So the doors to the performance area are open because the room is packed, and the Lake District evening air is sneaking in to listen, and there is a hint of road noise and bird song, and one or two yoof outside. In and amongst all of this, you have live poetry and a reminder of why performance matters.
2017 was the second Kendal Poetry Festival, pulled together by Pauline Yarwood and Kim Moore. It was my first poetry festival and I made the schoolboy blunder of only booking in events on the first day, and then booking real life things like shopping and preaching on the other days. D’oh. I quickly realised that if you stuck around for the whole event, then there was a sense of community between the artists and the audience and it became a whole lot more than a string of loosely connected performances. Oh well. Lesson learnt. Next year 😉
The first event was a reading by Jack Mapanje, in what looked like the IT room of Kendal Library. It was quickly filled with a crowd that – appropriately for mid Friday afternoon – looked to be mostly retired with the exception of a slightly flustered looking Kim Moore, who announced that Jack was delayed but that Alison Brackenbury would be stepping up at no notice whatsoever to give a short reading that would help plug the gap. At this point, half of the room put their manuscripts away, having failed to get their hands up to volunteer a reading quickly enough 😉 Poets eh?? 🙂 Alison gave us poems of nature and places, in her own distinctive style, to a grateful audience.
Jack arrived, minus a tooth and fresh from the one way system in Kendal which can bewilder pretty much anyone, to give us a taste of his shy and dry wit. He writes in a way that combines both his heritage and everything that he has absorbed his time in Britain. This gives a view of his subjects that is familiar and comfortable but also slightly challenging. Windermere is a mere puddle without crocodiles and hippos apparently 🙂 And Sunderland is an easy place to get lost in.
After a short gap and a further accumulation of audience, there was the official launch event, with music from Sam Nicholls and poetry from Florence Jones, the Young Musician and Young Poet in Residence. No pressure on either of them! Both performed remarkably, with Flo starting out with a piece on Brexit, followed by a piece called “When we went swimming with the Germans”. She tended towards remain in the former and towards leave in the latter, I think. “Hell has no shame like a dropped gong” was a memorable line.
The main event of the evening was a reading from two established artists and two young poets from Kim’s young poetry group. The latter were Emily Humble and Seren Parkman who were incredibly composed in such a high profile event, and incredibly talented too. I was very jealous. When I was growing up in the Lake District we didn’t get to hang out with incredibly cool poets and perform our own work like that, we were too busy breaking into building sites and throwing sticks at each other!!
The first “grown up” poet was Billy Letford. What a voice this guy has, both in the content and in the performance. Young, down to earth, he takes his accent and the Scottish dialect, wraps this around some great ideas and makes them into something really worth listening to. I’m going to review his book soon, so I’ll pop a link here when I’m done. The audience were struck silent by the combination of the setting, the ambience and the dynamic and engaging personality on show. Really good. Stilettos and Interview were two highlights for me, along with another poem about crocodiles!
Sort of squashed up a bit around this was Hannah Lowe, who didn’t get as much time to perform as perhaps originally planned, as the evening was running late. She brings a complex mix of culture and family and different voices into her life narrative. There are strands of London, of China, of Jamaica, all in fusion, all in disjoint, all with humour, all with warmth and all with a beautiful sense of language and spoken rhythm. She really managed to bring the words alive and, again, the audience was captivated.
You can’t go to a poetry festival without writing something yourself, of course, so here’s a short little piece that I rattled off as I was eating my tea in the Abbot Hall gardens. This really happened btw. Hashtag no edits!
What a great event though. I was slightly in awe of some of the very cool people that came along (translation: oldboy fanboy of Moore and Lowe), and the talent that was on show and I really wish now that I’d booked the weekend.
The Festival Website is here.
Kim Moore blogs here.
Hannah Lowe has her own website too.
You can hear some performances by Billy Letford here.
Emily Humble, one of the young poets showcased at the Festival, has a blog that includes some of her poems such as this one.
Jack Mapenje is here.
You can read poems by Alison Brackenbury here.