Someone had to do it. The Poets’ Republic was founded by myself, Neil Young, a journalist and poet, and Duncan Lockerbie, the Tapsalteerie publisher, in Aberdeenshire in summer 2014, to promote what I would describe as ‘public-spirited’ poetry.
We went live with a website, Facebook presence and magazine launch of Issue 1 in April 2015. Issue 2 was published last October, and number 3, with Gaelic pages and editorials in May 2016.
During this time, we’ve added poets Eddie Gibbons and Marcas Mac an Tuairneir (as Gaelic editor) to our editorial firing line. Poet Beth McDonough took up the baton as guest editor for Issue 3, then accepted our invitation to join the wee editorial senate. You might say she came for a working-holiday and liked it so much she decided to stay.
The choice of Republic in the name could not have been more deliberative – it was our declaration of intent. I like the way Davy Crockett puts it in the film The Alamo: “Republic. I like the sound of the word. It means people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose. Some words give you a feeling. Republic is one of those words that makes me tight in the throat….”
We wanted to create a forum for the kind of poetry – witty, entertaining, and critically alert to the society around us – that was so often confined to the margins.
We wanted poetry that was irreverent, sharply-observed, or would melt our flinty northern hearts.
We wanted to print the poetry we’d most like to read and hear – in English, Gaelic and Scots – but often found hard to find.
Where had it gone?
What happened to poetry that was politically subversive, refused to submit to received or prevailing ideological standards; poetry that would ignite the hearts and interests of anyone from the council estate kid to the bus driver; or those who might not usually consider themselves to be drawn to its wonders and provocations?
Had people given up on attempting to write it? Were we looking back through red-hued lens on a halcyon past of politically attuned poetry?
Or were we mistaken in thinking it was in retreat?
It was soon apparent that it wasn’t that such poetry wasn’t being written – it was out there a-plenty. But far too often it was unacknowledged, or dismissed, by those who set themselves up as arbiters of what was deserving or undeserving – the same ‘usual suspects’ who had colonised many of the magazine, small press and book publishing outlets.
What often passed for public-spirited poetry was voguish, or self-defining as performance poetry, which may have found favour in the dominant metropolitan lit-circles of Edinburgh and Glasgow, but to us seemed to be disposable and unaccomplished and, therefore – somewhat ironically – lacking clout.
In tandem, much of what was held up as good, brilliant, or the writing to which poets should aspire, seemed to us be so much navel-gazing, or so smart-wittedly concerned with flattering academic critiques that it rendered itself near incomprehensible to most would-be intelligent readers; disinterested even in the fact that it excluded them.
One of our guiding principles has been to promote a critique, or dialectic, that is detached from this self-referencing insularity; to do our bit to unclog the arteries of Scottish poetry.
We believe the natural and proper place for poetry should be at the vanguard of contemporary culture. As high-falutin’ as that sounds, we really do mean it.
But maybe that means for a start that we need – as one bearded philosopher put it – to claim the means of production, distribution and exchange.
One way of doing that has been to pool skills to edit, design and publicise the magazine without any sub-contracting, and to keep costs to the minimum – £2.50 per issue – so that it is as affordable to as wide an audience as possible.
It’s why we’re also so keen on hosting readings, launches, workshops and events, wherever practicable. It’s not enough to produce a mag then expect an audience to gravitate to it – we need to go out and make our presence felt.
We don’t know how much we can achieve from our small outpost in north-east Scotland within little or no resources and working for free, but who knows?
We seem to be acting as a pole of attraction for others of similar thinking and spirit.
Our best endeavours might set the pace.
Up the Republic!