Extract from The Founding of Arvon by John Moat
1968, the year the Revolution almost happened (Paris, Grosvenor Square, Hornsey) … I’d had a novel published, and a second collection of poems accepted; sufficient notoriety to be invited to a North Devon Schools’ Poetry Day.
A building like an abandoned Fighter Command hangar. A bank of buses; from each school a busload of kids. In the chill hangar a vast circle of chairs – and by the time I showed up they were all occupied: more than a hundred 11-16 year olds. Well chilled. Each youngster sat nervous with a poem, not their own poem but somebody’s poem, copied on to a sheet of paper and held in a shaking hand. And so round the circle, one by one, they read or muttered or stumbled. Chilled before they read, and afterwards frozen with boredom. And that was it.
‘So what did you think of that?’ the organiser asked me, breathless with self-congratulation.
‘Awful!’ I said.
‘Oh,’ said the organiser. ‘So what would you do?’
A youngish hayrake of a man with ears like the handles on a harvest jug was walking past. He’d heard the challenge, and stopped to see what I’d come up with.
‘I’ll tell you,’ I said … Then, as if stating the obvious, ‘The ones interested in writing poetry, I’d have them live it for real. Three or four days living as writers, with a couple of practised poets around to show the ropes and simply be on hand to help with whatever they might choose to write.’
‘You’re on.’ This wasn’t the organiser, this was the one with the ears. John Butt, newly appointed County Drama Adviser.
‘You find the place,’ he said, ‘and I’ll come up with the kids.’
‘They must want to come,’ I said. I think I was hoping for a way out.
‘They’ll want to come,’ said Butt.
‘You on?’ I said to Fairfax that night on the phone.
‘I’m on,’ he said. ‘But where?’