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Festival Finale – Things WILL only get better

21 May

SwindonLitFes_2018_0020_Jacob_Hi_Ho&Darine_Flanagan_previewAt the finale of the Finale of the Swindon Festival of Literature, circus performer Darine carried Jake and the festival into a new era – next year it morphs into Spring Swindon Festival of the arts.

One could be forgiven for feeling reflective. Laura, of musical act the Glow Globes, observed, “Is it a little melancholy tonight because it has been 25 years and things are going to change?”

A film showed us the growth of the festival from a programme of twelve events to over fifty. “Who told us festivals to look forward to this week include the Cannes Festival and Swindon Festival of Literature?” festival director Matt Holland asked in a short audience quiz. The answer was Radio 2. Continue reading

Change the pictures, change the world – Kate Raworth and Doughnut Economics

21 May
Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth wanted to change the world. She tried it in a village in Zanzibar. She tried it in the UN, and then at Oxfam.

But her days as an economics student came back to haunt her. How could a ‘social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services’ (Wikipedia) be so far removed from ‘real-world economic challenges’? In all her forays into social justice, she banged herself against an economic brick wall. It’s impossible to create lasting change when the system itself is wrong.

Kate decided the main problem was the wrong pictures. Surely money, you may ask? But no, pictures – with a glut of blank spaces for people to fall into. University economics 101 uses a series of very memorable diagrams by a young US professor, Paul Samuelson, drawn after the second world war. These pictures, Kate said, sit at the back of visual cortex and influence our thoughts.

Just as memorable (read: creepy) was his aim for them: he wanted to ‘lick the blank slate of the mind’. You may recognise their simplistic black marks – the ones where a line starts at the bottom corner of the graph and zooms off to the top (GDP and unlimited growth); or a toilet door-style man whose only concern is how much things cost and how much he has to spend; or those hump back hill ones where some people lose out at the start before everyone starts to win; or where horrible waste is made, but don’t worry because prosperity will clean it up.  Continue reading

What the kenning? – Matt Harvey, writing workshop

21 May
Matt Harvey at the Festival Finale

Matt Harvey at the Festival Finale

Kenning, according to Matt Harvey, is a way of describing things and their function through creative language and metaphor.

Make sense? No, me neither at first. But, as he explained further it did, with his sharing of work and examples along the way: blood as battle dew, clouds as God’s pocket fluff, and slugs as soft-horned invisigoths.

It is a process that is taught to children. Books are even written about it: Valerie Blooms’  Things to do with Kids Kennings an example of one Matt explained. And, it was to be an important part of our first task. This was a workshop after all; a fact which I had appeared to have forgotten over a leisurely lunch and a spell in the sunshine in the serene surroundings of Lower Shaw Farm. Continue reading

Wouldn’t politics be better if women were in charge?

16 May
Dan O'Brien and Harriet Harman

Dan O’Brien and Harriet Harman

Wouldn’t politics be better if women were in charge? I mean, not the present woman in charge – she’s awful. Or the one off of the eighties – not least because, in practical terms, that would involve a zombie leading a zombie party. But other women.

Think back to the 2015 general election, and the televised Leaders’ Debate.

David Cameron in an act of hubris didn’t even bother to turn up. (This hinted at the arrogance he’d display once he’d called an EU referendum rather than tackle disquiet in his own party which turned the country’s citizens against each other, and set the UK on a course for economic disaster, before announcing he didn’t want to clear up the giant can of racist worms in shit sauce he’d opened and strolled off to spent time in a £25,000 shed on wheels.)

Nigel Farage was there, because it was television and he’d been invited, and so was Ed Miliband, still in recovery from being hauled over the coals by political heavyweight and mansion tax opposer, Myleene Klass.

But it was the performance of the three female party leaders that gave me a warm glow. The Green Party’s Natalie Bennett, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP managed to debate the NHS, the deficit, affordable housing, immigration, and Trident without going red in the face and getting spittle over each other. Continue reading

Life without poetry… poetry without life

14 May
Hilary Davies

Hilary Davies

An event that starts with Anna Wickham’s words is going to have a head start in my world. I can always rely on festival director Matt Holland for this. Matt walks around with her words in his breast pocket, and in his head.

I married a man of the Croydon class
When I was twenty-two.
And I vex him, and he bores me
Till we don’t know what to do!
It isn’t good form in the Croydon class
To say you love your wife,
So I spend my days with the tradesmen’s books
And pray for the end of life.

From Nervous Prostration

This is the measure of a great festival director who not only last night celebrated his first ever guest of 25 years ago, Sebastian Barker, he also celebrated women and their contribution to arts, war, and life. Continue reading

Sunny children’s event features a flood story that predates Noah’s

14 May

So it started like every year my family parking as far away as possible from are actual destination (we might as well have walked to the farm) and as I walk past the sign saying Lower Shaw Farm in big letters and the same philosophical question passes my mind: where is the Higher Shaw Farm? If anyone knows then please inform me in a comment down below (somewhere over the rainbow is not a valid answer!)

Anyway I walk in to see Tony Hillier sitting at the desk asking for tickets. And I suddenly think: “Oh no, will he only let my mum in? Will I have to be a loner standing outside the gate? How will I get the ten pounds for writing up this piece? Goodbye Thanos Battle Lego set, it was nice to think of having you.”

But luckily we were all VIPs so we were allowed in for free and I breathed a sigh of relief! My dream was saved. But this isn’t all about me and my problems: this is an interesting readable post and everyone likes these. If not then you can leave this site immediately and spend the rest of the day not reading this. We’ve gone way off track and most of the passengers in the train have died, so let’s get on with it. Continue reading

Swindon Slam – the real elephant in the room

14 May
Swindon Slam winner Joy-Amy Wigman

Swindon Slam winner Joy-Amy Wigman

“Poems are no longer dangerous enough; risk-averse…” shouts Brenda Reed Brown, Swindon Slam contestant. And, as the evening comes to an end, I must agree she may have a point.

For the 25th anniversary of the Festival of Literature (and the 22nd Swindon Slam) previous winners – normally excluded from entering – were invited back.

That was good news for 2017 winner, Joy-Amy Wigman, who took the 2018 trophy with her poem, Hell Is Empty; a political poem documenting an encounter that Joy had with a Tory MP who advised ‘disability cuts will not affect you’. This statement promoted her pennings and sign off – it will affect you, maybe not, you are a Tory.

Fellow finalist Chris Osman, meanwhile, competed with his poem, Even Daily Mail Readers Die. Continue reading