All Afloat! with Poetry Swindon Festival

3 Oct

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“I discovered my Englishness through living on a boat,” said poet and canal dweller Jo Bell, who has recently finished a three year stint as canal poet laureate.

We sat on Dragonfly, a boat on the Wilts and Berks canal just a mile long and slightly curtailed due to bridge renovations, for All Afloat! part of the Poetry Swindon Festival.

Swimming happily (I guess) alongside was the teenage offspring of Mr & Mrs Swindon, adult-sized but still-grey cygnet. Recently Mr Swindon was sick. Canal enthusiasts clubbed together to send him to the swan sanctuary for six weeks to recover. Meanwhile Mrs Swindon found a new love and Teenager was born. Chris, our boat host, explained this is contrary to popular opinion that swans mate for life. Mrs Swindon now divides her time between Mr Swindon and her lover (Mr Wroughton? Just a suggestion) I think this is unfair to suggest Mrs Swindon is feckless. It’s not like you can sit a swan down and explain her hubby is off to hospital for a month and a half. She probably thought he was dead. Though the mourning period was arguably a little short. Continue reading

Robert Vas Dias asks Do Angels Eat? Yes if you have a pass for Poetry Swindon Festival

3 Oct
Robert Vas Dias

Robert Vas Dias in the Cow Shed at Lower Shaw Farm

Robert Vas Dias was a delight at Poetry Swindon Festival at today’s poetry lunch (Saturday).

A lesson in perky reading, I had to remind myself that although he sounds American, he’s lived in England for a long time. So it’s not weird that he writes about teapots and their murky colour: ‘A brown that insults taste but forestalls criticism.’ Continue reading

Refugees and recipes at Poetry Swindon Festival

3 Oct

This morning at a workshop at Poetry Swindon Festival, poet, publisher and teacher Robert Vas Dias had us creating a poem through the powerful blending of a Nigel Slater recipe and a Guardian news report.

Some lines were picked by pre-randomly generated numbers (each line on report and recipe were numbered), some – like the one below – were picked by way of a roulette wheel. Continue reading

Double Bill and Kei Miller at Poetry Swindon Festival

2 Oct

Double Bill, probably the most confusing title ever. But still an awesome night.

On the surface it was a double bill of two poets, Andy Jackson and Kei Miller. Except Double Bill was the name of Andy’s bit; Kei’s was completely different. And Andy’s Double Bill had about ten poets reading which makes it, what, Tenfold Bill? Sounds like a bank note.

I know, I’m being facetious. Don’t shout at the screen. Double Bill is an old filmic reference. Double Bill was a roll call of aging popular culture, not necessarily loving tributes – this is a poetry night after all. Anyone under the age of thirty without a proper grounding in TV may well have been lost. But, for me, it worked like a top class open mic, the ‘rat pack of the poetry world’ as Andy Jackson described it.
Continue reading

Ground Signs at Poetry Swindon Festival

2 Oct
Isabel Palmer

Isabel Palmer

Sometimes, listening to poetry reminds me of church-going as a child – I know it’s good for my soul but I just want to sleep. I read some terrible advice back then for lay people reading out the Bible readings: don’t detract from the words by being too animated, it’s not about the reader.

But Isabel Palmer today (Friday) at Poetry Swindon Festival caught me in the tear ducts like Robert Peake last year. Her collection, Ground Signs, was written, I think, as a way of keeping her sanity while her son became a soldier ‘coming of age doing the probably the most dangerous job an infantryman in Afghanistan can do’. Continue reading

Poetry Party begins early at Poetry Swindon Festival

2 Oct

I’m sure the Poetry Party is Sunday. But it sounds like it’s started early.

Nope, it’s the 52ers, having reunion fun on the hammocks and mattresses of the Lower Shaw Farm play area, on day two (Friday) of Poetry Swindon Festival. Continue reading

Dribble or drabble? Flashing at Poetry Swindon Festival

2 Oct

Dribbles and drabbles, flash*. Spot the difference between concise prose and sticking ‘poem’ on the end.

Yesterday (Thursday), Poetry Swindon Festival’s potentially hot debate – is prose poetry a thing? – was apparently thwarted by a squishy warm sofa with Jo ‘no’ Bell dividing and ruling, sat between Tania ‘yes’ Hershman and Luke ‘for sure’ Kennard. Next time: hard chairs. Continue reading


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