Deathcap mushroom babies and other stories

7 Oct
Poetry Primers

From left: Ben Bransfield, Cynthia Miller, Jane Commane (Nine Arches Press), Marvin Thompson. Bottom right: Tony Hillier

Regarding the quality of Poetry Swindon’s hosts, as I’ve written before, if you want a note-free host who knows more about the poet’s work than their own mother, Sam is your man. He makes the kind of celebratory introduction that forces an advance apology from the poet. And not forgetting Poetry Swindon’s finger-clicking and foot-stomping founder and leader, Hilda. I remember when Hilda could barely stand in front of a crowd. These days she has comic timing that would cause a stand-up to ask if she ran performance workshops and encourages us to encourage the poets with the clapping, cheering and whooping usually reserved for slams.

Yesterday, Tony was the cheerleader for Poetry Swindon Festival’s Poetry Primers, who had not a droney ‘poetry voice’ between them. I wasn’t sure at first about Ben Bransfield’s slow pace but then realised this enabled the absorption of unfamiliar words, phrases and lines, when the norm is for whole poems to gust by on a gale of inattention. One memorable poem owned the line ‘as you do’ as Ben contemplated fatherhood of a deathcap mushroom baby (I’m guessing in the vein of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’). Later he riffed on Scrooge and Jacob Marley as lovers which makes total sense if you think of it in the context of waking up drunk and imagining randy ghosts. Continue reading

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Friday evening and going strong

6 Oct

And today, how the day has stretched out. From the Holiday Inn breakfast and the specially made poached eggs, I made my way to Tania Hershman‘s working on ‘Liberation through Constraint’ and found a bunch of hardy writers ready to take on the four incredible challenges she set us, smiling, as if she were offering us bars of chocolate. Which of course meant that we were all up for it, and launched ourselves in with some incredible results, judging from the pieces people read out. The culmination of the workshop was the introduction of the ‘Drabble’ – nothing to do with the very wordy novelist – a flash fiction form that has to be exactly 100 words. Discoveries and surprises all round, I’d say.

The open mic after lunch yielded more surprises, with its theme of ‘strange days’. The star of the show was probably the large German shepherd whose name I think was Rory; he actually stepped up to the mic on cue when his owner name-checked him in a poem. Apart from that particular surprise, there were powerful and impassioned poems on all kinds of subjects ranging from mental health to an opera singer in a washing machine to  the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth. The man with drums and a very long political message was strangely fascinating, and a couple of poets read the poems they’d written that very morning whilst in Daljit’s workshop.

I spent a good part of the afternoon in the tent with Tania Hershman rehearsing our two-woman show, ‘Mad and Glow’ which we’re premiering tomorrow afternoon. We tripped over a few microphone wires, Tania corrected me on a line of hers that I had inadvertently rewritten in my live rendition, and I got marmite on my script – but we eventually staggered through it and are excited to take it to an audience and see what they make of our particular madness. As Monty Python would say, it’s all in the best possible taste.

After the briefest of sojourns in my room I returned to the tent to hear Emma Simon, Sue Rose and Simon Williams – three contrasting poets in a beautifully curated reading. Emma’s actually in the seminar group I teach, so I couldn’t help feeling proud. I’ve known Sue Rose for a few years and it was great to hear her read a breadth of work over a full twenty minutes. Simon Williams is new to me, and closed the reading with some serious and some really really funny poems that the audience adored.

I can’t close this without mentioning the ‘festival bread’ – proper sourdough that’s properly excellent, and the delicious meals. I’m starting to feel slightly institutionalised as I turn up like a cow fresh from the pasture ready to be fed at the appointed times.

 

Singh Songs and other poems beginning with S

6 Oct

You know that moment when you finally get what a poem means and then you realise – aghast – that every time previously you’ve heard the poet read it you’ve been smiling faintly or staring at the floor and then you realise IT’S A SAD POEM. This happened to me before when I submitted a poem celebrating my newly born daughter for critique to a writers group at the same time as another writer submitted a poem about her dead baby son and I still didn’t realise until critiquing it at the group when suddenly the penny dropped. Continue reading

Poetry and the film and the lecture

6 Oct

The second two Poetry Swindon Festival events were proper clever. Left me with a lot of thoughts which, to do the whole process justice, I’ll pose as questions.

The first asked us, is poetry film, poetry?

After a series of mesmerising shorts from the 1920s to last year – Swoon, Man Ray, Eduardo Yagüe, Hans Richter, Barbara Hammer, Tom Konyves, Dave Bonta – I wondered if poetry film is an intellectual exercise, or whether it speaks to us emotionally at a deeper level that bypasses intellect. Not that there’s anything wrong with ‘intellectual’ – unless it’s trying to shut others out with its cleverness. If you’ve met the lovely poetry film makers Elephants Footprint A.K.A. Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery, you’d know inclusiveness was the only thing on the table.

Like contemporary dance, poetry film creates its own visual language of movement that feels beyond text. In appreciating poetry film, do we let go of brains instead of trying to hold onto them? Continue reading

The unusual questions

5 Oct

Poetry Swindon Festival opened at Artsite*, in Swindon’s artistic centre which in the almost-city’s inimitable fashion consists of a tiny theatre, a large theatre, a computer museum, the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, a couple of kebabs shops and a nail bar.

From the outside, Poems Aloud set off like a religious gathering**, passersby looking in, wondering what was this self-assuming event and if they should investigate or pass on by the other side.

The usual questions were posed from paper, book and phone. Was/is Philip Larkin misogynistic? The dilemma when you’re asked to write an ecological-biased poem about bees and it ends up as a bee dress. (There were two bee poems, though the bee in the second one had a sad ending, for the bee anyway). Is it ok for shops to begin ‘celebrating’ Christmas in October? How to deal with office romances? Whether good melancholy is a substitute for a happiness? And is a love poem for Swindon possible? (yes)

Outside was the Poetry Pram, inviting cooing adults to adore the poems within. And there were hats.

*A little birdy told me why it wasn’t at the usual venue of Central Library––’they wanted to charge us! For doing the Council’s job of providing free culture!’

**Thanks to Robert Stredder for this observation.

Written by Louisa Davison

Poems Aloud took place at Artsite, Swindon, 5 October 2017, as part of Poetry Swindon Festival

Thursday Afternoon and Revving …

5 Oct

The journey from London was uneventful and mainly punctuated by sheep, the Tent of the Delicious Air (aka performance space) is magical, the volunteers are lovely and I can even vouch for the baked potatoes at the Holiday Inn.

I was met at the station by the wonderful Tony Hillier, long term member and founder of the Swindon Community Poetry group, who was wearing a fez and offered me a strawberry starburst – my favourite flavour. He also took me on a quite unnecessary and exhilarating tour of The Magic Roundabout in his car – it is actually five roundabouts in one and resembles the teapot twirly ride at a funfair. Feels like poetry already.

I’ve just spent a delightful couple of hours with my poetry partner in crime Tania Hershman who’s got me all excited about her workshop tomorrow on Liberation and Constraint, two of my favourite juxtapositions in poetry. We were briefly joined by Hilda Sheehan, head honcho and brilliant poet, who looked well excited. She is especially happy to be able to offer bursaries to people who would otherwise be unable to come to the festival, and also warned us not to get run over when crossing the dual carriageway between the Holiday Inn and the Richard Jeffries Museum.

Tonight I’m looking forward to hearing the V Press poets and I’m so excited to be reading with Tania Hershman and Daljit Nagra, the festival poets in residence. I know how great they are. See you on the other side!

Great Excitement and the Tent of Delicious Air

3 Oct

Hello poets, readers, listeners, organisers, volunteers.
This is Jacqueline Saphra, one of your festival bloggers for the Poetry Swindon Festival 2017. As blogger-in-residence I’ll be performing, listening, writing about events, swanning about, drinking wine and talking poetry for the best part of five days and I can’t wait. I am packing my trusty notebook, lots of sharp pencils and my laptop to bring you true life accounts of this festival of word, performance of word, and all manner of poetical shenanigans at Swindon, aka the Poetry Capital of the World. Watch this space.