Life without poetry… poetry without life

14 May
Hilary Davies

Hilary Davies

An event that starts with Anna Wickham’s words is going to have a head start in my world. I can always rely on festival director Matt Holland for this. Matt walks around with her words in his breast pocket, and in his head.

I married a man of the Croydon class
When I was twenty-two.
And I vex him, and he bores me
Till we don’t know what to do!
It isn’t good form in the Croydon class
To say you love your wife,
So I spend my days with the tradesmen’s books
And pray for the end of life.

From Nervous Prostration

This is the measure of a great festival director who not only last night celebrated his first ever guest of 25 years ago, Sebastian Barker, he also celebrated women and their contribution to arts, war, and life.

Matt is a great advocate of women’s work and women taking initiative, leading the way in Swindon. Lower Shaw Farm, home of the Swindon Festival of Literature is lead by great women too.

I say this because our first poet last night was a male poet no longer with us, but there was something of women’s power fed through the whole evening at the arts centre ending with the knowledge that women were banned from playing football after the First World War until the 1970s.

Women have a lot of catching up to do, and we are doing that in Swindon. We need good men to get behind that idea and be part of that progress.

Back to Sebastian Barker (1945 – 2014) who, with thirteen volumes of poetry and three collections of essays to his name, was the first author to appear at the first Swindon Festival of Literature, in May 1994.

He liked what he saw in Swindon. When funding was low and uncertainty high, it was Sebastian who said, “This Festival can fly!” Today, we remember him by presenting poems from his last collection, Land of Gold.

“I can not imagine a life without poetry,” he expressed. “Have your study outside.” Meaning, I think, poems require the breath of life through them. Matt read two Barker poems, with a moment of great emotion and compassion.

It’s a moment of beauty to see a poem read with such empathy, and real sadness. Those feelings are what makes poetry so important to humans and life. We learn so much about the power of feeling in poems. They have their own hearts and we have to nurture them, love them, read them and not forget their place in everyday life.

Hilary Davies, who was married to Sebastian, is a translator, critic, and author of four collections of poetry, the latest of which is Exile and the Kingdom. She read and talk a little of their life together and his work.

She told us he was fascinated by aphids, loved Hackney and the Lee river, (“the edge of space”) where some of his poems come to life by Bomb Crater Pond. “The ground of course is suffering,” he wrote. That it is.

“Poems have their own way of showing themselves,” said Hilary, of her husband’s words, sometimes struggling to emerge, sometimes easy. This is poetry.

Two Poets: the Last Work of Sebastian Barker and the Latest by Hilary Davies was an event at Swindon Arts Centre on Sunday May 13, part of the Swindon Festival of Literature. Words by Hilda Sheehan. Image © Fernando Bagué

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