Battered Moons at the Swindon Festival of Poetry

7 Oct

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This year’s poetry competition didn’t quite go to the moon and back but they certainly made it to the other side of the world.

Judges David Morley and Cristina Navazo-Eguia Newton both took the entries on their travels. On the plane to Australia, David shared the poems around the passengers and asked them to read the poems aloud. Cristina took hers to her native Spain.

A good proportion of the winning pieces were about birds. “I’ve got a feeling some of the entrants researched my interests,” remarked David who’s into ornithology.

Each poet read their work aloud, either in person or via a video film, most with great energy. Four were commended alongside the main prize winners.

Chrissy Banks’ poem, Lilly White Heaven, was an early contender, resonating with David throughout his trip to Australia.

Steve Scholey showed ‘expressive control and a explosive conclusion’ with The True Colour of Snow.

Hare Mother by Jinny Fisher was not a nice, maternal animal. This hare knew how to survive, with an ending that ‘woke up every one on the plane.’

Nightjar by Rebecca Gethin was praised for its combination of delicacy and toughness. “I like that in language and people,” said David.

Heron/Snow by Polly Atkin was another poem with a tough, bloody ending, nature red in tooth and claw…and beak.

I loved the clever idea upon which A Paradigm Shift in Ornithology by Sarah Watkinson rested; that birds are pure energy created from light.

Zelda Chappel’s winning entry, Another Twenty, Another Stone, “was always going to feature amongst the winners. A sense of danger not fear. It’s fearless. It keeps trying to misbehave. An immaculate precision of language and imagery,” comments David. Zelda explains it came about after a walk on the salt marshes in Kent, a place to take stock, to think of the important things in life.

“I don’t enter many poetry competitions,” Zelda tells me later. “The dark undertones of my poems seem to put off judges.” Not a judge like Cristina who writes about state-sanctioned kidnapped babies in Stolen Lullaby.

Both judges gave spirited renditions of their work. Cristina owned the stage, performing off book and striding around. David read from his 2013 collection, The Gypsy and the Poet, about a real life encounter between John Clare and gypsy Wisdom Smith. After one reading – in Anglo Romany – David finishes rock n roll style by screwing up his paper and throwing it into the audience.

A couple of years ago I attended the Battered Moons event and found it flat and a bit academic. This year couldn’t be more different, mainly due to the enthusiasm, gusto and lack of pretension of poets and poet-judges and partly due to the performance setting of Swindon Arts Centre (rather than Swindon Museum and Art Gallery).

And – pointing to  Zelda’s reaction to winning this particular competition as an example – another event that demonstrates the uniqueness, bravery and refreshing quirkiness of Swindon’s Festival of Poetry.

Zelda’s winning entry, Another Twenty, Another Stone

Here sheep are counted the old fashioned way; four pips,
another twenty, another stone. Gathered in my pocket
their sound is a heavy lullably we wade knee deep in.
Their weight has a downdraught like a pin. The wind
collecting in my ears is sea flooding in, determined.
Tidal shifts are all that keep us balanced, the swing
a comfort we think we’ve had before but cannot place.
The edge is immeasurably distant from here, no matter
how much we stretch. The sky unfolds herself and lets in
light, grows vast as thought itself and we remain consumed.
Silt lies still ’til the ground falls flat now we realise how
wrong we’ve been standing. We’ve not learnt our lines
or their direction. Another twenty, another stone
waits pocketed, yearning to to feel the ground.

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