Dr. Charles Bennett is a poet as well as being the Festival Director for The Ledbury Festival. Hats off to him. I'd heard of Ledbury of course - all poetry lovers have - but never been. This weekend I read there. I confess to being very impressed. Other festivals might be bigger, but none, for poets, is better. The energy, enthusiasm, optimism and professionalism of the organizers and volunteers was exceptional; the venues first-rate; the sound equipment and technician world-class - and the village itself lovely.
Best of all, the quality of the poets they bring in; on the two days I was there, there was, among many others: John Burnside, Simon Armitage, Ruth Padel, Kate Clanchy, Colette Bryce, and so on. It also helped that the skies were very blue, and it was a Grecian 30 Celsius; fortunately, the village offers good ice cream and lemonade. It was good to sit near the church under a tree. It made the terror of the 7th seem, for a moment, far away; perhaps a lazy thing, but also a needful one.
My reading, with Pireeni (see blog below) went very well, although it was early. We read at Burgage Hall, which is like a one-room schoolhouse or small church, on a cobbled lane. It seats maybe 100 or so when full, but we had about 25-30 people in the audience - pretty good for 10:15 (!) on a Saturday morning. Better still, they were attentive, sensitive, and ready to laugh and respond - basically, the kind of audience poets dream on.
Pireeni's work was good - political, sensual, performative. I was pleased with mine. I read mainly from the Open Field anthology edited by Sina Queyras, and my two latest collections, as well as six poems written for the MA at UEA.
Charles - who is a witty and warm emcee - called me back for an encore, as I only read for about 25 minutes in my first half, and asked me to read "Berryman in Paris" from my most recent collection, Rue du Regard. A surprising choice (a poet's choice certainly) and I felt glad to be asked, as I don't usually think to read that one.
There were many highlights of the week-end, but perhaps the most enjoyable, apart from my fellow poet's readings (especially Armitage's and Padel's) was the dinner we had on Saturday night, which included the poets mentioned above (sans Charles, alas), as well as Maurice Riordan and others.
We ate outside at the world's slowest restaurant - ordering at 8, we were served at 10. This led to much hilarity and even Mongolian songs were sung.
I was especially chuffed when John Burnside - one of the best poets now writing I think - bought me a double-whiskey and a cigar. It was good talking to him about the different kinds of poetry read in America and the UK. John is very open to Americans, like Jorie Graham and Charles Wright. His latest collection, The Good Neighbour, from Cape, reflects this without forsaking his own unique sensibility. The title poem is a truly fine poem.
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