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Voice recognition: New publication celebrates student poetry scene

More than a dozen student poets at St John’s have had their work published, many for the first time, in a new collection which celebrates the College’s thriving poetry scene. 

Copies of the 2017 Poetry Pamphlet are available now for free in College, and they can also be downloaded from the College website below. The aim is to give undergraduate and graduate students who write poetry the chance to share their work in print. Some of the contributors have also recorded readings, which can be found on the St John’s College YouTube Channel.

The publication was funded by the College through the Wordsworth Society, the English Society of St John’s, named after the famous poet, William, who studied here. Tom Bailey, a first year English student who edited the pamphlet, said that the idea had proven so popular that it is likely a further edition will follow in 2018. He also said that it was possible that future issues might aim to reflect a wider range of cultural interests at St John’s by also covering prose, photography and art.

Some 15 students contributed 26 poems for the first edition, writing about a wide range of subjects. Alongside traditional themes such as love, death and religion, Tom said that there are also “a few self-deprecating and absurdist poems, which I quite enjoyed!”

The idea to compile poetry by current students was inspired partly by Cambridge’s own, celebrated history as a centre that has produced many poets over the years. Tom was particularly impressed when his own grandfather – a Cambridge alumnus – told him about the poetry scene when he was a student, which at the time involved figures such as Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. “It made me think that it would be very cool to put together a pamphlet profiling some of the poets we have here now,” he said.

He hopes that the pamphlet will also highlight that St John’s – a College which after its academic achievements is perhaps best known for its choir and sports teams – also has a diverse and thriving arts scene. Among others, he was encouraged to pursue the idea by the poet Alan Jenkins, who, as the College’s writer in residence, is available to talk to students about their creative writing interests.

“What’s good is that we didn’t just get contributions from English students,” Tom added. “We had a range of different people step forward including some PhD students as well as undergraduates. A lot of people around College write, but not everyone shares what they’re writing. I think that should be encouraged, so that’s what this is about.”

For copies of the pamphlet, please email Tom Bailey: