I once worked for a ‘literature development agency’. The agency developed literature with a select bunch of favourite writers and rarely allowed any words in that had been written by a stranger. I used to take the calls to manage the disappointment of outsiders. A typical call would go something like this:
‘I’ve wrote a book.’
Never an auspicious start.
‘Well hello, nice to hear from you.’
I would begin in this way to sugar-coat the news coming later in the conversation that the caller – or ‘writer’ as they preferred to be described – couldn’t actually write ‘fuck’ on a dusty blind.
Other calls would come from disgruntled writers who had received a small commission or some crumbs of writing workshop work in the past - but had fallen out of favour. One such call from a poet who called himself ‘The Strolling Geordie’ began in a regrettable fashion.
‘I DON’T NEED ANY FUCKING ARTS ADMINISTRATORS!’
I resisted the urge to ask why, in that case, he had taken the time out to call one. He had clearly been drinking and had succumbed to high emotion when he probably would have been better served by going out and ‘strolling’ for a while in the fresh air.
Another aspiring writer took time out from preaching about Jesus at the foot of Grey’s Monument to recite his poetry at me in the office.
The organisation was housed in a theatre. Our small office had been created in what had once been the gents’ toilets. In Health & Safety terms the space would legally accommodate 2 people, 2 desks and a filing cabinet. In truth it was home to 2 regular staff, a portly Labrador, a sofa, a louche public school boy theatre director and a hot desk for various unkempt actors and indolent ‘Project Managers’.
Being in a theatre meant that we were surrounded by creative people who had a whimsical approach to security. Actors and writers needed to be in and out at all hours – as their various muses took them. They were also inclined to sleep in the building if they were entrusted with a key. The Fire Door, therefore, was always ‘on the snib’. Once a street poet knew how to get in, the territory was his. Especially if the street poet was a former Gulf war soldier with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and an instinct for invasion.
‘I hope you don’t mind, but this is my new poem.’
Peter would just appear in the room. He had very clear blue eyes and a piercing stare. He was a little volatile, so I was in the habit of making him a coffee and listening intently.