Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Tuesday Poem Review: Kendal Poetry Festival


I've had a fabulous weekend at the Kendal Poetry Festival - one of the Lake District's newest literature festivals, put together by poets Kim Moore and Pauline Yarwood.  I'm completely exhausted because this was one festival where I wanted to spend every minute I could glued to my chair, and it was a thirty mile each way journey through the Cumbrian fells to get there!
Kim on the left and Pauline on the right
The range of poetry was fantastic and it was good to see so many young poets, just starting out on their journeys, taking part.  The Dove Cottage Young Poets were involved in almost every event, reading alongside the household names.  Believe me they are frighteningly good!  18 year old Hannah Hodgson was the Young Poet in Residence,

and there was also a Young Musician in Residence, trumpet player David Griffiths.

There was strong showing from Florence Jones, Eleanor Miekle, Elizabeth Briggs, Bethany Latham, Emily Humble and Chimwemwe Chirwa. I expect we'll be hearing some of these names again in the future.  The encouragement of young talent is one of the most valuable things that the Wordsworth Trust is doing.
Some of the headline acts, Clare Shaw, Andrew Forster, Mir Mahfuz Ali, Fiona Sampson
Hilda Sheehan, Helen Mort, Greta Stoddard and Ann Sansom
The first event was led by Andrew Forster and Jane Routh.  Nature Poetry in a Time of Crisis was very well named on the day the English voted for Brexit. There was a fascinating discussion on the place of Nature - or Eco - poetry in the current world and Andrew read a beautiful selection from his latest collection, Homecoming.

Helen Mort read from her knock-out collection No Map Could Show Them, just published. The poems are inspired by the history of female mountain climbers, who are sometimes metaphors for something else.  Helen is a brilliant and entertaining reader as well as one of the most accomplished contemporary poets.  She was reading alongside Mir Mahfuz Ali, a Bengali poet living in the UK, whose poetry is unashamedly political, addressing violent events in the Middle East and closer to home - events he has first-hand knowledge of, since a bullet damaged his vocal chords.  His first collection Midnight, Dhaka, has had brilliant reviews.

On Saturday there were writing workshops with Ann and Peter Sansom of the poetry business, who also read together in the evening, and an open mike event hosted by the Dove Cottage Young Poets. One of my favourite readings was the afternoon session with Clare Shaw and Hilda Sheehan.  Hilda reduced the audience to helpless laughter and Clare moved us to tears.  They are both fabulous performers - totally owning their work and pitching it to the audience with expert, confident delivery. Hilda Sheehan has a new collection out, The Night my Sister Went to Hollywood (Cultured Llama Press) and Clare Shaw's latest collection is Head On  published by Bloodaxe.   The night finished with a lively open mike slot at the Brewery Arts Centre - Verbalise -  another event sold out!
Hilda Sheehan

Clare Shaw
Sunday dawned wet and cold, but the trek to Kendal was still worth it.  Hilda ran a workshop in the sculpture exhibition at Abbot Hall, working around the surreal art work of Laura Ford.  Then Fiona Sampson talked about her research into the life and work of Mary Shelley - not the cipher who was married to Percy Bysshe - but a feisty, brilliant girl whose writings would change the literary world. Frankenstein is as profound and relevant now as it was when it was published.
Greta Stoddard
The main reading in the afternoon was given by Fiona Sampson reading from her latest collection The Catch, but the show was stolen by Greta Stoddard who stood up and read quietly, seamlessly with hardly any comment or explanation, through poems from Alive Alive O - an exploration of grief that is both moving and uplifting at the same time.  Her work has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize and the Costa Book Award and I suspect she's going to be collecting more prizes in the near future.  If you haven't encountered her work before (like me) then it's well worth seeking out.

And then it was stumbling out into the grey damp evening to find my way home, my head full of words and buzzing with new ideas and my wallet empty after the temptations of the book stall and the pens and notebooks and other essential poetry-phanalia.  I hope that Kim and Pauline get the funding to run a festival again next year, because this one was a knockout!  Just what we needed in this rural backwater, where you have to travel a long way to listen to poetry.  I recommend getting your tickets early for next year's event as the readings sold out very quickly this time.

Next week I'll be featuring poems by Kim Moore and Pauline Yarwood, who modestly refrained from reading anything of their own all weekend.


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