Swindon Poetry – Into the Tent Palace

5 Oct
Isobel Palmer and Philip Gross

Isobel Palmer and Philip Gross

It was National Poetry Day yesterday and what better way to celebrate it than at the Poetry Swindon Festival?  I’m Robin and I’ll be blogging over the next couple of days about some of the sessions, and the experience generally – alongside Festival Chronicler Louisa.

I made it into the Tent Palace of the Delicious Air, on the lawn of the Richard Jefferies Museum, just as an open mic was in full swing. We heard a poem about a ‘Smart Toaster’. Angi Holden read from her collection ‘Spools of Thread’. Jinny Fisher offered a thoughtful piece on the experiences of boys in public schools. The fairy lights behind the stage blinked on and off, we broke for mugs of tea in the garden and suddenly I ran into Hilda Sheehan, Festival founder/director, back from Belgium for the weekend and looking younger and bouncier than ever. This festival is just as I remember it – quirky, warm and unpredictable. It’s four years since I was here and I’m greeted like an old friend. That’s Poetry Swindon for you.

The late afternoon session saw Flarestack‘s Isobel Palmer introducing three poets with recent Flarestack pamphlets: Anna-May Laugher, Pey Pey Oh and Philip Gross.

Anna-May’s background in mental health informed the powerful ‘Our house’ – presumably an ironic reference to the song by Madness, but less of a jaunty memoir than a desperately sad testimony of a young child living with his mother’s illness and its impact on all their lives. Anna-May’s set included a number of ekphrastic poems and plenty of humour too.

Pey Pey Oh, whose pamphlet is called Pictograph, introduced herself with ‘English is my second language’ and some nice background about her life. Much of her set focused on the journey she took ‘wandering around China not speaking Mandarin’.  These were evocative poems full of wry observation (‘the boy with the beautifully sullen face’) and all delivered with Pey Pey’s warmth and charm. We learnt she had three grandmothers, one of whom ‘had bound feet and was married to an opium eater.’ I think that detail alone would have won over the audience.

The final of the three readers, Philip Gross, explained that his pamphlet Shadowplay was actually a collaboration with an Australian, Jenny Pollak, and centred on their exchanges over a period of time, in person and then by email, on the subject of light and dark. Philip explained how it was influenced by the Japanese form renga, in which poets ‘passed verses’  back and forth in a kind of sedate game of frisbee (at least, that’s the image I got!) We heard three extracts, with Isobel Palmer reading Jenny’s verses. There was a lot to think about here, from the nature of photography (‘soon we tire of it …(light) …and begin to long for the dark, its inwardness’  ‘Developing the Negatives’) to the universe itself and what we see when we look at ‘space’.

Full marks to Philip and Isobel for carrying on as the mic inexplicably sagged to around knee-height, and Sam Loveless for trying to fix it from the ground-up. But by the evening any small tech hitches were a dim memory.

One of the great things about this year’s festival is the proximity of everything – many of us are staying at the Holiday Inn across the road, about two minute’s walk, albeit one during which you need to stay alert. We had a health and safety briefing from Festival coordinator Helen in which she told us the only time to cross the road is when ‘you can’t see ANY cars coming’. There’s got to be some sort of metaphor here – a poetry festival divided by a road. Something to work up!

 

 

4 Responses to “Swindon Poetry – Into the Tent Palace”

  1. poemogram 5th October 2018 at 11:27 am #

    Brilliant blog… are you able to put it on Facebook poetry Swindon or Richard Jefferies Museum please

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

  2. poemogram 5th October 2018 at 11:29 am #

    Sam is going to try to facebook it too

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

  3. Peter Raynard 6th October 2018 at 2:21 pm #

    Really enjoying your Chronicle Robin. Thank you. Peter

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