Spoke and word

18 May

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Part of the attentive Poetry Swindon audience at The Sun Inn, Coate.

 

Swindon Literary Festival this is not, this is Swindon Festival of Literature.

As Matt Holland made clear in the inaugural Kaye Franklin Memorial Lecture, Literary Festivals are all about books; a Literature Festival is about writing, good writing.

Poetry Swindon’s Sunday Open Mic is alive with talk of books and publishing, I say alive, but this navel-gazing seems to deaden the night.

Guest poets ‘The Spoke’ from Bristol are a four person poetry collective and their work dominated proceedings at The Sun Inn.

Swindon is far from a ‘local poems for local poets’ sort of place, much has been done to welcome poets from far and wide to showcase their material here.

Unfortunately upwards of sixteen poems of a workshopped flavour seemed to flatten out a usually sparky event.

That’s not to say that the visitors don’t have some stand-out work, just that the constant references to ‘published here’ ‘going to be published there’ seemed to put some of the more ordinary work under undue pressure.

When the poetry wasn’t forced and themes were explored with humour and depth ‘The Spoke’ spake their best.

Claire Williamson showed the power of poetry with work centred on the tragic suicide history of her close family. These poems were vital, engaged and touching.

The ding-ding of a Brighton bus named in honour of Dusty Springfield brought some welcome poet-karaoke from Bob Walton as he paid a tribute to the iconic torch singer.

Hilda Sheehan, with her usual delicate touch, shared a classic slice of pithy Stevie Smith, the stark image of a bereaved swan direct, clear and to the point, not falling for the mawkish ‘Dying Swan’ of Tennyson, Smith’s 80 years young poem fixes an image of a,

‘Wan

Swan

On the lake

Like a cake

Of soap’

Proof positive that less is almost always best.

Back with the Open Mic and a nervous first time reader rattled off real, urgent emotion.

As the evening closed, the tragedy of a downed Russian airliner was reduced to a literal pricked balloon, a bang and a whimper.

So, poetry in all its many guises, the earnest, the raw, the clumsy, the academic, the baffling, the difficult, the bookish, the well written.

MC Sam Loveless in his usual calm and entertaining manner said it best at the start when he observed that there were other claims on people’s time on this festival Sunday (barbecue weather and live streaming of the new Radiohead album).

I for one am glad that I opted for an evening with Poetry Swindon although at times I felt as ambivalent to the poetry as I do when Oxford’s premier pop-jazz-rock funsters burden us with a new slice of difficulty.

Poetry Swindon Open Mic took place at the Sun Inn, 8 May 2016, part of Swindon Festival of Literature.

Words by Michael Scott.

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