Welcome to my interview with Norbert Hirschhorn.
Hello Norbert, can you please tell us about your writing group?
We are The King’s Poets. We meet fortnightly, on a Tuesday evening in a designated space outside the Poetry Library on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall. The group started in 2002 as an offshoot of a workshop conducted by the late Michael Donaghy, and over the decade, The King’s Poets have become an established group on the London poetry scene.
How many members, on average, does your group have?
There are currently 17 of us in the group, which usually guarantees about half a dozen of us being available to attend each meeting – this is about the right number to allow in-depth criticism of each other’s work within our two-hour time frame.
Who are you and what is your role within the group?
Several of us, as long-term members of The King’s Poets, act as the group’s co-ordinators. Our functions include announcing the next meeting, recruiting and introducing new members, conducting the workshops, and planning for public readings.
How are your sessions structured?
We meet at 7.30pm. One poet will have volunteered in advance to bring along a published work – a newly discovered poem or poet that he or she would like to share with the group. Copies of the poem are distributed. The nominating poet then introduces the poem, saying why it has been chosen, and reads the poem aloud. The rest of the group give their responses. This usually involves some close analysis of the published poet’s technique. The attending poets then, in turn, distribute copies of their own poems for close constructive criticism by group members. Our meetings usually last for up to two hours, with the great majority of the time being devoted to the work of group members.
What types of things do you cover in your group?
We are entirely made up of poets, and we only cover poetry. In criticising each other’s poems we try to help each poet achieve the poem they set out to write, giving a first, overall, emotional (or ‘gut’) response to the poem; noting what we enjoy and perceive to be effective; and finally making suggestions for edits or changes which we believe might enhance the poem. We don’t always agree! The poet remains silent while comments on his or her poem are being given, and may then respond at the end.
What have been some of your most popular/successful activities?
In addition to our fortnightly workshops, we’ve given public poetry readings. Most of our members have also published poems in magazines, anthologies, and pamphlets; and on the Internet. Our website showcases some of our work, too.
What genres do the members of your group write? Is there a lot of diversity with regards to your members’ writing?
There are as many individual poetic voices in our group as the group has members. Some of us work in traditional forms, others in free verse, yet others move between the two. Some of us tend more towards clarity and directness, others more to elusiveness and abstraction. Anything goes!
Have you ever written collectively as a group, such as producing an anthology?
We’re currently in discussion about producing our first anthology.
What kind of support does your writing group provide for its writers?
We provide an opportunity to connect with other poets, to share ideas and concerns, and to provide an attentive and critical audience for each other’s work. We also support members by offering them a platform for their poetry via our website, public readings, and, it is hoped through a forthcoming anthology.
Where do you get your ideas/writing prompts from?
We don’t set each other themes or forms to write to, as our members are all experienced poets who tend to have ideas of their own! Our poems can be responses to many things: a life event, a small happening or observation in the external world that triggers a strong emotion or a memory, a news item, a work of art, and so on.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
In the immortal words of Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), ‘Look in thy heart and write.”
Does your writing group have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook page?
We have a website. You can find us at: www.kingspoets.net
Do you have guest speakers at your group?
We don’t have guest speakers. As a London-based group we’re very fortunate in having access to many talks and lectures on poetry by leading writers throughout the year, so we prefer to devote our fortnightly meetings to our primary concerns: reading contemporary poetry together and constructively criticising each other’s work.
Do members of the group get a chance to run/lead a session or part of a session?
As mentioned above, a different member gets to lead the opening section of each meeting by nominating a published poem for discussion, distributing copies, reading it out, and giving reasons for choosing it. Beyond that, our meetings are only lightly chaired by one of the co-ordinators, as we all tend to run each session very cooperatively together.
How would someone go about joining your writing group?
In the first instance, interested poets should email a brief biography and three poems to Norbert Hirschhorn, firstname.lastname@example.org. However, please note that we are currently full, and it might be some time before a place becomes available.
Thank you very much Norbert.