C is for chocolate – day four of the Poetry Swindon Festival

5 Oct

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Day four of Poetry Swindon Festival
Events take place at Lower Shaw Farm

10:45. Arrival. Hellos, how are yous, coffee, rush (late) to poetry mosaic workshop with Lynette Thomas of Artkore. Manage to cobble together something that started out as ‘life is fun’ and ended up some dark comment about fashion models. Chronicler Pete later says it looks like a bunch of random words and magazine pictures. Other (more enlightened people) say ‘oo I like that one’. Admittedly their favourite thing might be a bunch of random words and magazine pictures.

The sun is shining, gracing us with its warm presence, autumn is only a state of mind. Behind us is the old cow shed converted to event room, and accommodation rooms. In front of us is the covered play area with mattresses and hammocks. All around are flowers, somewhere to sit and chat; ducks and chickens peck round. A fox gives them the willies.

12:15. Chat outside in the sunshine. (It is raining outside today as I write and realise how lucky we were. What perfect weather it was. Is the world crying now the festival is over? *Fall into pretension so continue writing outside brackets*) Poetry Swindon Festival is spending a weekend with friends, for round pegs fed up with square holes. I hope festival newbies feel like this too.

12:30. Lunch of soup, salad, freshly made bread rolls (eat two) and hot-from-the-oven chocolate muffins (‘Muffins for pudding’, says helper Sophie in the kitchen serving room. ‘I heard the C word was mentioned.’ I am momentarily shocked. Then confused. Then realise C did not mean Carrot.) Poet in residence Jo shows she is not just a pretty phraser and produces Oriel icecream. Helper Miles (‘the tallest man at the festival’) produces chicken nuggets, a Pepperami and cream pastries from well-known supermarket bag. Tomorrow the bag will cost five pence. Yesterday a duck perched on the barbeque. It wasn’t lit.

13:00ish. Cow shed sparkling with chili pepper lights, more flowers and a heater proclaiming in chalk, ‘I AM HOT’. It might be lying. Or maybe it’s a comment on the heat this weekend. Nigel McLoughlin is Irish and talks about hill farmers (‘The dark mass of hill is mine to the bone’), dementia (‘Her silver hair raging in the night’), never making a priest, and how dangerous it is to give an Ulster man a pulpit.  Jacqueline Saphra twists personal histories into the realms of fiction. Spit features in two poems from innocent to insult (childhood spitting contest/’Slow the spit of newsprint in the brain’). One starts off with the Sound of Music and ends on a sibling suicide attempt – poetry is sneaky like that. Women v housework (probably wasn’t about housework, poetry is sneaky like that) – ‘My mother was too small to keep up with the housework. Needles frightened her.’

14:00 maybe. Miss Nine White Horses on the lawn. Fail to make headway on today’s chronicle.

14:05 or thereabouts. Observe the Itinerant Librarian in her outside pub-table based library. She precisely stamps Stephen’s membership card, hands out the byebyelaws of membership and a complimentary haiku.

14:30 I think. Back in the cow shed, DJ Bobby the Persuader spins tunes on proper Technic ones and twos. A couple of people brave the dance floor. Outside, Sophie Herxheimer worries to us that no one will listen to her set, but the battered bell is run (moonlighting from the Swindon Festival of Literature) and people gather inside and it’s all good. Sophie produces, The Listening Forest, an impressively big book of poetry, drawings, block prints and paper cuts, A3 size, which unfolds concertina-style. She also has foolscap ‘broadside’ posters with larger-than-life verse and art. This is a lovely change from poems read from small pamphlets or books or notepads. It says poetry is big, it’s exploded from the tiny printed page like it explodes in the mind. Sophie has written with the voice of her immigrant German grandmother and it tickles her in workshops to hear small children read them, ‘channeling my long dead granny’. ‘Herr Kondooktor…Nods viz a keint Smile. Fanks Luv!…Zis City vill be Home, verr eefen on ze Buss is Luff’ says London. She tells us bank advice slips always fail to deliver on their promise. Her poems Teaching Grandmothers to Suck Eggs/Grandmother Teaches Eggs to Suck are really about endless mandatory parenting classes to enable her to claim benefits for her teenage child with learning disabilities. Poetry is sneaky like that. She thanks us in the Sophie way: ‘You’ve done such angelic listening and how much can anyone take?’ Take part in Open Mic.

16:30 probably. Chronicler Pete arrives with emergency glam for Hannah, one of last year’s Man-poets for the day like me. Hannah and I hug then she reminds me how as women we all bonded quickly, then were confused by our male personas. We agreed that Jamie (me) was a dick and didn’t like Ron (her).

16:45 I think. The lawn. Fail at hoola hooping.

17:00 give or take. Outside. Eat tea. We know it isn’t by Lower Shaw Farm because it has meat in it. Festival friend Anna-May Laugher is responsible and receives much cheering for her efforts. (NB this was not some underhand insult to Lower Shaw Farm’s lovely scran.) Have interchangeable conversation depending on who’s sitting at the table. Like musical chairs but with words and to sit is the prize. Begin drinking Prosecco.

17:30 to some point. Cow shed all dolled up with red carpet and big screen. Card moustaches on sticks adorn the tables, twitching at us. Prosecco placed alongside. Watch the Man (poet) For a Day film in its first outing. Us Man (poets) are presented with awards by Louise ranging from stuffed pigs to rubber facial hair. I am ‘most dapper’. Everyone is impressed by Myfanwy’s borrowed blue heeled boots. Finish drinking Prosecco. Poetry film There is Nothing in the Garden by Elephant Footprint follows and taps gently but insistently at the bubbly wine haze. (See here for last year’s write up.) Here is the Man (poets) film in which you can also catch glimpses of Lower Shaw Farm. I am the one on stage saying ‘no’.

Dark. Mini-chroniclers are dropped off by their granny and we are thrilled to see each other. But this means I have to miss I Shall Come Back, the theatre show about Dorothy Parker at Swindon Arts Centre. Am reminded that I can’t have it all. BUT I WANT TO.


Post by Louisa Davison

Louisa Davison is also known as Agent Louisa at Secret Agent Marketing

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