Friday, 13 July 2012

Ledbury, July 2012

My Photo of Ledbury at Night

Last weekend we went to the Ledbury festival. I performed on the Sunday in the Shell House Gallery, but I’m very glad I stayed the for two nights as I managed to have a very full weekend of poetry. Despite weather forecasts, we managed to have a lot of sunshine. We arrived on Saturday afternoon and our place was very close to where all the events where taking place, everywhere was within walking distance.

After a picnic on the hotel room floor, went to the first event which was a reading in the Burgage Hall by the winners of the National Poetry Competition. Zaffar Kunial read first. He managed to achieve third place by sending in his entry with the attitude of ‘you never know’ – well, that was lucky. Zaffar is rather modest – he dosen’t send out and therefore he’s not appeared in any magazines – but I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more of him, or certainly seeing more of his work in written form. His poems were beautifully formed and often rather personal and touching. Second was Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch, whose reading was dramatic and exceptionally well paced. It was quite a treat to hear someone read who was clearly very skilled in the art of performance. Well you hear work of this calibre it quickly becomes apparent that good poetry ‘breathes,’ it finds a life of its own which is immediate and powerful. Lastly was Allison McVety, whose poem ‘To the Lighthouse’ managed to win first place. It was at some point during this reading I felt a little emotional, I found myself wrapped up in the poems she was reading. I was also just a little stunned. When someone is that good, I can feel myself ‘detune’ I can’t even focus on anything, the words take over. You are absorbed by the imagery and cadences and this is exactly what happened.

Thinking I was off back to the hotel room at this point. I was pleasantly surprised to be invited along to the Poetry Parnassus event in the evening. Poets from across the world were represented: Tishani Doshi (India), Kim Hyesoon (South Korea), Jang Jin Seong (North Korea), Doina Ioanid (Romania), Reza Mohammadi (Afghanistan), Raul Henao (Columbia), Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Ribka Sibhatu (Eritrea) and laureate Bill Manhire from New Zealand. Kim Moore also read from translations of the poets’ work. I loved hearing the pieces in their original languages.

Then bed. Now some people might find a bell chiming the hours away romantic but all I felt was stressed. The chimes chimed and when you hear three in a row you can be sure of your status as an insomniac. I had my reading on my mind perhaps.

Next day we did a bit of exploring. Ledbury is truly picturesque and we looked around a nearby church. Unfortunately one of my children fell over so went back and some lovely ladies tended my daughter Miranda, using the festival First Aid box in the hospitality room. After a drink and some scone she felt better. Spun my head round and there was Simon Armitage. Wanted to say hello, but did I? Did I diddly. A little while later went to his ‘Walking Home’ reading which included what he descrbed as a ‘boring’ slide show which wasn’t boring at all. He read from his new book, which also included some new poems. He also talked about the fact he found it very hard to compose poetry whilst walking, but that was mostly due to having to focus on the walk and the elements. Most of the work was written in retrospect. There was an amusing moment which wasn’t really amusing (one of those ‘we can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible' moments) about being lost in the mist. No visibility meant he wasn't sure if he was walking uphill or downhill. That’s lost.

I looked around the room and felt I was in a whole school assembly rather than a poetry reading. There were so many people packed into the community hall. It was a good reading and no doubt a shed load of books were sold.

Of course the Crystal pamphleteers were also reading, but having to look after the twins I could only hear of how good they were. Jonathan Taylor, my husband, introduced the readers. I’m especially looking forward to hearing some new work by Jess Mayhew.

Then it was my turn in the Shell House Gallery at four. For the first time this summer the sun was out. The reading went well and I sold a few books. Some people were friends, but I was interested in the people I didn’t know –what were they thinking? I read 10 poems in twenty minutes, kept the intros short and just got on with it really. Had some good feedback, hurrah. Should say a thank you to Jane Commane from my publishers Nine Arches Press for intro and organisng things.

After that it was straight to the hospitality room of course, drinks and the like. One of my favourite parts of the weekend was listening to Kim Moore’s anecdotes. It was the end of the festival; people were off home. Had a nice chat with Aly Stoneman and Andrew Graves about Ledbury and writing.

There was a little party right at the end and it was lovely to talk to the organisers and have members of The Poetry Society fill your glass. There was a remarkable quiet on the way back to the room, it felt as if the world had gone to bed by 10:30. Then it was me and the bell.

The Bell!

Additional Note: Here are some blog posts about the same weekend by Kim Moore and Roy Marshall, so don't just take my word!


As if Ledbury wasn’t enough, I read at an event in Lichfield at the spark café on Tuesday. The event was superbly organised by Gary Longden and Janet Jenkins of the Lichfield poets. Same structure as the Leicester Shindig readings: four main readers and an open mic. There were so many talented readers that evening that I ended up speaking to lots of people at the end and exchanging details. I heard some interesting things from readers I'd not heard before including Justina Hart, Penny Harper and Bert Flitcroft. I kept the running order sheet to remember names.Sold a few books as well, hurrah!

I’ve also been thinking about how a poet manages to go about the business of selling their own books. Yes it’s important to have the support and admiration of those you perceive as your peers, but there’s nothing like people who ordinarily don’t read poetry who tell you they like your work. One of the mummies from my twin daughters’ playgroup brought a copy of 'Melanchrini' and said she loved it and that means a lot.

Here'a very thorough review of the event from Mal Dewhurst.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


I'm reading at the Ledbury Festival on Sunday 8th July at the Shell House Gallery at 4pm. This event is the official launch of Melanchrini. I have of course been practising: standing in my bedroom with a stopwatch, reading to the metal frame of the bed, remembering to make eye contact with the lamp and the alarm clock. Of course I'm nervous. My fellow debut Nine Arches Press poet Daniel Sluman launched his collection Absence Has a Weight of its Own the previous Saturday. I'm also proud that the Crystal pamphleteers will be reading; Andrew Graves and Aly Stoneman at 12:15 and Jess Mayhew, Charles G Lauder and Roy Marshall at 2pm.It should be a great weekend. I've booked a couple of tickets for the Simon Armitage reading at 12:45 and the National Poetry Competition, the day before at 6pm. The tickets for this event are free by the way. I'm really looking forward to hearing Allison McVety reading her winning poem 'To the Lighthouse' and also Zaffar Kunial reading his third place poem 'Hill Speak.' I'm embedding these poems below because I think they're wonderful: