The programme for the the Debut Authors Festival 2007 came through the door this week. This year's festival has a 100% increase on the 2006 poet count: there are two--namely Daljit Nagra and Annie Freud--but that's still one down on 2005.
Also as with last year, the poets are mainstreamed into the programme alongside the prose writers: Nagra on the panel for "Britain Today" and Freud in the "Love Against the Odds" event. In 2005, there was a poetry event with Jacob Polley, Matthew Hollis and Choman Hardi. Which approach is better for poets? Minority that we are, perhaps we can garner a slightly greater audience by being placed alongside novelists, but my memory of the 2005 poetry event was that it was pretty full. Besides, this festival is pitched particularly at emerging writers, so mainstreaming shouldn't be necessary from that point of view.
Of course, there's something to be said for a thematic approach, which seems to be the way the festival is going. However, it still feels to me like the poets are a slender add-on to the prose writers, not so integral a part of the programming as their novelistic brethren and sistren. That impression is reinforced by the "Unpublished Writers Jam Session" (emphasis mine), billed as "a fantastic opportunity to read your unpublished work in front of an expert panel." But, if it's the same as in previous years (and the blurb is identical, as far as I can remember) it's not a fantastic opportunity if you're a poet. In fact, it's no opportunity at all. I'd be much less irritated if the event called itself an "Unpublished Novelists Jam Session". Y'know, as a poet, I'm a writer too.
But don't get me wrong: I'm otherwise impressed with the programme and very pleased that poets are on the increase again in it. Last year, I was told that the paucity of poets was because there were few debut poets to choose from. Well, that might be the case if all you're considering is the main publishers (Nagra's with Faber and Freud is with Picador), but there's a lot of work worth hearing furth of the Mighty Handful and smaller presses are becoming ever more important to poets. After all, it was a Seren poet who beat Heaney, Feaver and Williams to the poetry Whitbread--sorry, Costa--last year.