Updated: Mar 16, 2021
I want Public Menace to unequivocally demonstrate how poetry can be a way to access and engender radical, critical thinking. For me, poetry is a vital tool that helps individuals to learn from and connect with voices different from their own and the ones they immediately recognize. By highlighting aspects of the study of poetry that promote self-determination — embracing nuance, claiming space and subjectivity within work, and the analysis of poems using contextual information to learn about history – Public Menace celebrates the potential of poetry to be more than just a private handling of emotion or art form of the elite, but as a tool for connection and world-building to envision wider change.
"poetry can be a way to access and engender radical, critical thinking..."
Public Menace first and foremost is about spreading a love for and practice of poetry, particularly beyond the typical places one is most likely to find the more poetically inclined. I’m from Peterborough, and whilst there are a few committed creatives here working to ensure that readings and open-mic nights still happen, it’s always somewhat saddened me that I’ve never been able to form solid relationships around a love of poetry. I want to see how creative communities and alliances could be formed surrounding the publication of a book; so often it’s a solitary affair submitting to (and being rejected from) poetry publications and platforms, and it can feel rather hostile and intellectualized, making you feel like your writing is just the absolute worst. Without compromising on quality, but trying to make experimentation and multiplicity driving forces, I want Public Menace to be a chance for poets to be published who may normally shy away from putting themselves ‘out there’, whilst still appealing to poetic stalwarts who have the opportunity to study the art at school or university. I want there to be different arenas of engagement for writers.
That’s why the name Public Menace emerged: out of the commitment to create a poetry community that will meet people where they already are. I went about this by removing or modifying any qualifying barriers that so often make people feel like they can’t partake in the art ‘seriously’. Such as removing entry fees, doing away with rejection by offering all poems submitted the chance to be published, and offering free writing resources during the submissions window.
I especially want Public Menace to be inviting to and uplift the minority voices of young people outside of major cities, as in my experience poetry can be a very useful tool for expressing oneself and learning oneself in environments that are otherwise hostile; environments in which the way other people see and regard you obscures your writing. After reading many reports about the lack of diversity in terms of representation and inclusion of ethnic minorities in UK poetry publishing, I’m ready to make Public Menace something that clearly speaks against the traditional homogenization of the poetry industry and institutions teaching it.
"a poetry community that will meet people where they already are..."
This commitment then led me to expand the capacities of Public Menace further. Firstly, to create community around book publication, and then to utilize the opportunity of the shared sense of time created by the submissions window. Sharing writing resources for free outside of institutionalized learning spaces and creating other live and virtual moments for connection while the submissions window was open. Not only as a way to promote the submissions window and encourage writers, but also in attempts to diversify the spaces where poetry is practiced. The pandemic has meant we are all finding ourselves working in different environments, and sharing writing prompts and poetry resources is a way to ensure that the practice does not shut down with the rest of the world. Taking the tools for education away from the domain of teachers and into the hands of the writers themselves, is another way to try and free up the practice to new approaches. It gives me nerdy satisfaction to think of all the places that the poems which will appear in Public Menace have been written in these strange times, and what these unofficial spaces can innovate for us.