Welcome to my interview with Lawrence Upton from Writers Forum.
Hello Lawrence. Can you tell us a bit about your writing group?
It's called Writers Forum (no apostrophe). It's held at The Betsey Trotwood in Farringdon Rd and we meet on average every three weeks except for a break in high summer and in the Christmas period. During the summer, as it stands, the dates for the next academic year are announced: It makes more sense than the calendar year. There is no charge. Occasionally, when we have needed money for something, we ask for a donation but don't enforce it
Meetings last two hours with a bit either side in the bar at people's whim. Until 10 years ago it used to last late and sometimes early in terms of all being in the pub before and after. Now it's become more sedate. Getting older I suppose. Certainly getting busier.
We seem to have a good relationship with the pub and that includes cooperating if they double book etc. They are very supportive and friendly and we try to reciprocate
It was founded in the 1950s by Cobbing as first among equals. In those days it was rather formal, poems printed in advance, or so I believe, and discussions towards analysis.
It was refounded in 1963, again by Cobbing and others. Within a decade he was largely on his own. He continued, helped now and then by others, including me, as he got older. As he approached death in 2002 he passed it on to two of us, of whom I was one. The other left in 2010 and now it is me, with Tina Bass as my deputy.
From 1963, wf did a lot of publishing. Nowadays it does much less; but the world is different. I wouldn't want us wasting time trying to be THE little press publisher. Some have wanted that. Nowadays there is a range of publishers and printing is easier and more affordable than it was. Being the lead organisation is a waste of effort. If it happens, it happens.
At the workshop, our emphasis is on performance of the poems and more general discussion following.
It is a strong understated house rule that you never tell anyone how their poem fails but always how it can be improved.
Anyone can bring anything – a work, an idea, a proposal. There has been from the beginning an emphasis on what is called the avant garde or other equally unsatisfactory terms; but all are welcome.
Allen Ginsberg was one of the writers published in 1963, helping to set the broad agenda of the press, hardly tremendously avant garde, or accepting of a narrow audience. It is a wide range and I value that.
People remember what interests them and thus the more supposedly “innovative” works are taken as typical by them; but I'll say again that the range is wide.
We exclude no one. Many people move on while some stay. I have been going for 42 or 43 years of which maybe 30 were years of regular attendance
It has been by many criteria extremely successful and there is a sort of avant garde cachet in having belonged to it. For careerists who did not attend that creates a problem. This seems to have resulted in poets who have not or rarely attended encouraging others to believe they attended regularly. Also others include the words “writers forum” in their titles, apparently to encourage a belief that they have the true avant garde gospel.
I suppose that's quite flattering to the memory of Cobbing.
There is a group in Chile and another in Australia which are broadly similar and based to greater or lesser extent on our (Cobbing's) ideas and have checked with us that it is ok with us for them to use the name or versions of it. And of course it is.
It's just the passing off that offends.
But these are only annoying gnat bites.
How many members, on average, does your group have?
It varies very widely. We don't particularly want many. I'd like about 12 people attending. Currently it may be 6. Over 12 it's hard for everyone to have a turn... The mailing list is much larger; but it's spread over the world with names in every continent.
Who are you and what is your role within the group?
Lawrence Upton. I convene the meetings. Also called the director. I prefer just to be spoken of and to in my first name.
How are your sessions structured?
We start. I invite someone (anyone) to start – that allows me to make any announcements I want to, but sometimes people just start; I cope. I keep an eye on the clock having declared things we ought to try to get through and try not to interrupt. I do join in.
Most “business” is performance or showing of work. Discussion may arise from that. Non performance stuff may well be dealt with before or after
If people take too much time... but that hardly happens.
What types of things do you cover in your group?
We read, show and perform poems to each other.
What have been some of your most popular/successful activities?
Well! reading showing and performing poems to each other!
What genres do the members of your group write?
I'll give you a few: one writes poetry and prose either lyrical or system. I hope she can accept my description. Another has translated Romanian surrealist writing but is trying out other ideas. Another favours visual poetry and we are I would say rather interested in the relationship of the visual to the uttered. Also poetry and music – we have a very fine violist who attends when he can.
Less sound poetry than there used to be. Lots more sonnets (8+6s).
Have you ever written collectively as a group, such as producing an anthology?
I wouldn't call that writing collectively; but we publish magazines and are interested and engage in collaborative writing and collaborative performance – cross disciplinary work too.
What kind of support does your writing group provide for its writers?
Well, in that sense and others, we are not a group. It's an open chaired workshop and also an edited publisher. The support comes from regular attendance and building a small audience that way. Having said that there is a lot of support ad hoc.
Do you have guest speakers at your group?
Most recentlyAllen Fisher (UK)Richard Tipping (Australia)Jill Jones (Australia)Carlos Cocina (Chile)They talk about poetry.
Do members of the group get a chance to run/lead a session or part of a session?
There are no sessions. Or there is one session. Anyone can propose anything. It's more like a Quaker meeting without ministry.
Sometimes people suggest whole group experiments. It happens rarely but it's fine. They say What about...? And we say yes or no. It's nearly always yes. As I say I am only there to worry about time (and the bar stock and state of the room etc etc – but these are well-behaved adults. I convene and then I become one of the number.
What is the best piece of writing advice you've been given?
Read; and take your time.
What is the best piece of writing advice you give?
Read; and take more time; and read more.
Does your writing group have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook?
www.wfuk.org.uk/blog. The main site is still a building site.
How would someone go about joining your writing group?
You turn up. Preferably you join the mailing list first by asking on firstname.lastname@example.org on our website in case plans change; and then you are as joined as you'll ever be.Thank you Lawrence.