cloudy trans

town and gown

Decades ago, I spent a lot time in and around Cambridge, as a local. Cambridge has two active poetry scenes, rather different, rather necessary: town versus gown. I was from town, but I kept my eye on gown (when I eventually found it), and even read at a major conference there (CCCP 2006).

I still have the town ethos in my bones; poetry is a social art, the centre of the art are the evenings of shared readings — but people do read books too.

The gown side is somewhat the opposite: people read, indeed study the poetry in depth, analyse, find tons of things us town people have no clue about, and share that at (sometimes absolutely brilliant) conferences, etc..

Both reading and reciting are essential to both groups, but town emphasises the communal moment, gown emphasises the solitary eternity. I feel that gown undoubtedly produces the better poetry (but then many of the poets I publish are academics, so that might just be my taste), town has the better community.

That difference is very Cambridge, and reflects British culture, rather than anything innate in poetry itself.