The Complete Works at Winchester Poetry Festival

Talking to people after the festival, many have mentioned the Sunday readings by Inua Ellams, Sarah Howe and Kei Miller as one of their highlights.  These three major poets are all associated with The Complete Works, a national development programme for advanced Black and Asian poets.

Who could have failed to be blown away by Inua Ellams’ declaration to the audience that “I haven’t decided what to read so could you hurl some words at me and I’ll see if I can find anything?”  “Hermaphrodite!” someone shouted out and Ellams proceeded to read (from his mobile device) a stunning poem to do with his pre-natal experience of being a twin to a sister, telling us he felt he was “twinned with another kind of gender.”

Inua Ellams

“Saxaphone!” someone called out next. “St Paul’s Cathedral!” and amazing poem followed amazing poem.  “Serenity!” came the cry and, for a moment, the poet looked crestfallen.  “I don’t really write about serenity……” However, within seconds, he’d found a poem about the earth.

Who could folllow that?  Somehow, and brilliantly, Sarah Howe did.  “People who looked like me weren’t part of the (literary) canon for so long,” the Cambridge and Harvard Fellow told us.  Reading from her T.S. Eliot winning collection Loop of Jade she added “even when the poems didn’t seem to be about race they sort of are, without me knowing about it.”

Sarah Howe

Howe’s set ended with a beautiful reading of her poem Crossing from Guandong about the first time she had visited mainland China and the province where her mother was born.  In the absence of a recording from the festival, here is the poet reading the poem in a Harvard University Tedx Talk.

Finally, Kei Miller read poems from his collection A Light Song of Light, moving many people to tears with a poem about his father – “it’s easy to write about people who’ve died but we should be writing about other people who deserve to be written about” – and telling the audience “You people are amazing.  You had a law about mermaids.  When you find a country that had a law about mermaids, you have to write a poem about it.”  Again, no recording from the festival but, as luck would have it, here is Miller reading the poem in a Next Generation Poets film.

Kei Miller

Do yourself a favour and seek out readings by these three incredible poets.  Don’t just take my word for how good they are, here’s more evidence:

Please let me know if you were at the festival and also enjoyed these readings and leave a link to your blog if you’ve written about it there.

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