executive director at Greenwich Theatre – with the idea of launching a performance poetry initiative. Since then the company that emerged, Live Canon, has gone on to enjoy fantastic success, performing at festivals all over the UK and around the world, and publishing an annual anthology of the poems shortlisted in the competition.
“We started the competition as an important way of engaging with new and emerging poets,” said Helen. “As well as the anthology we have an event at Greenwich Theatre where the actors from the Live Canon ensemble perform the shortlisted poems.
“It’s always a complete highlight of our year – a really joyful occasion. We’ve always awarded the Borough Prize to someone who lives, works or studies in Greenwich, to celebrate all the talent in our local community – of which there is loads!
“When Live Canon started we were just a tiny group wanting to get poetry on to stage, literally keeping the canon live. After ten years we now run the Live Canon ensemble, the publishing press, outreach in schools and libraries, a Youtube channel and lots of poetry events in collaboration with other organisations and artforms.”
Have any local poets gone on to make a living out of their poetry? “N.J. Hynes, who won our first ever collection competition, is a wonderful local poet,” said Linda. “She’s been poet in residence at Greenwich station and recently wrote a poem to launch the new local Maritime Radio. And yes, she’s a full-time poet and it’s been amazing to see her work develop.
“It’s pretty tough making a living out of poetry though. Most writers also teach or lecture, or write in other genres. One of the local poets we’ve published is a barrister when he’s not writing!”
Does one poem stick in Helen’s head from the past ten years? “Wow,” she said, “So many. I’m going to say Aileen La Tourette’s ‘Diving Horse’, which won our competition in 2016. You can watch it performed by actress Danielle Bird on Youtube here.”
Over the years Helen has seen Live Canon become an important part of people’s lives. “It feels like a family of writers, performers, our regular audiences… and the just plain curious. We also offer some online/correspondence courses, which form online communities for people who find it hard to get to actual events. I’m pleased we have been able to make that work. I think we are managing to make poetry an active, interesting part of people’s lives. With a lot of fun.”
Did she envisage Live Canon becoming so successful? “No way. I thought it was just a little project for a few months,” said Helen. “It’s really unbelievable that it’s still going after ten years. We’ve had the privilege of making work at venues around the world from Abbey Road to Broadway. No one saw that coming!
“Greenwich Theatre has been absolutely essential – from taking a chance on the idea in the first place and programming poetry performances in the theatre to hosting launches and awards, and giving us office space as an associate company.
“For the first five years while we found our feet they gave us continuous advice and support. There’s just no way Live Canon would have survived and thrived without the theatre’s backing. And it’s an amazing space to perform poetry. The acoustics are fabulous!”
Click here to find out more and enter the competition.