Archive by Author

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, In, In, In

2 Oct

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Photograph © Jennifer Berry 2016

Tea & Cakes with Maggie Harris

Maggie Harris had already proved to be a warm and enthusiastic workshopguru at the Savernake Social Hall, what could make it just that little bit better? Nothing at all? No, tea and cakes of course.

Reading a broad selection from her extensive back catalogue, Maggie treated us to poetic insight into her forty years living in the UK and her constant exploration of her Guyanese roots. Continue reading

Worksocks

1 Oct

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Maggie Harris Workshop

I’m not a fan of workshops; they are usually just an excuse for me to buy a new Moleskine which I will then abandon the next day.

I’ve been to some great workshops, but I’ve also experienced four-hour sessions of Poetry By Numbers which have made me want to chew my arm off.

So it was with some trepidation and a clam shut mind that I racked up to the Savernake Social Hall for two hours with poet Maggie Harris. Continue reading

I hear voices, I see visions

1 Oct

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Elephant’s Footprint – Poetry Films

Bringing life to life is more difficult than it looks.

Who is the reader, the listener, the viewer and really so what?

The way I look at life is different to the way you look at life – I would imagine; I can send you a print-out of my browser history to confirm this if you like.

I would bet my bottom Euro though that we both review life as a sequence of images with an extremely unAttenborough totally unreliable narrator intoning apparent fact ad nauseum.

Poetry Films make the voice, and the visuals converge, and the results hint, suggest and deliver a particular type of poke in the ribs that they couldn’t do on their own.

The films made by poets from Swindon and the elsewhere that exists beyond the town were of high quality and obviously the result of some hard graft coupled with effective mentoring from Helen Dewbery and Chaucer Cameron of Elephant’s Footprint.

Unfortunately, I was buttonholed by my unreliable narrator two poems in, and he just wouldn’t shut up. Continue reading

Alone unwatched?

30 Sep

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Those China eyes are staring at you again, well one of them is, the other gazes sideways at someone on the other side of the room, an admirable bit of ocular multi-tasking for an inanimate object.

A China paw gloved by a China shoe pokes from the folds of a China robe as if this Swindon Sphinx has once more lost the straightforward pathway.

But this is not a straightforward place, nor is it a dark wood, it is Poetry Swindon Festival being five years old.

You had an unusually hectic Wednesday night, you left your phone charger on the train, you feel washed out and tired, your mood dial is flicking its eyelash in and out of grumpy.

Like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn, a great friend appears at your side, you met her through poetry, and she has held you up when the mood dial mires in the red.

She offers you the clothes of a poet and you put them on, you don’t want to be a Spaceman or a Medieval Knight today, you want to be a poet.

You wonder where these clothes will take you? Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

‘I once saw one carrying a segment of Terry’s Chocolate Orange’

6 May

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Amy Liptrot has provided me with my favourite line from any book I have read this year as she recalled her wild life in London Fields and the wildlife of Orkney.

Using her return to the remote Scottish islands following a three-month spell in rehab as the segment of her life to tap and unwrap in a memoir, Liptrop was an engagingly awkward presence at the Arts Centre. Continue reading

Sitting in Kipling’s bath

6 May
©Calyx Picture Agency Swindon Festival of Literature

©Calyx Mary Hamer at Swindon festival of Literature

If you can keep a shocking story going
    when Kipling is as unfashionable as a punkhawalla in the drawing room,
If you can travel the world in pursuit of your story,
    But maintain a love for your subject;
If you can wait ten years for the novel to come to fruition,
    Or uncover inequality, parental abandonment,
Or light a feminist torch for Kipling’s forgotten sibling,
    And yet don’t moralise, nor impose twenty-first-century morals on the nineteenth:

Continue reading

Foxes are the champions

2 May

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On a night when the ‘Foxes’ of Leicester City won the Premier League at the expense of the cockerel crested Spurs, debating the fox and his many guises seemed appropriate, especially as the event took place at Lower Shaw Farm.

Chickens were conspicuous by their absence, perhaps taking the hint from the signage chalked across their usual pecking ground.

So, Fantastic Mr. Fox or ginger vermin?

Lucy Jones explores every side of this complex creature in her book Foxes Unearthed – A story of love and loathing in modern Britain.

Speaking in a former cowshed on an award-winning urban farm, Jones was in the perfect place to expand on the countryside vs. city paradox which sees foxes fed at back-doors by ‘townies’ but shot or hunted in the countryside.

Jones made it clear that Mr. Fox is both hero and the villain, and has been so since he slunk into mankind’s chicken cave centuries ago.

A keen audience of first-night festival-goers heard the wildly differing points of view of the hunting fraternity, angry saboteurs, curly haired pomp-rock guitarists and chicken-less farmers. Continue reading

Whistle – Martin Figura

21 May

Martin Figura chose the Swindon Festival of Literature for the last performance of his hugely successful show ‘Whistle’. Shortlisted for the ‘Ted Hughes Award’ and winner of the 2013 Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Show, ‘Whistle’ tells, through poetry and images, an incredible and compelling story.

Martin’s mother was killed by his father when Martin was just 9 years old.

Expectation could be set for a ‘misery memoir’ style hour of poetry but Figura’s elegant storytelling and engaging stage presence makes sure for a riveting and unique experience instead.

Cleverly used visuals place both the poetry and the narrative in context with 1960’s toys and adverts both used by Figura to add humour to the show.

‘Whistle’ is not about self-pity or dark shadows, it does have its laughs although the overall picture painted by Figura’s poetry is one of pain, disbelief and loss.

Particularly resonant for me were the childhood visits he made to his father in Broadmoor, the mere name conjuring some sort of chill but Figura brings beauty even here with his poem ‘Dad’s Alma Mater’ ending

‘A deer breaks loose from the gorse     shakes rain from yellow flowers, I remember being small.’

Built from fragments of memory, letters, photographs and research ‘Whistle’ is a triumphant and captivating show.

The accompanying collection of poems also called ‘Whistle’ ends with a piece where Figura imagines dancing with his mother in her later years.

Entitled ‘June’s Birthday Waltz’ it is a touching and very personal dream sequence.

Swindon should feel very privileged to have been the location for the final performance of this powerful close reading of lives and death.

Festival Finale

19 May

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With a touch of sadness, songs, guitars, words and bicycles that lit up, the Swindon Festival of Literature 2014 came to a typically unique close.

Guitarist Richard Durrant opened proceedings with works by Paraguayan composer Agustin Barrios, his intricate plucking courtesy of a local nail bar. Continue reading