So that was Bristol Poetry Festival 2014 and one of the very best I've been to so far. It seems invidious to highlight a few moments out of so many, though in any treasury, there will always be random sparkles that catch your eye.
The Bristol Poetry Slam jam-packed. My strawberries were three relative newcomers. Melanie Branton - a star is born! A bit more experience and first prize will be hers for the taking. I also hope to see more of Abi Newman and Hannah Teasdale in particular in future.
(Above is a photo of Melanie I pinched from Poetry Slam's Facebook page.)
SIX! featured six poets with connections to the South-West: Dikra Ridha, Kate Firth, Victoria Field, Lucy Lepchani, Shagufta Iqbal and Alyson Hallett. I knew beforehand, either from reading their work or by reputation, that each was a fine poet with her own distinctive voice; what I wasn't prepared for was the way the poems themselves interacted with each other, sharing themes, images and experiences despite a world of difference in the personal histories of each poet. From a moonlit walk around a quaintly named quarry to the unbearable tension of a horse race upon which a family's grocery budget for the week is riding to a discourse on Clark's shoes, I was hooked. An especial mention here for Dikra, who wrote so simply and movingly about her family and their life in Baghdad during wartime. The epitome of grace under (for me) unimaginable pressure.
I was reminded of Dikra's work while listening to Mir Mahfuz Ali read his poems alongside Fleur Adcock, Robert Minhinnick and Vidyan Rabinthiran. 'Midnight, Dhaka' chronicles his experiences growing up in Bangladesh in the 1970s, from cyclone to civil war. Much of what he describes is horrifying and yet the poems' evocative detail - indeed, their very existence and the voice in which they are read - is a celebration of human resilience and renewal.
A very different struggle at the Tobacco Factory a week later: Bite-Sized by Fiona Hamilton is the story, told in poetry and dance, of a mother whose daughter is hospitalised with anorexia, which was by turns harrowing, enlightening and amusing. It was billed as 'in progress' so it will be interesting to see where Fiona takes it next.
As usual there was also a beautifully stitched and decidedly luxuriant fringe of events. Highlights for me were the Spoke on Spike with Bob Walton, Lizzie Parker, Paul Deaton and Poetry Slam's Claire Williamson, Can Openers with one of my favourite local poets, Lloyd Fletcher, as guest, and the last ever Acoustic Night at Halo Cafe Bar, guest starring Matt Harvey and the wonderful Lou Bell. This was a bit of a gutter, as Acoustic Night has long provided a warm welcome and empathetic ear to new poets stepping up to the mic, myself included. But as Dru Marland said, it was a fine swan song if swans have to sing.
Then there were events with which I was involved: the IsamBards' guided poetry walks on the Suspension Bridge which were more or less fully booked in advance and exposed people who might otherwise have missed it to some fairly light-hearted poetry and the Festival itself; and my own book launch for Map Reading for Beginners, which again was well attended and had people saying nice things. Thank you so very much if you came along, and if you didn't make it, here's a link to my special guest, Lou Bell's Soundcloud, so you can pretend you did.
Finally, there was Claire Trévien's show, The Shipwrecked House, at the Cube last night which looked and sounded gorgeous and tasted quite definitely of salt, as a result of which I've ordered her collection of poems upon which the show was based to read at my leisure.
I have to wonder whether any of the people from Bristol City Council who decided to stop funding Poetry Can back in the summer attended any of the above events to see for themselves the triumph that is Bristol Poetry Festival year after year, and how mistaken their decision is. My guess is no. Meanwhile new initiatives will be launched over the coming weeks to inform poetry lovers everywhere of how they can support Poetry Can so that the festivals, and all the other invaluable work in the fields of education and lifelong learning, can continue. Please look out for them on the relevant Facebook pages here and here, and on the Poetry Can website.
Oh and finally finally, I'm reading more - and different - poems from Map Reading For Beginers at Can Openers this Friday 3rd October, 12.30pm onwards, at Foyles, Bristol. Hope to see you there.