Tom and I met in 2009 while studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths. As a newcomer to the UK from the south of Ireland, I lived locally near New Cross, then Brockley, then Dulwich, and have steadfastly refused to move north of the river since then. Tom is a Kentish man, or a Man of Kent – I still don’t understand the difference.
Although the writing department at Goldsmiths works with fiction and non-fiction writers as well, our primary focus and first love had always been poetry. That particular year was light on poets, so it didn’t take long for us to find each other. If memory serves, we bonded over Seamus Heaney (and whiskey – some poetic stereotypes are accurate after all).
Nightingale Poetry is the result of about 2 years of discourse and debate. It was quite dispiriting for us, as it is for all poets, to see how small our world was, how few its inhabitants. A world in which so much communication is kept as brief and as simple as possible is a world in which poetry will automatically find it hard to thrive, but this also means that poetry becomes more necessary. It takes time, and it takes patience, but the rewards are greater than a tweet could ever be.
Tom and I could have continued to have this despairing conversation with each other, or we could see if we could bring poetry to a different audience, to display the merits and the power of the artform we love to a soundbite world. We are trying to do the latter.
So now we write poems for other people. There’s a school of thought that anything – absolutely anything – can be material for a poem, and we are firm adherents to it, so no subject is out of the question, though obviously we are charged with writing about some subjects more often than others – love, parents, children.
By meeting our patrons before a word is written, we get a chance to understand first-hand, literally, who the poem is for and what they want from it. Personally, this is my favourite part of the process; everyone has a story to tell, and every poem that comes out of it is different from the last.
The other side of Nightingale is as an agency for poets. We’re but a small thing yet, but we want to make it a kind of refuge for poets that we believe in, people, like us, who love their art and want to practice it, want to put it out into the world and have it read and appreciated.
We have already brought an ex-colleague from Goldsmiths, Moya Pacey, on board, to bring a different kind of poetry to the table: a variety of styles and voices is imperative – it would be useless to write the same kind of poem all the time, as much for us as for their recipients.
We were recently given a firm pat on the back by Ideas Tap, who liked our ethos ideas and gave us some office space in their creative hub, from which we’ve relaunched our website and fed off the talents of the other companies in our vicinity – we are now collaborating with illustrators of various kinds to give our poems an even more unique presentation.
As a south London convert, it’s an extra boon to live and work locally – this whole thing started south of the river and continues to get support from these parts. It was a pleasant surprise for me to find that London could house such a network of strong communities – it seems incongruous with the idea of a big city, but it’s all the better for it.