Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Unexpected encounters

Over the last two days, I've been privileged to have been part of a poets in residence scheme for Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival at the Billesley Manor Hotel near Stratford. The Festival, organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, secured Arts Council funding and the cooperation of local businesses and attractions for poets to go into all kinds of unusual settings, from nail bars to railway station cafes. The poems inspired by the residencies will be performed this Saturday night (24 September) in a special Festival event.

All of the residencies have been run under the heading of 'Unexpected Encounters' and, to judge from the report back that some of us enjoyed in The One Elm in Stratford last night, they have lived up to this promise. You can check out the hastags #SUAPoetryfestival and #unexpectedencounters on Twitter to see some of the things that have been going on.

Billesley has been a lovely setting that has offered me a kind of poetry-writing mini-break in beautiful countryside and historic surroundings. The manor house itself was originally Tudor and has a real English country house feel to it. The topiary garden, pictured on the left, is particularly fine. The staff and the guests have been very welcoming and generous with their time, and -- by the end of day two -- I have managed to draft six poems, on subjects as diverse as spa treatments and the life of a night manager. I was particularly struck by how much everyone seems to enjoy their jobs. I didn't meet any member of staff who wished they were doing something else!

I'm fascinated to see what work has emerged from the other residencies. What has struck me most about the residency experience is the role of chance. I made plenty of plans for the residency, and I'm glad I did, but in the end I found myself having to respond to situations and encounters I could never have predicted. Still, without that element of randomness, I would have only written what I expected to write, which would not have been nearly as much fun.

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