Two days after Swindon Poetry Festival, I am still in a high and happy poetry place, and I risk losing my euphoria if I try to set down in words what it was about Swindon that I loved so much. Luckily, there are already two brilliant posts for you to read, as Robert Peake and Robin Houghton have captured much of the magic and mayhem in their entertaining, beautifully written reports. Robert’s article is here and Robin’s is here.
As luck would also have it, the current weekly photo challenge is ‘Signs’, so I’ll show you a picture of the welcome sign for Lower Shaw Farm. This is where the heart of the festival beats and is where many of the readings, workshops, and extravaganzas took place, although there were also events at The Richard Jeffries Museum, Swindon Library, Swindon Arts Centre, and Swindon College.
A poetry festival set on a farm leaves space for a cockerel or turkey to throatily punctuate a poem, adding mightily to Swindon’s quirky charm, and sometimes providing moments of relief for an audience that often seemed to be holding its breath. Several performers at the festival commented on the audience’s attentiveness and, as an audience member myself, I certainly felt that I was hanging on every word, not wanting to miss a syllable. A reason for this, for me in any case, came out of a sense of gratitude for so much poetry taking place in Swindon, not in London, or Manchester, or Birmingham, or Liverpool, or Leeds, or Cardiff, or Edinburgh, or Glasgow, or in any big, UK city. There are a few poetry events taking place in and around where I live (in Trowbridge, West Wiltshire) but, usually, I have to travel to London to hear poets with an international reputation reading at an event like this.
I’m grateful to Hilda Sheehan, Festival Director, who has the imagination and ambition to always have high hopes for Swindon Poetry Festival. I’m also grateful to the artists who graciously accepted Hilda’s invitation to come to Swindon. It was quite something to hear Don Share, Editor of Poetry, Chicago, and Maurice Riordan, Editor of The Poetry Review, London, on the same weekend in Swindon, with or without the cocks crowing.
Anyway, enough forelock-tugging. There was SO MUCH about Swindon that I loved but it was some of the quieter moments that touched me the most: Don Share reading his translation of ‘Lullaby of the Onion’ by Miguel Hernández which had several audience members in tears (I found this article which includes the poem and some background information); Maurice Riordan reading an elegy to his friend, the poet and musician, Michael Donaghy, who died ten years ago this September; Jacquelyn Pope reading a tender poem to her daughter.
Kathryn Maris’ reading of her sestina ‘Darling, Would You Please Pick up those Books?’ was just fantastic and had us laughing loud enough to drown out the sounds of farm life. Allison McVety’s poem, ‘Handsfree’, about teaching her husband how to cook a chicken via a transatlantic telephone call, was also poignantly funny: “….We portion the week into dark / and light…..”
Sorry not to be able to mention every single event I attended. Nothing disappointed. Here are a few photos to give you a flavour of the weekend and to perhaps tempt you to book a visit next year.