Monday, May 4, 2015


Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2015 has been and gone. 10 days of poetry, performance, lectures, music and discussion seem to have passed by in a blur. By the end, everyone involved looked a little tired but certainly happy that the Festival had been such a success. At the last event, we quite rightly gave Anna Saunders and Robin Gilbert, the co-directors of the Festival, a loud and long round of applause for their efforts throughout the year. Without them, it simply wouldn't happen.
There were many highlights I could mention: Sean O'Brien reading from his excellent new collection, The Beautiful Librarians; Sue Rose's moving work on family, love and loss; Jo Bell launching her new book,  Kith; Michael McKimm's subtle and fascinating reflections on geology and climate change; a brilliantly accessible lecture by Stephen James of the University of Bristol on repetition in poetry; Sarah James and Angela Topping presenting their collaborative pamphlet, Hearth... but every event had something different and exciting to offer.

But festivals like this need and deserve an audience. Getting an audience, despite the presence of a wide community of poetry readers and writers in the region, requires a huge amount of effort on the part of the organisers. I wonder if this has something to do with the challenge of being part of that audience. Listening to poetry is not easy. Sitting still for an hour and listening to anything is not easy, frankly, but poetry demands of us that we are completely present, focusing intently on the words spoken to us. We are not a culture which encourages such listening. We are device-distracted and channel-hopping, entertained within an inch of our lives. Poetry does not entertain in the commonly understood sense. However, if we can find the necessary attention to give to it, it can give us pleasure in return; and there surely is a profound pleasure in hearing great work read well, to be caught up in that moment of experiencing poetry. Cheltenham Poetry Festival has offered many such experiences this year, and I'm delighted to hear that the team are already looking forward to 2016.

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