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Free Verse 2020: Book Buying, Workloads, and the UCU Strike



The annual Free Verse Poetry Book Fair in London is one of my favourite events in the UK poetry calendar. I see many poets I know, I check in with editors who've published my work and scout out new publishers for both myself and my students, and I pick up some great reading.


This year, though, was different. Toward the end of the day, I was feeling dispirited, and I realised I'd been holding back on book buying for two reasons. First and foremost, with my teaching load doubled this year, I have far less time to read than I used to--if I bought as many books and magazines as I did last year, when would I ever get round to reading them? Summer, maybe, if I was lucky? Second, with the UCU strike underway--and a significant plank in that protest is our workloads, my next few paychecks will be docked.


Consequently, I held back. Somehow I bought nothing at the Guillemot table (though I'm already fantasizing about a catch up), among others. Somehow I left with only six books, one of which was a gift from the author. Sure, it shouldn't all be about money and buying, but it wasn't lack of money so much that upset me as the lack of time I have to read and write.


I've been enjoying reading #UCUstrike and #UCUstrikesback tweets because of the sense of solidarity I feel and because of the feelings of recognition I have when fellow lecturers and professors assert the importance of a reasonable workload, so that they can prepare their teaching well, so they have time to read and write and think and question. All my reading and writing feeds into my teaching, and I deeply feel my teaching has been impoverished by their reduction with the new year's workload.


I'll be on the picket line again next Thursday....

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Copyright 2016 by Carrie Etter

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