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Poetry and Place in Pembroke and Beyond

For the last few years poetry tours, led by Cambridge poet Michael Brown, have been part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. They reveal the strong connection between poetry and place.

Michael came to Pembroke on the Creative Writing in Cambridge course in 2014. He has maintained a strong relationship with Pembroke, and now leads the Pembroke poetry society.  The society is a space for writing and critiquing poetry, as well as socialising with like-minded poets from across Cambridge.

So why poetry tours of Pembroke? Pembroke’s reputation for producing and nurturing excellent poets like Thomas Gray, Christopher Smart, and Clive James, makes it the natural venue for the tours.  Holding the tours in Pembroke has the added benefit of including student poetry from the Pembroke society.  Hearing responses to poets like Gray and Plath, written by contemporary Pembroke students, adds depth to the tour.  This year he was accompanied by Catherine, a graduate student who read out some of her own poetry as part of the tour. People value hearing poetry in a place it’s connected to, Michael says, adding that in his own poetry place is incredibly important.

And Michael isn’t the first to see the value of connecting poetry and place. The connection can be indirect, or gentle, such as writing in the same spaces used by Ted Hughes, or touring National Trust properties in search of inspiration. But it can also be almost painfully direct. Poetry is a space in which the difficult and personal can be expressed, immediately connecting the reader with the human reality of problems like poverty, or the refugee crisis.  For example, this slam poet writing about food deserts, or the Wall of Dreams, created by refugee communities. Place is at the heart of the human experience, and so it is an inescapable part of poetry.

Michael is currently working on a collection of poems inspired by his travels around the coasts of Devon and Cornwall.  The collection reaffirms the importance of place, with all of the poems entwined with the beaches, harbours, and people of the coast. Michael also writes in Cambridge libraries, on trains, and even in lighthouses. Michael thanks Patricia Aske and Mark Wormald, and the Porters, who are always accommodating of the tours and the society.

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