Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics

A new report has revealed that poetry reviewing is more diverse than ever, due to the work done in the last two years by initiatives such as the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics and The Complete Works, as part of an ongoing fight for an inclusive poetry culture dating much further back.

Through intensive mentoring of new BAME critics and close collaboration with commissioning editors, programmes such as the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics which was co-founded by poets Sandeep Parmar and Sarah Howe in 2017, have more than doubled the total number of BAME poetry reviewers writing for national publications in the last two years. Despite this progress, the report also sheds light on the publications which are slow to commission a more diverse range of critics, with the London Review of Books publishing only white poetry critics reviewing white poets throughout the eight-year span of the research. 

Sandeep Parmar comments: ‘My sense is that in the long term, critics of colour will find in-roads into every poetry reviewing platform, and editors will be encouraged, by a revived interest in reviewing, to raise the profile of reviewing on their pages….on the whole, the programme has received tremendous support from editors and, where necessary, we will keep reminding those few who have yet to take action.’

The research, The State of Poetry and Poetry Criticism in the UK and Ireland 2011-2018, which was commissioned by the Centre for New and International Writing at the University of Liverpool, draws data from 26 magazines and newspapers, including The Guardian, Poetry Review and The London Review of Books from January 2011 – December 2018, examining a total of 4,866 review articles.

The research asked in simple terms – across those 26 publications – whose poetry is reviewed and whose reviews are commissioned and published? By extension it examines how these results relate to poetry prize culture and the diversity of editors steering the publications, in relation to race and gender.

Key statistics from the report include:

  • Between 2011 and 2016, British and Irish poetry magazines and newspapers published review articles by BAME critics 130 times, 3.7% of the total for those years.

  • Between 2017-2018, in the two years since the launch of the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics scheme, BAME critics have been published on the same platforms 115 times, 8.3% of the total for those years. 
  • Of these 245 articles written by BAME critics, 117 (47.8%) were written by fellows of The Complete Works mentoring programme, the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics mentoring programme, or both.

  • The London Review of Books has published 70 articles by 33 different poetry critics. All 33 were white. Those 70 articles reviewed 86 different books. All 86 were by white poets. Of those 83% are male. 
  • At the 2011 census, 12.9% of the UK population identified as BAME. Of the twenty-six magazines in the data set still regularly publishing, five surpassed this figure: Poetry Review (14.5%), Poetry London (18.3%), Oxford Poetry (18.5%), The Poetry School Blog (20.4%) and Modern Poetry in Translation (21.4%).

More statistics can be found in the Ledbury Report statistics 2019 document (PDF).

Emily Berry, Editor of The Poetry Review whose reviews account for 14.5% of those written by BAME critics since 2011, acknowledges the impact of the programme: ‘The high standard of the work produced by the first round of Ledbury Emerging Critics gives the lie to the demeaning notion often trotted out by detractors of diversity schemes that 'quality suffers'. In fact this scheme has been hugely enriching to poetry reviewing culture overall… reviewing culture urgently needs more of this kind of attention and input if it is to remain alive.’

The publication of this report also marks the start of the second round of the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics programme, as four new mentees join the existing cohort of eight poetry critics: Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Joanna Lee, Stephanie Sy-Quia and Sarah-Jean Zubair. Whilst in the US, a sister programme based on the Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics model will launch in November 2019 co-ordinated by the poet Ilya Kaminsky with Sandeep Parmar and Sarah Howe.

Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics co-founder Sarah Howe comments: ‘The immense success of the programme’s first round is a tribute to the hard work of its eight talented participants. Article by article, they are changing the culture…I hope that the gains of the last year or so won’t prove a brief comet, but a more lasting change: ultimately, it’s up to reviews editors to take up that mantle in their ongoing commissioning.’