Poetry Runway: Promoting Poetry, One Contestant At A Time

UPDATE: As Jack Ross has pointed out (see the comments), Project Poetry is a much better title than Poetry Runway.

I went to Palmerston North yesterday to read in the Stand Up Poetry series at the very impressive Palmerston North City Library. I really enjoyed myself: I had a great time reading to an appreciative audience, sold plenty of books, had a lovely dinner before the event and lengthy pub discussions about poetry afterwards, and enjoyed meeting lots of new people and some poets I’d only met virtually before, including series MC Helen Lehndorf and my overnight host, Tim Upperton.

And it was on the way home from Palmerston North that the idea came to me. If reality TV shows could work for modelling (America’s Next Top Model), fashion (Project Runway), and the chance to enjoy the sexual attentions of Brett Michaels (Rock of Love), then why not a similar show for poetry? Because Project Runway is the only one of those shows I actually like, and because I have no imagination, I think it should be called Poetry Runway.

Here’s the set-up: fifteen arriving poets are selected to enter the competition, under the wise mentorship of a debonair poetry expert (Billy Collins, perhaps, or Margaret Atwood, or, if available, T. S. Eliot). Each week, they must complete a poetry challenge – a pantoum, a villanelle, a book-length encomium to Elizabeth the First – and each week, they must present themselves to the judges (obviously, the panel must be chaired by a supermodel, but the other members could be distinguished poets). Each week, one poet will be eliminated.

For three months, weekly at 8.30pm, we inhabit these poets’ lives. We see them triumphant, we see them despairing, we see the tears of each eliminated poet as they are given ten minutes to return to the workroom and pack away their laptop and thesaurus. We get up close and personal with the bitchy and the noble; we see the proud humbled and the meek exalted.

For the lucky winner, the rewards are many: a year-long poetry residency at a distinguished Midwestern university, guaranteed publication of their next collection, possession of the final Humvee to roll off the assembly line, and a seven-page spread in Elle magazine. But first, the top three contestants must face the ultimate challenge: putting on a half-hour poetry show at New York Poetry Week while the city’s leading poets chatter obliviously and clink their glasses.

Poetry fever would grip the world. Slim volumes would sell like slim hot cakes. Watercooler conversations would revolve around Heid Klum’s harsh comments on the use of ampersands. The show would be franchised, and here in New Zealand we’d all get to compete for a brand new bus pass and a chance to fall over in front of Jason Gunn.

I have the vision. All I need now is a television producer with a lot of money and very little common sense. Are you out there?

Portions of this blog post not affecting the outcome have been removed in consultation with the producers.