Levelling up to Shakespearean

11 Oct

 

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George Fell – a welder by day, guitarist by night (imagine Jamie Dornan, not Flash Dancer Jennifer Beals) – opened the Poetry Swindon Festival Finale with fantastic finger twiddling of self-penned pieces. Inspiration, George shared, came from such sources as trapped bees behind a window and the dawn chorus at Glastonbury Festival mocking his hangover.

Poet and children’s writer A.F. Harrold made his second appearance after the Children’s Open Mic that morning, with added swearing and Greggs the Baker ejection anecdotes. He worried about the ‘judgemental’ big standee of the disconsolate Festival mascot, Dog. After the heavyweight poetry of the last four days, the audience was up for A.F.’s humour, even withstanding the affectionate booing greeting the lack of Dog love.

After A.F.’s last crazy poem dance had finished, Maurice the host asked the next poet, Mab Jones, how she was going to follow that? Mab clearly wasn’t sure. She’d come prepared with her latest, more serious work for a proper poetry crowd, but here they were laughing at A.F.’s jokey verse confusing jumble sales with jungle sales and of funfairs signs missing an F again. And so she flitted uneasily between the early career ribaldry of Cock Sonnet and the evocative elephant descriptiveness of Valley Takes a Bath. She turned to Maurice for support, commenting that performance poetry audiences clap after each poem, but not at readings? Yes they do, said Maurice with a laugh, inaccurately cutting dead that lifeline. Sometimes the F can fall off the performance sign, too.

(Mab was one of the first performers I chronicled back in Cheltenham in 2012, and then a few weeks later at Swindon Festival of Literature.)

After the devious interval and more George the guitarist, poet Inua Ellams reminds me how we would sometimes choose music from my husband’s vast pre-Spotify record collection – pick a letter he would say. Inua challenged us to shout out words to pick a poem. ‘Frog’ was first but we got ‘unicorn’ as a compromise, which is fine because we were a unicorn kind of crowd. ‘Victim’ led to Sparkle Sharp about omnipotent but omni-uncaring heavenly bodies. ‘Whiskey’ wasn’t there, ‘trees’ required too much pre-amble for the time he had left, and ‘peace’ poems were too long, which made sense. Then to the delight of audience member Brian – a warehouse manager for clothing company Jigsaw – Inua recited a poem commissioned by Brian’s bosses.

Finishing the evening, Swindon-based actor and poet Edward Day gave us a few snippets of his own show, Super Hamlet 64, Shakespeare’s tragic prince reimagined through computer games old and new with songs, poems, clever projection and even cleverer acting. The poem Run comments on the futility of gaming and how that couldn’t possibly be like real life, could it? Edward performed my favourite part of the show, where the Hamlet avatar attempts a soliloquy but doesn’t have the necessary language skills until he’s leveled up to ‘Shakespearean’. Edward also shared poems discussing transgender, which rationally and passionately mused over the male and female boxes we find ourselves in and if social constructs are bad or merely inappropriate.

This entertaining and thought-provoking example of the diverse talent and poetry on offer gave a fitting end to the festival.

Written by Louisa Davison
The Poetry Swindon Festival Finale, featuring George Fell, A.F. Harrold, Inua Ellams and Edward Day, was held on 9 October 2017, at the Richard Jefferies Museum
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