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As evening falls on National Poetry Day…

5 Oct
In the Tent Palace of the Delicious Air, Swindon Festival of Poetry In the Tent Palace of the Delicious Air

Since my last post I’ve had a swim, eaten breakfast, been to a workshop, missed lunch (my bad) and given a short reading as part of a marathon open mic session. But more (or less) about that later – I’m playing a game of catchup here!

First of all … the night was young and the (faux) stars were out in the Tent Palace as National Poetry Day at the Swindon Festival of Poetry continued yesterday.

Chaucer Cameron gave heartfelt introductions to three readers all with new publications: Stephen Payne, Louisa Campbell and Josephine Corcoran.

Stephen Payne told us a little about his background as a psychologist and academic cognitive scientist – it’s always interesting to find out what diverse world poets come from. He read from a sequences of poems he’s called ‘Euclid for Beginners’, in which seemingly simple geometric shapes (box, point, line, triangle for example) are explored (‘…a plane is a surface where deep stuff happens’). Continue reading

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!