Tag Archives: Torbay Poetry Festival

Poetry on the Riviera

Torbay Poetry Festival is always one of the highlights of the autumn, and this year was no exception, so I’m going to share a few snapshots and other recollections of the weekend.

Unfortunately I haSue Boyled to miss the first day of the festival, so was not in Torquay for the dramatisation of Report from Judenplatz by Sue Boyle. I am told that the presentation by John Miles and his company was professional and moving; and having seen their Under Milkwood production later in the weekend, I can believe it.

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The two major evening events were the festival supper, with a reading by MaurIMG_0421ice Riordan, and a reading on the Sunday evening by Roger McGough. These were, not surprisingly, very different events, but both were hugely enjoyable, providing food for thought as well as wine and, in the case of the supper, good food. The poetry was good, of course; but other less poetry-related aspects of their performances were also appreciated: for instance, I had not heard Maurice read before and was charmed by his Irish accent; and Roger who was, as ever, extremely amusing, sported a pair of bright red shoes.

IMG_0386This year’s Torbay poetry competition was judged by R V Bailey, and at the prize-giving we were able to read the short-listed poems that were posted all round the walls, and give coloured dots  to indicate where we would have awarded the prizes. The winner turned out to be Carole Bromley – a result that delighted me as I have been reading, and greatly enjoying, Carole’ poetry over the last few months.

IMG_0384The other event that featured Rosie Bailey was a launch of the large anthology entitled ‘Love and Loss’ that she and June Hall have edited over the last year.

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It is a beautiful book, containing poems by well-known poets, including the Poet Laureate, as well as many lesser-known poets, a number whom were attending the festival. I was pleased to have a couple of poems in the book myself, and therefore took part in the reading.

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I had intended to have a swim from the hotel steps, but there was never a spare moment. There were readings, talks and staged conversations that presented  Susan Taylor and Simon Williams, Katrina Naomi, William Oxley, Jeremy Young , Wendy French and others.

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There were also workshops led by Danielle Hope, Katherine Gallagher and June Hall, but I wasn’t able to get to any of those.

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As our festival weekend coincided with the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, there was  a dramatic reading of Under Milkwood on the Sunday morning, presented by John Miles and his company. As IMG_0402I know the work practically word for word, I wondered whether this would be a disappointment. On the contrary, however, it was a wonderful performance, bringing out the music, humour and charm of the work.

On the final morning we transferred to the Living Coasts centre at the other end of Torquay for a reading by Moor Poets. In a room directly beside the waves we had readings by poets who are represented in the latest Moor Poets anthology. At this event I was pleased of the opportunity to include some poems from my new collection, Notes from a Camper van (available from me for £7).
front coverOversteps poets at Torbay Moor Poets

 

With me in this photograph are the Oversteps poets, Jennie Osborne, Rose Cook and Mark Totterdell, who read at the Moor Poets event. Other Oversteps poets appearing at the festival were R V Bailey, Susan Taylor and Simon Williams.

Patricia Oxley, who organises the festival and is also the Editor of Acumen, always offers enormous encouragement, support and respect to poets at all stages of their careers; and we have good reason to be grateful to her for all she does with such grace, generosity and professionalism.

Winchester blog 5: November

After five fascinating and enjoyable months, I have come to the end of my assignment as Poet in Residence for the Winchester 10 Days festival. From July onwards I visited the city once a month, and my reflections on these visits have appeared on earlier blogs. The final spurt – the actual ten days – meant more visits to Winchester, more obvious excitements and more public appearances.

The launch of 10 Days was on 25th October, and as I was at the Torbay Poetry Festival, 2013-10-25 17.16.36 copy
I needed to travel for five hours, on four trains, to get to the launch, stay in a b&b and then return the next day. But it was worth it. There were 400 people there for the launch; and the cathedral, lit predominantly by candlelight, grew huge and seemed to float. I was able to see all the artworks in situ, and meet some of the artists I hadn’t managed to meet before.

My b&b hostess was Alice Kettle, who was one of the artists exhibiting in the cathedral. We got on extremely well, and if anyone ever needs a b&b in Winchester, I would recommend that they go to her. Here is the work on which she collaborated for the exhibition.

Alice Kettle's piece cropped

It was strange going round the cathedral and finding my poems everywhere. There was a map of the Poetry Trail for people to pick up as they went into the cathedral, but in fact it was quite difficult to miss them. Because they were all displayed so beautifully and so prominently, and also because the portrait Michael Weller painted of me was exhibited, lots of people came up to talk to me, which was fun and interesting.

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The poem displayed above was not written specially for the exhibition (in fact it was included in my last collection, festo), but seemed appropriate for this spot in the cathedral, just beside the Holy Hole and under the icons. A few of the other poems in the Poetry Trail were not new – and of course I wrote others while I was working in the cathedral, including one about Jane Austen’s tombstone, which is situated in the north aisle.

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Later in the ten days I did a couple of ‘walk-abouts’ in the cathedral. On one of the days there were lots of young French visitors, so I chatted to them, and I also spent time with some of the volunteers who tend the two libraries in the cathedral. They were keen to take a photo of me beside my portrait, so I succumbed.

The other two events of the week were a writing workshop, for which I took the festival theme of Creative Collisions, and then an evening performance which included a new piece by June Boyce-Tillman, a poetry reading by me and finally a discussion with some of the artists with whom I had been collaborating. This was very ably chaired by Stephen Boyce, who set all of us at ease and elicited comments and questions from the audience. The artists who shared in this were Lisa Earley, Sue Wood, Lucy Cass and Penny Burnfield.

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I’ve covered some of these in earlier blogs, so
I’ll just include Penny’s beautiful piece here. Penny used silhouettes of members of her family on the hangings, and then inscribed some of the words from the surrounding monuments over them. The poem I wrote to accompany this piece is called ‘Retrospective’. I wrote it before I met Penny, and it was wonderful how what she had in mind when she was creating the piece and what I wrote for her should have chimed so well together. My  poem will now travel with Penny’s artwork when it is exhibited elsewhere.

The last of the works of art I was asked to respond to was a dramatic piece by Anna Sikorska entitled ‘You are very near to us’. It was a huge float, suspended from the ceiling of the cathedral, and was situated at the back end of the nave. This poem had to be written rather quickly before I went off on holiday, so that the printing could be done while I was away. Initially I thought I was going to be stumped by this one, but then the poem, ‘Transition’, came to me, and I even managed to get in all the various themes that Anna suggested to me by email. Normally I go back to edit poems before launching them out into the world, but that wasn’t possible in the time-frame we had available. In view of this, I’m much relieved that all the poems seemed to work out fine, and were greatly appreciated. Whew!

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Quite a number of people have requested that there should be a publication so that they can have copies of the poems. The organisers of the festival are keen to do this, but whether it happens or not depends (as so often) on finance. If it does, I’d like to include all the artworks, with my poems on the opposite pages. The festival photographer, Joe Low, has plenty of super photos of everything that went on at the festival. This publication might well not be possible, but if it does come off, I’ll post something to let you know.

I’m immensely grateful to the organisers of the 10 Days Festival for giving me the opportunity to work in this amazing building with such lovely artists. Thanks, too, to all those artists, whose warmth and appreciation made the task so richly fulfilling.

The next poetry excitement for me is reading with Dannie Abse and R V Bailey at the Poetry Society’s AGM. More news anon.

Poetry in public

This is the day when I should have arrived in New Zealand; and the first of my readings there was to be this evening at the charmingly named ‘Thirsty Dog’. Because disaster struck us half-way over the world, I can’t do this reading, or any of the others I was due to give in the next couple of weeks. Charles Hadfield and Hilary Elfick will be reading at most of the events I was going to, and they are kindly going to present some of my work to those audiences. So, instead of standing up and sharing my poetry, I thought I’d reflect on poetry readings in general in this blog.

All through my adult life I’ve had the privilege (and sometimes the burden) of giving countless lectures, talks and sermons. In recent years, however, I have far, far preferred to give poetry readings – and I’ve been extremely fortunate to be invited to read all over Britain and in several other countries as well. If by any chance you’re interested in where all these readings have been, you can find them on the Poetry page of my website (www.marriages.me.uk). I get a tremendous kick out of giving readings: writing can be a rather solitary occupation, and suddenly, at a public reading, one has the opportunity to engage with other people, to make them laugh or sigh, and to feel the energy of a common delight in poetry flowing back and forth between reader and audience. It really is a wonderful feeling when other people share and enjoy one’s poetry.

I’ll pick out just a few of my favourites to give a flavour of the range of opportunities for poets to share their work.

I was stunned and excited to be invited to read for a whole evening at Little Gidding a few years ago. The thrill this event gave me, obviously, was because of my life-long love of Eliot’s Four Quartets. The reading took place in a large and crowded, but cosy drawing room; and I was encouraged to go on reading for over two hours.

With Orta San Giulio in background

Poetry on the Lake in northern Italy is one of the highlights of the year for quite a number of poets. Like others, I first went because I was successful in their annual poetry competition – and then I was drawn back year after year. The readings are not so much large public events as good poets getting together to share their work with others who are on the same wavelength.

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The list of participants is star-studded, and in a beautiful venue in the sunshine (well, mostly in the sunshine), friendships develop and inspiration flows.

A reading on Sacro Monte

One morning at the festival is spent reading at the various shrines on the Sacro Monte. Then, at the end of the weekend we are also treated to a wonderful piano recital in the Casa Tallone, a thousand year old building on the island, where Tallone pianos used to be made.

There are dozens of excellent poetry and/or literature festivals in Britain. Sadly I haven’t yet been invited to read at Aldeburgh, Ledbury or Stanza, but I’ve read at most of the others. I’ve been fortunate enough to read at Ways with Words at Dartington for several years running; and I read at The Space in another part of the Dartington Estate at the end of my poetry residency with dancers and choreographers from the Ballet Rambert. For a poet who is crazy about dance, this was a wonderful opportunity to indulge in some of the best things in life.

Freiburg reading

Venues at the festivals vary, and one of the more interesting ones at which I read was the Freiburg City Festival in Germany. The challenge was to read on a podium in the city square, and although seats were put out, I doubted if anyone would come to sit on them to hear a poet reading in English. However, I was mistaken, and before long all the seats were taken and there was a crowd of onlookers standing as well.

Audiences for poetry readings range from the polite to the wildly enthusiastic. There was a nice example of the latter, when Carol Ann Duffy read at the Torbay Poetry Festival this last autumn and she received a well-deserved standing ovation. I had a particularly warm and enthusiastic audience at this last year’s Guildford Book Festival, when I read and Peter Terry sang a selection of lieder and English songs. Music can work well with poetry readings, and when I read with a couple of other poets in the Lewes Linklater Pavilion recently, our readings were interspersed with guitar pieces.

A reading at WalpoleAs well as festivals, there are many other opportunities for readings. I’ve read in a number of bookshops, at the launch of magazines and anthologies that include poems by me, the launch of my books, prizewinners’ events, as the entertainment at parties, and regular poetry events such as the Troubadour in London, the Uncut readings in Exeter and pub gigs such as Tradewinds on Dartmoor. Other great venues have been the Edinburgh Fringe, the Walpole Old Chapel in Suffolk, the Dower House at Morville Hall in Shropshire, Slimbridge and Leighton Moss bird reserves and at university venues. There’s also usually an opportunity to read after giving a workshop or judging a competition. If you’re looking for readings, the possibilities are endless..

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And yes, as every poet knows, giving readings is the best way to sell one’s books. In general, the major gatherings of poets do not lead to large sales, as most of the audience have plenty of poetry books already and are probably more interested in selling their own than in adding to their groaning bookshelves. Other audiences will snap up the books and delight in having them signed by the poet.

Then there is the issue of payment. Most poetry events are fairly cash-strapped, and some others have no compunction in exploiting writers if they can get away with it. It is unusual not to receive at least one’s expenses, and there are some shining examples of organisers who value and reward their poets. Among these, Patricia Oxley, the Editor of Acumen and organiser of the Torbay Festival, is one of the best. Of course one writes, and reads in public, for love. But it is amazing how much more valued one feels when someone like Patricia shows her genuine respect and appreciation by paying a proper fee. And several more of the events at which I’ve read have been kind enough to reward me quite generously.

After so many readings this last year, and the fact that I expected to be away now, I rather feared there may not have been so many in 2013. However, the invitations continue to flow in, and between now and the summer I have already been booked to appear at the Wenlock Poetry Festival, Cheltenham Poetry Festival, the Bath Week of Good Poetry, the launch of a magazine in Swindon and at Ways with Words.

Pity about New Zealand, though!