Leo Aylen, Orange Tree Theatre

Leo Aylen has eight collections, most recently Dancing the Impossible: New and Selected Poems. His work has been published in 50 anthologies and he has authored two books on the Greek theatre and one travel book. He has been Distinguished Visiting Professor at McMaster University, Ontario, and Poet in Residence at Fairleigh Dickinson University, New York. Aylen broadcasts his poems regularly on BBC, most recently on The Today Programme.He has been awarded a Cecil Day Lewis Fellowship, is an Arvon prizewinner and the sole subject of three American nationwide television programmes (CBS).


The Orange Tree Theatre felt that through its education programme and Youth Theatre a poet could work with young people to bring poetry to life in a structured creative way, allowing them to experience the crafting and development of poetry, so it would not simply be seen as an art form confined to books but also lifted from the page as part of a creative performance.




From ninety-year-olds in nursing homes to small children, this residence certainly ran the age gamut. There was an afternoon when I signed two or three hundred autographs for clamouring children. On other afternoons I performed 10 minute poetry cabarets to a matinee audience of extremely sophisticated, fairly elderly, theatre-goers who had arrived to see a Feydeau farce.

A theatre is an ideal place for a poet in residence. It is a centre for the community. It provides an attractive venue in which events can take place. There are no problems with finding it.

The whole experience was happy and productive. While in residence, I started to write two verse plays; we performed scenes from them in the theatre at a Sunday night show.

I gave various poetry performances in the theatre, including one for children. I held poetry open days, both for adults and children, as well as competitions. I also did 'Pop-ups' - 10 minute cabarets for the theatre audience before the performance. Practicalities meant that these 'pop-ups' could only occur before the matinees, which was a pity, since I had done similar, unexpected, 'pop-ups' at a movie festival. It would have been interesting to do more of them, because they aroused many good reactions.

It is sometimes thought that a theatre audience is the same as a poetry audience. This is not the case. While some people enjoy poetry as well as going to the theatre, the majority of poetry lovers are not regular theatre-goers, nor are regular theatre-goers very often poetry lovers. The concept of the 'pop-up' is to present poetry as an entertainment to people who have, normally, no experience of poetry. As such, it has great possibilities.

The spin-offs from the residency included some poetry performances to local groups, and a number of poetry shows for children and teenagers at schools in the borough. There was a workshop for professional actors on the performance of poetry, and there was plenty of conversation about poetry with all and sundry.

I have only one regret about this delightful assignment. It naturally took some time to involve and energise the community. Just as we felt things were moving, the money ran out. I hope there may be further activities, but that again depends on money. The theatre's finances are in difficulties, and this meant their attention had to be concentrated on their own survival.

Between two and three thousand people came in contact with my poetry, or presented their poetry to me. Much more work could have been done, had there been more time. But what an enjoyable and challenging residency. Thank you, Poetry Society.


Young Poets Network