Sunday, 3 July 2011

Two days in Ledbury

I'm not sure whether this was my third or fourth visit to Ledbury Poetry Festival, the third, I think. The visits have been spread over a number of years and this time my task was to chair two events, the first with two young Hungarian poets András Gerevich and Anna T Szabó, the other with the three NPS Competition Prize winners, Paul Adrian, Jo Haslam and Matthew Sweeney.

If anyone asked for the archetypal picturesque English town, Ledbury would be a perfect answer. It is all beams and alleys and bookshops and markets and cafes and arts and crafts shops. It is so picturesque it feels almost dreamlike, a little like Portmeirion in Wales, where The Prisoner was filmed, but without the classical parodies and eclectic detail. I don't mean it is claustrophobic or scary, far from it, it is just that it's oddly paradisal, as if reality were just pitched up a degree, Somewhere, in an upstairs room, I'd expect to find the magic saucepan where you coould smell what everyone in town was cooking.

The festival is, needless to say, compact, but very efficient and enthusiastic. In the performers' green room there is a constant supply of sandwiches, cakes and drinks. The performance space, Burgage Hall, is almost directly opposite and the ticket office just on the corner. In the green room you bump into Penelope Shuttle and Bill Herbert and Brian Turner or Bernard O'Donoghue or Zoë Skoulding or Neil Astley, Indian poets Mohan Rana or Sampurna Chatterji, Syrian Maram al-Massri etc etc. and plenty to come after us.

We did our Hungarian gig to a packed hall and sold a lot of books. Both András and Anna are comfortable with English. They read a few in Hungarian and the translations were shared around various readers including myself. The New Order anthology has a political framework but the poems are not political. It wasn't poems about politics I was looking for, nor would Hungarian poets have been overjoyed to have their noses pressed back up to politics, pre-1989 style - it was the politics of everyday social and intimate life that I thought might be fascinating, those things we hardly ever refer to as politics, but which change when political circumstances change, especially as drastically as they did in 1989. The voice unconsciously modulates and explores the new acoustics life has offered it. Politics and social life as acoustics.

Anna and András will be at Hebden Bridge tomorrow so I can introduce them all over again. We also went to the Being Human reading with Neil Astley and Penny Shuttle - another very packed hall, then at 6:30 to Mohan Rana and Bernard O'Donoghue. Slightly less packed but maybe at an awkward time and up against song performers, The Wraiths.

At 8:30 a gathering for the cider supper, where I talk to Zoe S and spend some time chatting with Carol Ann who is there with daughter. We discuss the current Poetry Society crisis, which is part horror, part farce and does the public perception of poetry no good at all.

The next day to James Geary on Metaphor - a fascinating breeze through metaphor complete with juggling and gentle crowd participation. I call it a breeze simply because the subject is so complex that it's impossible to do more than breeze through it in layman's terms in the time available. Neat.

We dropped into Tinsmiths to catch sight of Nick Alexander's Talking Wall and even buy a picture and get back in time for the National Poetry Competition events, under the title, 'As Time Goes By'. Paul and Jo turned up in time and Matthew was already there. Me to introduce by talking about the competition then the three poets about ten minutes each, with me introducing their winning poems, then me last for ten minutes and some questions. Afterwards a little chat in the green room with our last host there, composer John Rushby-Smith, and eventually on the road.

By this time I am very tired and not safe on the road so C drove all the way back. Tomorrow she teaches and I get on the train again. To Lumb Bank this time, to teach a course with Jane Draycott.


Gwilym Williams said...

Hebden Bridge - now there's a place. Be sure you quaff your quota of Timothy Taylor's Landlord. Beer of excellence. If they like you George you'll be invited to join the Hebden Bridge UFO Club and be given a cardboard badge.

I see they are unveiling a statute of Ronald Reagan in London - now London and Budapest are twin cities in that respect!

Enjoy Up North.

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