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The Swan Theatre's Poet in Residence

What do poets do all day? In fact, what do they do over the course of a whole year? We put the question to Ben Parker, who is The Swan Theatre’s Poet in Residence for 2016.

What exactly do you do as the theatre’s Poet in Residence?

Although I am ‘in residence’, I’m not there all the time. Instead, when I visit I spend time in some of the backstage areas. I’m interested in the spaces less often seen, the hidden parts, the aspects of the theatre that people might not know. I make notes as I go around and turn them into poems later on. My remit is to write ten poems and to publish them at the end of the year.

What is your favourite part of The Swan?

Some of the backstage areas have a magic of their own. The workshop has scenery from all the different productions piled up together, in the paint room you have colours mingled together that you would never see anywhere else. There’s a slightly spooky feel to the costume store, with all the empty outfits hanging up. I will be careful not to break the illusion of theatre by exposing these places but instead I hope to reveal their magic.

What about front of house?

I will be engaging with some of the productions. I’m really interested to see Shakespeare’s King John which will be performed in view of his tomb in Worcester Cathedral.

Although my residency finishes at the end of the year, I shall be working with Swan Youth Theatre, working with them on a performance next Spring. If there’s interest in open mic nights I might return to read poetry as well.

What’s the state of poetry in this country?

It is certainly one of the least attended art forms when compared with music or the visual arts. Poetry doesn’t get the same media coverage. It’s sometimes perceived as being more difficult to understand than reading a novel or watching a film, but that becomes self-perpetuating as people don’t engage with it. Poetry might only be heard in school, at weddings or funerals and so people are not used to it in daily life.

Why did you chose to become a poet?

I can pin down the exact moment. I was at a party and overheard two people discussing a film about the poet Sylvia Plath. I’d never thought about poetry before, but I discovered recordings online of her reading her work and it blew me away. Suddenly I realised you can enjoy poetry! Listening to poetry means letting go and enjoying the sound, the rhythms and the language. I think people need to stop worrying about understanding a poem the first time they read it. Return to it again and you get more out of it each time. After all, if you have a music album you listen to it again and again, it grows on you. Poetry is my favourite form of entertainment – it’s another way of experiencing someone’s imagination.

You can read more about Ben Parker on his website, www.benparkerpoetry.co.uk