Poems on BBC local radio
Road To Upload
When I first started out on my poetic adventures amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t consider that drifting into the airwaves with my poems would be one of the consequences, but it seems that writing breeds an unending quest for an audience, especially in this genre, where most of the platforms for publication aren’t immediately obvious, nor particularly mainstream. So, it was a refreshing surprise when I discovered BBC Upload.
I’d often enjoyed listening to Lucy Clark’s Sunday Afternoon Show on BBC Radio Humberside, especially during the pandemic, and so when she announced that she’d be covering Martha Mangan’s ‘No Filter’ programme, showcasing local creatives, one Monday evening in May 2021, I made a point of tuning in. I already knew, from listening to her shows, that Lucy was a poet herself and had a keen interest in poetry, so it piqued my interest when she put a callout for people to send in their poems via the BBC’s ‘Upload’ feature online. I was enjoying the programme, which was playing the work of local musicians and writers in the region, and thought to myself that I would give it a ‘bash’ and send something in, as it seemed like a good vehicle for reaching more mainstream audiences.
The topic for my entry was climate change. I was in the middle of writing a poem reflecting on the climate emergency, and given this is one of the most talked-about issues, I felt it might stand a better chance of being selected. I think the poem was also experimental in the sense that I tried to use rhyming ‘sextets’ as opposed to couplets, which had the effect of laying on the rhymes quite thickly. After hovering over the ‘Send’ button for a while on the Upload site, stood on the proverbial precipice, I found the courage to click it and my work shot into the BBC Upload ether, possibly never to be heard of again.
However, incredibly, I heard back in under 24 hours and on Monday 21st June 2021 at 7pm, I was on the ‘No Filter’ programme, talking to Martha Mangan about my climate change poem! I’d literally just started writing full poems so didn’t feel at all qualified to answer Martha’s very respectful questions about my ‘creative process’, but gave it my best shot anyway.
Feeling More At Ease
I don’t know how other writers feel but, for me, the prospect of being ridiculed or laughed at is probably the biggest source of anxiety in showcasing my poems. I think this is what makes ‘Upload’ such a great initiative, because it encourages and celebrates people who come forward with their creative forms of expression, giving everyone a safe space to air their work.
So, it was lovely to chat with Martha, I felt very welcomed and encouraged about what I was writing, to the extent that I decided I would have a go at sending in some more poems. At this point, I think various shows and schedules were being re-jigged in local radio, as it took a bit longer this time before I heard back, but as we emerged into Spring 2022 I was contacted by the Upload Show for BBC Radio York to see if I wanted my poem, ‘Everyone’ , to be featured on their programme. At the time, they were also broadcasting to the BBC Radio Humberside catchment as well, so I guess this was broadening my reach, so to speak. I appeared on George Smith‘s programme in the evening on Wednesday 9th March 2022 and had a great time talking to him about how I started writing poems during the pandemic, and was working on a website called ‘Poet In Verse’!
After this latest feature on Upload, I had to do a little double-take on myself as I realised I was starting to feel oddly at ease with the idea of sending in poems for them to be played on local radio – because this sort of thing is counter-intuitive to my nature! Whilst I still do feel a little daunted and nervous about doing it, I’m not overwhelmed by those feelings to the point where it prevents me from taking the plunge and submitting my work.
On reflection, I may have found the reason why this is the case: As part of my day job, I occasionally need to promote local history and heritage projects through local media, which sometimes involves giving interviews for local radio, including BBC Radio Humberside. For me, I think this has gradually had the side-effect of normalising the idea of speaking on the radio. In particular though, this is due to having had the opportunity to meet brilliant reporters such as Caroline Brockelbank, whom I feel ultimately have really helped to give me the confidence to approach BBC Upload, by making the organisation as a whole seem more warm, friendly, and less intimidating to me.
The opportunity to chat with Caroline, with her charismatic, yet down-to-earth and approachable manner, has meant that any mystique, or nervous preconceptions I may have had about the BBC have been eroded and this, combined with the positive and encouraging nature of the Upload platform itself, has left me feeling much more inclined to share what I create.
For my next Upload submission, I chose to send in the latest poem in a quartet I was working on about the seasons. I’d decided to write about each season as it began during the year, so that I could draw a little inspiration to begin the poems, although they’re mostly based on our stereotypical imagery of the seasons in the UK, in order to create a vivid scene. I was invited to take part in George Smith’s Upload Show on BBC Radio York on Wednesday 21st April 2022 to talk about the Spring edition of this quartet; ‘Springtide Bright’. The show is a section of George’s main four-hour programme from 6-10pm on Wednesday evenings when, between 7 and 8pm, he showcases one or two submissions, which can include the full range of creative works such as songs, poems, short stories, comedy sketches; basically, anything creative.
I’m always pleased when I’m selected for an Upload Show as it’s one of the main ways in which I can try out my poems on a mainstream audience. George has a great ability to maintain light and humour in his on-air conversations, and I guess that’s fortunate because I weighed in with a really heavy poem for my latest one, all about war and conquest through the ages, called ‘Heart Of Power‘ , which had just been translated into Chinese by Poetry Lab Shanghai!
Having by now had three of my poems featured on BBC Radio York’s Upload Show, I was definitely feeling in the groove with things. I began to look through my work for other upload-worthy material and realised that I’d written some about specific places other than where I live, so wondered if these might be of interest to the relevant Upload Show for that region. Ever since first visiting Northumberland around ten years ago I’ve loved the place, and in between COVID-19 lockdown restrictions it became a peaceful retreat for me. Following a week’s holiday there in 2021, I wrote a poem in homage to Bamburgh, one of the many beautiful places that I visited on Northumberland’s spectacular coastline. The nearest local radio station on the Upload website was BBC Radio Newcastle, so I submitted it there and, sure enough, was invited by the show’s presenter, Tamsin Robson, to chat about the poem.
Entitled ‘Atop The Dunes o’ Bamburgh‘, it’s a kind of postcard poem drawing out all of the key features that stand out for me when visiting there. On Wednesday 3rd August 2022, Tamsin pre-recorded a chat with me that aired later in the evening, in which we both reminisced about the area; Tamsin on her childhood visits, and myself talking about recent holidays. I also declared my affection for the North East in general, having been a student at University of Sunderland!
Tamsin had previously asked if I’d written any other poems about the North East, and it so happened that I had a similar sort of poem for the town of Seahouses, about 3.5 miles south along the coast from Bamburgh, written during a visit earlier in June 2022. It’s called ‘Around Seahouses’ and Tamsin very kindly played this as well.
To be included on the Upload Show for BBC Radio Newcastle was great for me as it was a way of getting my poems out to even more people in the mainstream via a different local radio catchment, and I also loved chatting about the North East, which has played a big part in my life (perhaps at some point I’ll do a ‘Days Of Sunderland’ poem!).
At time of writing, the show is still available on BBC Sounds and you can listen to our chat (at 1:11:38 in the recording) here.
Looking back, all the poems I’ve sent to BBC Upload have been contemplative, reflective works, which isn’t actually representative of everything that I write, as I also cover silly, trivial subjects as well. My chats with George on his show have revealed that the latter is where his own preferences may lie, as my poem ‘Bin Day’ has stood out for him here on the ‘Poet In Verse’ website.
So, I guess that my mission now is to mix things up a bit with a light poem for my next submission! My thanks to BBC Upload for this platform, which I recommend to anyone out there who is creating something and wants a positive and encouraging environment in which to share their work. Long may the initiative continue.
Onwards and Upload!
By Sam Bartle