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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

What have the 1790s and robotics in common? – Rachel Hewitt and Alan Winfield

12 May

At first glance I didn’t think a talk about the 1790s and robotics (on the same bill at the Swindon Festival of Literature) would have much in common.

But I was wrong.

For one thing, quack doctor James Graham invented an electrical sex bed in the late 18th century, and, people being people, one of the robotics questions from the audience was, when will we get a sex robot? (Alan is actually chairing a panel discussion in Hay on Wye  about this very thing. It’s sold out.) Continue reading

John Tusa makes a noise – but softly

12 May
photo pf Fernando Bagué

John Tusa ©Fernando Bagué

It’s a funny old thing. For someone with a memoir entitled Making a Noise, its author, John Tusa, did anything but in delivering his lunchtime talk at Swindon’s Arts Centre. Which is not to say he whispered – that’s not what I mean at all. What I mean is that he had a considered, measured and calm method of delivery. Nothing frenetic here.

The subheading of Making a Noise, ‘Getting it right, getting it wrong, in life, the arts and broadcasting’ attracted me. Who hasn’t done and who isn’t still doing that? Well, the getting it right and wrong part at least. Continue reading

We are all nurses – Christie Watson

12 May
Photo of Matt Holland and Christie Watson

Matt Holland and Christie Watson ©Fernando Bagué

I’m drawn to kindness, and I was pleased to see an event on this subject at this year’s festival. We live in a country of increasing homelessness and poverty (again) – to hear/read about kindness feels more important than ever. 

I’ve also been a psychiatric nurse myself during the 1980’s and 1990’s, in one of those old asylums, and sometimes kindness was not part of care: lack of time and lack of resources always pushed kindness to the outer edges in those cold enormous wards, and people were dehumanised by this. 

Christie Watson’s book is impressive. She raises the awareness of the quality of good nurses through stories that highlight her own twenty years of kindness and dedication: “Sympathy, compassion, empathy: this is what history tells us makes a good nurse.” (p.8).  Continue reading

Radical Looking with Ben Okri

11 May

So, when I looked into Ben Okri’s book, The Magic Lamp, before his event at the Swindon Festival of Literature, I kinda got it wrong. I thought it was a collection of grown-up fairy tales* with accompanying illustrations.

This wasn’t just a simple error. Nope, this missed the point of Ben’s book.

Ben has an artist friend, the painter Rosemary Clunie. He loved her work so asked if he could borrow a painting for a few months, to live with it. “And then I went into the painting, literally, and came back out with the text.” Continue reading

The Life of Michael (not Brian) by Milo, aged 11 3/4s

10 May

When Milo met Michael

First thing I have to say about this man is… he is quite possibly the funniest and ‘niciest’ person I have ever met. And oh yes I have met him, and got to perform some of his poem Chocolate Cake to him which was a real honour.

So his performance was great and he made it very engaging. It is guaranteed that when you listen to Michael you will have hiccups from laughing so much.

His performance was about his memoirs. But even the titles of his books have back stories and the story behind this one is that he wanted to call his book an autobiography but the publishers wanted it to be called a memoir so there was an epic battle and the publishers won so it is now called the silly French-sounding word ‘memoir.’ Continue reading

Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art. —Andy Warhol

9 May

IMG_6022 (2).jpg

Thrust from the mellow harp strings and oboe world of Classic FM into the writhing snake-pit of arts funding, Darren Henley is a man who relishes a challenge.

Three years into his role as Chief Executive of Arts Council England, Henley is unenviably sandwiched between the downward pressure of the hands of government and the desperate grubby fingers of the arts community.

One wants return on investment the other creative freedom. Continue reading