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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!

 

 

Levelling up to Shakespearean

11 Oct

 

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George Fell – a welder by day, guitarist by night (imagine Jamie Dornan, not Flash Dancer Jennifer Beals) – opened the Poetry Swindon Festival Finale with fantastic finger twiddling of self-penned pieces. Inspiration, George shared, came from such sources as trapped bees behind a window and the dawn chorus at Glastonbury Festival mocking his hangover.

Poet and children’s writer A.F. Harrold made his second appearance after the Children’s Open Mic that morning, with added swearing and Greggs the Baker ejection anecdotes. He worried about the ‘judgemental’ big standee of the disconsolate Festival mascot, Dog. After the heavyweight poetry of the last four days, the audience was up for A.F.’s humour, even withstanding the affectionate booing greeting the lack of Dog love. Continue reading

The sky shalt never be gunmetal

9 Oct

At the post-lunch reading slot at Poetry Swindon yesterday, young local poet and singer Olivia Tuck stepped in for a poorly Camilla Nelson.

Now while I’m sure Camilla would have been great (because Poetry Swindon has impeccable taste), Olivia made the most of her surprise moment. Funny and revealing, Olivia tells the trials and tribulations of youth, with a backdrop of in and out-patient mental health services and dark fantasies like Changeling. Today, chronicler Milo age 11 – still hanging around after the Children’s Open Mic, chilling on a bean bag and catching the reading – can still recall much of Olivia’s poem about her 12-year-old self.

She was in great company with two 2017 highly commended Forward Prize poets, Rishi Dastidar and Jessica Mookherjee. Continue reading

On iced buns and rubbish trees

8 Oct

 

 

A few bleary adult faces were prepping the Children’s Open Mic Talent Show this morning after the 3am mini party finish in the Tent Palace of the Delicious Air last night. Alas it started waaay after I had retired to bed but at least I didn’t look green today.

We were chewing our nails a little. At first it looked like the only kids were going to be the host (chronicler Milo), the guest poet Sophie Daniels and their siblings. But it was alright on the night (morning) when the chairs and bean bags filled with children anxious to take a turn on the mic.

So we had poems, jokes, poem-jokes, a bit of Milo, a welcome lot of A.F. Harrold the honorary adult poet and even more of Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. A.F. tackled serious business like iced buns in an iced bun shop, the perils of a midnight feast, and rubbish trees. Nine year old Sophie’s set showed her a miniature poet-in-waiting with an edge of darkness. Milo had to bravely act his way through Michael Rosen’s Little Rabbit Foo Foo – with the assistance of Sophie’s sister Grace and audience participation – after his sister Sydney got a serious attack of stage fright and not even the extreme bribery of chocolate cake would entice her onstage.

A.F. Harrold was a consummate professional, even when toddlers tried to upstage him by taking the mic mid-poem, and Milo (and the other kids queuing to get their A.F. books signed) finished the event with a big fat smile on his face.

Written by Louisa Davison

Children’s Open Mic Talent Show took place at the Richard Jefferies Museum, 8 October 2017, as part of Poetry Swindon Festival.

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)

INSIDE

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