Archive by Author

My Surprise Workshop

8 Oct

It is fair to say that some participants didn’t get what they came for on Sunday morning when they turned up with their rolled up mats and tired faces expecting relaxation and poetry. I was a late replacement for the relaxation teacher who wasn’t able to make it. There was a meditative quality to this workshop, but I don’t think you could say it was relaxing. This was a mixed group of experienced poets and some completely new to poetry. But every single one of them moved me with their willingness to dig in, dig deep and take on challenges. By this point in the festival I reckon most participants are steeped in poetry and they’re just ready to go. Continue reading

Mad and Glow – the experiment

8 Oct
Mad and Glow

Mad and glowing (photo by Nine Arches Press)


I met Tania Hershman, Poet in Residence at Swindon and my now partner-in-poetry, at the Nine Arches Christmas party last year. When we heard each other read, we were both struck by the ways our work resonated, although our styles are very different, and began to wonder whether, given that we both have a background in theatre, we might put together a two-woman show. As we were beginning to focus on this idea, we realised that we were going to be at Swindon at the same time. This seemed to be too good an opportunity to miss, so we tentatively asked Hilda Sheehan whether we could have ten minutes for little scratch performance. Hilda being Hilda, lover of experiments, gave us a one hour slot and left us to it. And so Mad and Glow was born. This is a two-woman show directed by my daughter Tamar, involving tea, sandwiches, audience participation and quite a lot of poetry. Continue reading

Politics and Provocation

8 Oct

Daljit Nagra’s was a packed workshop in the holiday Inn and we were grateful for the posh bottles of water, Holiday Inn notepads and pens, and thankfully, air conditioning. Things got quite ‘balmy’ as Daljit put it as this workshop progressed. I had intended to come as an observer but found myself quickly and irrevocably drawn in.

The political became more and more accessible as a way into poetry as the workshop progressed. Daljit talked about his experience of writing British Museum, that a way to get into the structures of politics, for him, was to look at the structures of buildings; beautifully concrete images to work from. He talked about the joy of taking on The Big Poem, of doing the research without an authoritative or didactic voice, and mentioned my favourite Yeats quote: ‘Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry’. From this, he invited us, amongst other things, to be non-partisan and to write from another’s point of view. Continue reading

Friday evening and going strong

6 Oct

And today, how the day has stretched out. From the Holiday Inn breakfast and the specially made poached eggs, I made my way to Tania Hershman‘s working on ‘Liberation through Constraint’ and found a bunch of hardy writers ready to take on the four incredible challenges she set us, smiling, as if she were offering us bars of chocolate. Which of course meant that we were all up for it, and launched ourselves in with some incredible results, judging from the pieces people read out. The culmination of the workshop was the introduction of the ‘Drabble’ – nothing to do with the very wordy novelist – a flash fiction form that has to be exactly 100 words. Discoveries and surprises all round, I’d say.

The open mic after lunch yielded more surprises, with its theme of ‘strange days’. The star of the show was probably the large German shepherd whose name I think was Rory; he actually stepped up to the mic on cue when his owner name-checked him in a poem. Apart from that particular surprise, there were powerful and impassioned poems on all kinds of subjects ranging from mental health to an opera singer in a washing machine to  the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth. The man with drums and a very long political message was strangely fascinating, and a couple of poets read the poems they’d written that very morning whilst in Daljit’s workshop.

I spent a good part of the afternoon in the tent with Tania Hershman rehearsing our two-woman show, ‘Mad and Glow’ which we’re premiering tomorrow afternoon. We tripped over a few microphone wires, Tania corrected me on a line of hers that I had inadvertently rewritten in my live rendition, and I got marmite on my script – but we eventually staggered through it and are excited to take it to an audience and see what they make of our particular madness. As Monty Python would say, it’s all in the best possible taste.

After the briefest of sojourns in my room I returned to the tent to hear Emma Simon, Sue Rose and Simon Williams – three contrasting poets in a beautifully curated reading. Emma’s actually in the seminar group I teach, so I couldn’t help feeling proud. I’ve known Sue Rose for a few years and it was great to hear her read a breadth of work over a full twenty minutes. Simon Williams is new to me, and closed the reading with some serious and some really really funny poems that the audience adored.

I can’t close this without mentioning the ‘festival bread’ – proper sourdough that’s properly excellent, and the delicious meals. I’m starting to feel slightly institutionalised as I turn up like a cow fresh from the pasture ready to be fed at the appointed times.


Thursday Afternoon and Revving …

5 Oct

The journey from London was uneventful and mainly punctuated by sheep, the Tent of the Delicious Air (aka performance space) is magical, the volunteers are lovely and I can even vouch for the baked potatoes at the Holiday Inn.

I was met at the station by the wonderful Tony Hillier, long term member and founder of the Swindon Community Poetry group, who was wearing a fez and offered me a strawberry starburst – my favourite flavour. He also took me on a quite unnecessary and exhilarating tour of The Magic Roundabout in his car – it is actually five roundabouts in one and resembles the teapot twirly ride at a funfair. Feels like poetry already.

I’ve just spent a delightful couple of hours with my poetry partner in crime Tania Hershman who’s got me all excited about her workshop tomorrow on Liberation and Constraint, two of my favourite juxtapositions in poetry. We were briefly joined by Hilda Sheehan, head honcho and brilliant poet, who looked well excited. She is especially happy to be able to offer bursaries to people who would otherwise be unable to come to the festival, and also warned us not to get run over when crossing the dual carriageway between the Holiday Inn and the Richard Jeffries Museum.

Tonight I’m looking forward to hearing the V Press poets and I’m so excited to be reading with Tania Hershman and Daljit Nagra, the festival poets in residence. I know how great they are. See you on the other side!

Great Excitement and the Tent of Delicious Air

3 Oct

Hello poets, readers, listeners, organisers, volunteers.
This is Jacqueline Saphra, one of your festival bloggers for the Poetry Swindon Festival 2017. As blogger-in-residence I’ll be performing, listening, writing about events, swanning about, drinking wine and talking poetry for the best part of five days and I can’t wait. I am packing my trusty notebook, lots of sharp pencils and my laptop to bring you true life accounts of this festival of word, performance of word, and all manner of poetical shenanigans at Swindon, aka the Poetry Capital of the World. Watch this space.