Ledbury Poetry Festival – First Weekend

Day 3 of the 20th Ledbury Poetry Festival is over.  Although this is my 6th visit, it’s the first time I am staying for the duration (just as well as it took five and a half hours to get here!), it’s my fifth as volunteer event manager and third in the company of Joolz Sparkes.

I arrived just in time for the first event I was managing, the showcase for Hwaet! the anniversary anthology featuring some 200 poets; local, nation- and world-wide. I had a couple of dozen poets to wrangle, which was only tricky because I have some awful lurgy so it’s hard to talk, let alone yell, and none of them want to come near me, in fear for their own health and voices!

After 13 hours in bed I was ready for Saturday afternoon – a workshop with Jacob Polley (Revisioning the Poem) from which I got some ideas for what to do with a poem I generated on the Arvon course I did last week.  On to the Market Theatre – I managed Chris Redmond’s two events there last night; his show with Anna Freeman, Animal, and the fabulous Tongue Fu – if you’ve never been to a Fu, look out for them – poetry with music improvised by the most amazing band, the poet tells them something about the poem – maybe the mood, the colour, the smell – and off they go.  There was a magical moment during Sara-Jane Arbury’s poem about MRI brain scans which was full of dances, when the band broke into a tango about 3 seconds before the poem called for one – obvs it was in the air!

There haven’t been enough hours in the day today. I enjoyed every minute of it yet missed out on so much too!  And I’ve been in the same town as Kim Moore for 3 days and haven’t spent more than 3 minutes with her!

Mark Doty’s morning workshop (In Favour of Complication) gave me a way to write about a subject I’ve been trying to access for a while. I had to have at least one proper meal so joined friends for lunch, regretfully missing John Agard and Grace Nichols, then off to work I went! I had recruited Dame Eileen Atkins for Desert Island Poems, introduced by Ursula Owen – it was wonderful so all our reputations are intact.

I saw Mark Doty and Andrew McMillan discuss Desire in Poetry before meeting the three South African Poets for their Spotlight: Gabeba Baderoon, Isobel Dixon, and Toni Stuart- their reading was astonishing, the three complementing and contrasting so well with each other.  No time to linger, I had to leg it to the Slam – I had been invited to take part and couldn’t resist. Tania Hershman provided support, M&Ms and the photo below – I got through the heats as one of the highest scoring runners up then came third in the semifinal. Ledbury Festival Slam is probably the best in the country – certainly the run one: all hail Sara-Jane Arbury and her smashing cohost, Elvis McGonagall.

Ledbury Slam 2016 crop

I get another lie-in tomorrow, then I hope to introduce Gabeba to English cream tea and take part in the Open Mic, but these depend on the requirements of Ovid’s Heroines – Clare Pollard’s show produced by Jaybird, at the Market Theatre tomorrow night. I was hoping for some cuddles with her new baby Cate but can’t risk passing on my germs – I’m better than I was but still not enough. Still, I think the husky voice helped at the Slam!  Midweek will be quieter – I’m hoping for some R&R (Reading and Riting) and good weather for a couple of days out with Joolz.

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