Poetry, Politics and Ben Okri
It's been a lively weekend. On Friday I caught a train to London to take part in the Magma poetry magazine prize celebration at Keats House in Hampstead. The weather was beautiful - clear blue skies - and the trees were coming into bud and the birds were singing. London at its best. The poetry was good too; Daljit Nagra was this year's judge and the winners for 2 categories of prize - from USA and UK - included Lucy Ingrams, Maya Popa, Soul Patel, Maggie Smith, Paul Bregazzi and Barbara Hickson. The special mentions also got to read their work, and they included some stunning poems. Daljit Nagra was honest enough to say that out of the huge number of poems submitted, the 8 poems eventually selected for each prize could have been in any order - the ordering was entirely subjective. But I don't think I could have disagreed with his decisions. Among the special mentions for both categories were Robert Hamberger, Mario Petrucci, Lesley Saunders, Rebecca Watts, Neil Ferguson, Simon Richey, Catherine Edmunds, Polly Atkin, and Louise Vale, as well as myself. 3 of the UK poets came from Cumbria - Barbara, Polly and me, so there must be something special in the air! These are some of the prize-winners (not intentionally ordered by height).
Saturday I was back on the train for a series of events at the Words by the Water Festival in Keswick. On Sunday morning novelist Salley Vickers was giving the Royal Literary Fund lecture on Shakespeare. I didn't think that there was anything left to say about the Bard, but Salley had the audience riveted and I learned a lot. She was very impressive. Business and Economics editor at Channel 4, Paul Mason, recently resigned because of the politics of broadcast media, was terrifying as he talked about a Future after Capitalism. He gave a damning view of the press as it is at present, in the hands of oligarchs and a political elite, all pursuing their own agendas rather than serving the public with information. Another crisis is inevitable, he said, and conditions will get much worse than we could ever imagine. Our future is in co-operation and a much more local outlook. And don't trust the banks (or the government!) with your money.
But the final event of the day, at the end of the Festival, was Ben Okri talking about storytelling. It is, he said, fundamental to the human psyche, pre-dating, perhaps, even our use of tools and technologies. As soon as human beings had language, they had story. He talked about the 'transgressive' quality of stories and the mysteries at the heart of them. "Stories are never what they seem. They are whispers from beyond the invisible screen of existence." He talked about the importance of the imagination and allowing children creative play. "Imagination dreams that which knowledge makes real . . . A people can only create what they can imagine."
|Neil Fergusson, Robert Hamberger, Daljit Nagra, Barbara Hickson, Paul Bregazzi, Lesley Saunders, Kathleen Jones|
|Paul Mason (whatever it says on the board) and a long queue to sign books. Photo Gwenda Matthews at Bookends|
|The magical Ben Okri - photo Gwenda Matthews at Bookends|