Swindon Festival of Poetry – Being Human

11 Oct

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Having the same title as one of my favourite TV shows was a big point in favour of Tuesday night’s Swindon Festival of Poetry Finale.

Okay so Being Human didn’t have werewolves, ghosts and vampires in it, but both are about the stuff of life – life stages, its ordinariness, the rubbish things that can happen, the amazing things and how we each deal with all of it.

Taken from the Bloodaxe Books anthology of the same name, Being Human is a dramatisation of thirty-four poems from different writers performed by three fantastic actors, Benedict Hastings, Elinore Middleton and Barrett Robertson.

It’s a tricky thing turning poems into theatre.

The whole point of poems (unless they are generically ‘performance poetry’) is that they create pictures, thoughts and feelings simply through the power of of the written word. But as I’ve moaned about before, poetry recited badly can vanish those images like negatives exposed to light, thoughts and feelings floating out of each reach, banished by flat delivery.

So it was a great treat to have so many new (to me) poems brought to life in an intelligent order, and which spoke to my own life experiences.

As someone currently carrying my own internal foetal picture about with me Upon Seeing an Ultrasound Photo of an Unborn Child by Thomas Lux made me nod in agreement. The Mower by Philip Larkin reminded me of my own heart-sinking gardening accidents with mice and frogs.

I was especially moved by Golden Mothers Driving West by Paul Durcan. The thought that three Alzheimer suffering inhabitants of a care home should break out for one last adventure in their regulation gold dressing gowns before deciding to go out, hand-in-hand off a bridge, with a flourish made me think of my own grandfather slipping away, his brain once strong and completely reliable, failing him at the finish.

A translation of The War Works Hard by Dunya Mikhail was of things beyond many of our everyday experiences but is nevertheless in our consciousness. It was tongue-in-cheek with an angry tear in its eye, speaking of all the benefits of war such as ‘entertainment for the gods’ and stimulating the undertaker and grave digging industry.

It reminded me that poetry can be brilliant in celebrating life’s richness but also reminding us that we are not alone: good and bad things that happen are almost always a universal experience. And there’s solace in that.

I don’t think I would have absorbed this many poems in one sitting without such a great theatrical experience as this. A great lesson for many poets who want to bring their poems to life off the printed page. Well done to director Steve Byrne and his team, and to Midland Creative Projects and The Belgrade Theatre for bring this project to the stage.

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