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Why We Built CAMPUS: A Foreword from our Director

With the launch of the CAMPUS blog, I’m delighted that we can now open up the Poetry School’s CAMPUS social network for public registration.

CAMPUS is an online platform that incorporates the Poetry School’s tutor-led educational activity (online courses and workshops) and many free activities (digital poets in residence, live Q&A’s, video essays) within a larger social network for poets and poetry lovers. It also integrates a publically viewable blog into that social network, with the idea that some editorial focus will provide ballast to a community-driven platform whilst encouraging further exploration (through membership) of the network for those browsing the public blog.

CAMPUS has been built with a community of writers, readers, performers, publishers and promoters in mind.  Whether you are looking to meet other poets to share work with, in-depth writer development through courses, to share news or promote publications and events, or to access educational articles and take part in free discussion and debate; CAMPUS seeks to offer, highlight and improve the connections between these various facets of the poetry community.

The idea for CAMPUS emerged out of several observations. Firstly, we noticed that our students, whether taking online or face-to-face classes, were looking for somewhere they could continue discussions and work on poetry collaboratively outside of set class times. Students would often connect with each other on Facebook or Twitter, but the level of noise on these networks works against the idea of a supportive space where one’s own development as a writer could be taken seriously.

Secondly, whilst we knew that excellent work was taking place within the classroom, we felt the Poetry School was missing a space online that could operate as the common room, or the union bar – those places where some of the best conversations on poetry often take place. We wondered: what would it be like if the thousands of Poetry School students, tutors and alumni were able to get together in one place?

Poets and writers have always coalesced into artistic communities. The Romantics, The Bloomsbury Group, The Beats, Confessionals, The New York School are all examples of supportive environments –  test-beds – where ideas and writing could be developed without fear of failure. Such movements or schools frequently formed around particular locations, be it a major urban centre or bohemian district, or more precisely at particular bars, coffee houses, salons, etc. Today, many poets – especially those in metropolitan areas – have numerous outlets and opportunities for sharing and discussing work, such as private groups and reading events. But, equally, many do not, finding themselves isolated through geography, health issues or other commitments in their lives. The thought of how this might affect the breadth of poetry available for us to read or hear is an interesting one. Does lack of access to a community of writers for some people affect, and perhaps limit, the kind of poetry that gets written?

While the notion of writing within a community of writers is not an idea unique to the Poetry School, it is something that I think we are uniquely placed to attempt to strengthen and develop. The Poetry School already has a national programme, running activities in London, several other UK cities and online. This geographical reach allows for annual student numbers approaching 1,000. It also allows us to work with a diverse group of poet tutors – almost 100 in any given year – based in any number of locations, from Penzance to the Shetland Isles; London to New York. Taken together, this collective activity is an incredible amount of creative capital. Not capital in the narrow sense that the Poetry School might own it, but rather that it is already engaging in a multitude of ways with our services and activities, though perhaps not currently easily able to see itself as a collective entity.

CAMPUS therefore offers us an opportunity to connect relatively isolated activity within a minority art-form into a larger network of artistic production and reception. Through our online courses and grants programme, the Poetry School has already seen on a relatively small scale, how exclusion on socio-economic or geographical grounds can be overcome to allow supportive creative networks to flourish. CAMPUS will make this possible but on a much larger scale. It is, I think, an opportunity to increase the interconnectivity and overall diversity of the poetry community..

Of course there are real risks in a project that has such ambitions. The challenge – and the risk – is to create a network that exhibits high editorial and community standards whilst remaining open, inclusive and community-led. Ultimately any social network’s success or failure is determined by its users. In researching CAMPUS s we came across many online networks and forums for poets that for one reason or another were dead or had low quality thresholds or an absence of editorial control altogether. At the opposite end of the spectrum there were sites that exhibited a high quality of content but without any community interaction.  Time will tell as to whether CAMPUS can get this balance right.

Over the coming months and years we want to talk to our students, CAMPUS members and partner organisations to look at how they are using the site and what the Poetry School can do to make improvements or interventions that benefit the member experience and have positive outcomes for their poetry writing. One of the great things about a social network is that conversations happen and are shared more widely. People also often use tools and technologies in ways that its creators don’t always anticipate. Through a free programme of activities, generously supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and including the Digital-Poets-in-Residence, live Q&A’s, open workshops and video essays, the Poetry School will have an active voice in the CAMPUS environment. However, the real hope is that these activities encourage individuals to be active agents in their community, with new connections, conversations and artistic collaborations emerging from the CAMPUS membership. In this way, for the Poetry School, CAMPUS offers a radical new way we can work with poetry writers, readers and promoters.

There are bound to be some challenges, but the new opportunities that a more generous, open platform such as CAMPUS presents for how the poetry community can grow and develop is something that I feel is very worthwhile exploring and hope that other poets and poetry lovers do too.

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Image Credits:

Image courtesy of Maggie Groat. Fragmented abstractions, non-representational visions, one-sided cubes, forms, lines, and other moments of mystical clarity, collage, 22 x 30”, 2012