Invisible Mentors: British Poetry in Partnership, 1960-2020

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

Effective mentoring is central to growth, innovation, and leadership in the creative industries, yet there are few established means for measuring its value. Arts and humanities researchers have had little to say about its impact on creative work, despite its interdisciplinary scope, and models and methods are primarily drawn from outside the sector. This project uses 20th and 21st-century British poetry as a case study to establish an arts-specific critical language for mentoring, drawing on interviews with practitioners and hitherto-unavailable publishing archives.
Recent decades have seen new mentoring initiatives for both poets and reviewers, an upsurge in commercial mentoring services, and a heightened focus by national arts funders on mentoring as a means to stimulate creative and economic development across the UK. The vitality and success of these projects suggests a creative culture eager for formal mentoring, in part to offset the exclusionary potential of edited magazines, creative writing programmes, established presses, or coteries formed around educational privilege. However, mentoring's long history and practice within the literary community is rarely acknowledged or explored, leaving a gap between practice, evaluation, and theory, and limiting the effectiveness of existing schemes.
This project will uncover the history of mentoring in British poetry since 1960, chronicling its development alongside the growth of creative writing courses in HEIs, the informal networks of independent poetry presses, and schemes supported by literary festivals, publishers, and arts organisations. It will use the insights of cultural, literary and archival history to address recommendations and reports from the creative industries, and economic and structural critiques of the sector. It will contend that mentoring's hidden history has not only shaped our notions of authorship, creative practice, and the professional artist, but our expectations of the institutions and funders that support them.

The project will be organised and delivered through three themed workpackages:

i) Measuring Mentoring: the PI will work with a literature development agency and a national poetry festival as they develop a new 'ground-up' mentoring network for young people: the framework developed through the project will also be used to assess existing mentoring schemes. Young poets will be paired with a professional writer, and share their insights at a project symposium.

ii) Shaping Forms, Techniques, Identities: the PI will deliver a monograph, developing a new language to describe mentoring and its methods, and create a podcast series on poetry and mentoring, exploring how unacknowledged mentoring cultures have shaped genres, traditions, and literary communities.

iii) Transforming Cultures and Institutions: the PI will co-author a national report with project partners on best practice in mentoring in the creative industries, assessing its personal and collective benefits.

The project will further our understanding of poetry as a communal, networked process, and allow the commercial, cultural and voluntary sectors the opportunity to benefit from arts-specific approaches to mentoring. In parallel, it will deepen our knowledge of mentoring as an embedded and interdisciplinary arts practice, bringing together insights from social science, cultural policy, business mentoring, and the creative industries. While the AHRC Leadership Fellow scheme supports a broad definition of leadership, management training often yokes together leadership and mentoring in uneasy collocation, eliding a human capacity with a diachronic practice. By attending to mentoring's lived history in the arts, this project has the potential to reshape how we consider both terms. More broadly, the research will demonstrate how mentoring has the power not just to inform individual practice, but drive wider artistic, social, and organisational change.

Planned Impact

The project has the potential to impact on the work and practice of a number of different sectors and professional bodies:

i) Funding councils and arts policy units
Arts Council England have indicated their interest in commissioning more research in creative mentoring, and have been in regular dialogue with the project partners, as outlined in our Pathways to Impact document. Our academic research aims to inform effectiveness in arts-specific mentoring practice, but also to assess the institutions and organisations that fund it: this would enable funding councils and arts policy units to draw directly on the research to inform future policy or practical guidance. Arts funders have recently prioritised mentoring schemes as a way of sharing expertise in particular sectors (e.g. Institute of Fundraising's RAISE: Arts, Culture and Heritage programme) or supporting organisations through particular milestones (e.g. ACE's Museum Accreditation Mentor scheme). This project, by examining mentoring as a history as well as a process, allow insights to be shared across different parts of the arts sector, and to inform future iterations of existing schemes.

ii) Professionals in the Creative Industries
The 2017 Bazalgette independent review of the creative industries noted the importance of developing more specific mentoring schemes in the arts. The project report and research monograph will further understanding across the creative industries of how individual mentoring relationships work, and in particular what kinds of insights or models are generated during the process aside from business advice specific to a particular field. The research will also allow professionals in the creative industries offering mentoring for the first time to learn from contemporary examples: a 2015 NESTA report identified the lack of mentoring opportunities and the absence of training for new mentors.

iii) Schools and teacher networks
The Durham Commission's 2019 report argued for 'better research and evaluation' for creative education and training. The project's research insights could be of substantial benefit both as a practical guide for teachers of creative writing in the classroom and as a tool for driving change: evidence which shows the benefit of mentoring in the creative arts will enable educators across the sector to make a clearer case for creative education in the classroom. The research monograph includes a chapter on creative mentoring in HEIs, as well as an assessment of the new mentoring scheme, Young Wordsmiths, based on an existing summer writing programme for 16-19-year-olds.

iv) Festivals, promoters, and literature development agencies
This project brings together two partners - a regional literature development agency and a international arts festival - who will extend their working relationship beyond the project's life-cycle, helping to develop a long-term regional literary ecosystem. The expertise they will gain in collaborative working, audience development, and mentoring could be shared widely across the sector, helping other organisations across the UK.

v) Poets and creative writers
The research will allow poets and writers to reflect on their own practice as mentors, and to situate it within a wider historical, institutional, and policy context. While this will be of most benefit to participating poets and mentees, the published outputs will offer useful advice to writers working in and outside the UK.

Publications

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Egan April (2021) Poetry Ambassadors

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May W (2021) Can mentoring help poets thrive? in Futurum Careers

 
Title Poetry Ambassadors anthology 
Description This anthology collects together the work of the three mentees on the Poetry Ambassadors scheme 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact Participation in the scheme helped lead to one of the mentees, Kaycee Hill, being awarded the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize 2021 
URL https://www.brokensleepbooks.com/product-page/poetry-ambassadors
 
Description This project has helped uncover the history of creative mentoring as an artistic practice, and established new ways of connecting mentoring practice with arts funding policy. Using UK poetry as our case study, our key findings cover three major areas:

i) We have established the significance of archival research in understanding mentoring processes, demonstrating the need to connect current practice with written and oral histories of peer support and collaboration;

ii) We have shown the capacity for creative mentoring to create a step-change in the arts institutions or organisations that set up new schemes, helping them to strengthen their own goals and ambitions, and create cultures of 360-learning;

iii) We have identified the exponential development of creative practice through mentoring support, leading to increased confidence and professional success for poets taking part in mentoring schemes.
Exploitation Route This emerging research is already having an impact on arts development organisations and community literature groups as we begin to disseminate the findings of our mapping research: as we launch our policy report, 'Stories for Survival: putting literature at the heart of regional development', along with a regional roadshow, we anticipate sustained benefits for writing communities across the South of England, as well as cognate literature organisations throughout the UK. The impact of the mentoring scheme on our partner organisations (Artful Scribe, Winchester Poetry Festival) can also be instructive for smaller arts organisations looking to transform the reach and scope of their regional engagement. The range of outputs from this research already published (podcast series, anthology publication, mentoring blogs) can help creative practitioners reflect on the significance of mentoring in their own development, giving them a new language to describe forms of peer support or collaboration. The application of mentoring theories and research to archival scholarship through the forthcoming monograph may help future researchers make connections between current practice in the creative industries and existing models of literary criticism.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://poetryandmentoring.wordpress.com/
 
Description Findings from the initial research are being shared across regional literature organisations via Artful Scribe, and through the policy paper 'Stories for Survival: Putting Literature at the heart of Regional Development'. This is being distributed to writing organisations and creative writers as part of a regional roadshow across the South Coast (April-June 2022). The mentoring scheme set up through the award is also having a direct impact on the organisations and individuals who took part: Kaycee Hill has been awarded the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize, securing a year of mentoring and publication of her first collection with Bloodaxe Books. Artful Scribe are using the scheme to create a new business development plan focused on long-term evaluation and connectivity across the region, supported by a planned application to Arts Council England to become a National Portfolio Organisation. Challenges to impact during the award period included the adaptation to hybrid or online models for our Winchester Poetry Festival engagement activities, and the postponement of in-person engagement activities with the Southampton Education Forum due to Covid. The initial work on creative mentoring, identifying its relationship to regional recovery led to a CI role on the AHRC grant 'Towns and the Cultural Economies of Recovery' (AH/V005804/1), working with Arts Council England and the NESTA-led Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre to map the skills developing through cultural participation in UK towns. The report completed for this cognate project has helped shape a new AHRC funding stream on place-based research. The research has also been extended through a Collaborative Doctoral Award (2021-4) from the SWWDTP on mentoring in the contemporary UK ecology with Bath Spa University and Artful Scribe.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Policy report
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to new or Improved professional practice
 
Description Collaborative Doctoral Award
Amount £74,300 (GBP)
Organisation South West Doctoral Training Cenre 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2021 
End 06/2025
 
Description Main Grants Scheme
Amount £3,000 (GBP)
Organisation Foyle Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2020 
End 12/2021
 
Description SIAH Project Grant
Amount £4,400 (GBP)
Organisation University of Southampton 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 07/2021
 
Description Anthology launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The three poet mentor and mentees for Poetry Ambassadors introduced and read their work as part of the Winchester Poetry Festival, prompting the audience to reassess the talent of young writers in the region and the ways mentoring could support professional development
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.winchesterpoetryfestival.org/festival-weekend-10-october
 
Description CPD for creative mentors 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The PI gave a talk and ran online workshop section on mentoring and regeneration for practitioners for 35 Creative People & Places project workers across the UK, prompting positive feedback about the importance of peer mentoring in creative public engagement and decision-making
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.creativepeopleplaces.org.uk/conference/amanda-smethurst-0
 
Description Online lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 100 people listened to an online talk by the PI on the mentoring relationship between Sylvia Plath and Stevie Smith accompanied by readings from Juliet Stevenson, which led to social media discussions on the hidden role of mentoring in poetic careers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.winchesterpoetryfestival.org/poetry-shots-august
 
Description Podcast series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Four-part podcast series launched on National Poetry Day brought together interviews with key poets, mentors, and researchers exploring the history of poetry mentoring in the UK
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://open.spotify.com/show/0H0T0S4mCeAmmsKUYrkvT2
 
Description Poetry Ambassadors blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A digital intern kept a blog recording the mentoring process, helping mentors reflect on their practice, mentees understand the longer legacy of their work, and writers in the region gain a better understanding of the benefits of sustained support
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://artfulscribe.co.uk/blog-category/poetry-ambassadors
 
Description Radio interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The PI launched the Poetry Ambassadors scheme with a prime-time interview for BBC Radio Solent, prompting a three-fold increase in applications for the scheme, and a reflection from the presenter on the need for reflection on the mentoring process
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08zgxms
 
Description Radio interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This special feature on BBC Radio 4's Front Row explored the legacy of the poet Stevie Smith and her writing network, with contributions from the actor Juliet Stevenson alongside the PI. It led to a further collaboration with Stevenson for the Robert Hutchison Lecture on poetry and mentoring in August 2021.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000sy3x
 
Description Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Poets, literary critics, and creative practitioners attended a hybrid symposium at Mayflower Studios, which helped attendees and the online audience reflect on the power of mentoring to support and transform creative careers, and the exclusionary protocols of mainstream publishing
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.mayflowerstudios.org.uk/what-s-on/festival-of-loveliness-poetry-and-mentoring-symposium-...