Monday, 29 October 2007

Festival time

Yesterday I went up to Matlock for the second day of the inaugural Derwent Poetry Festival. The weather cleared, and the drive up there is always a nice one, particularly with the woods looking very autumnal, so that got things off on the right foot. Nice venue too – Masson Mills at Cromford, one of the best-preserved of Richard Arkwright’s mills.
Perhaps not surprisingly for a new event, there weren’t too many exhibitors or visitors. But it has a lot of potential to grow, because the organisers, Templar Poetry, are building a fine reputation, and there’s definitely a gap for a decent literature event in the north Midlands.
First on were Mike Barlow and Derek Adams. Barlow has a new collection out, from Salt, following up a previous book with Smith / Doorstop, and was also the winner of this year’s National Poetry Competition. He’s one of those poets whose work you see in all sorts of small press mags, and it’s very rarely anything less than well-crafted. I was a little bit underwhelmed by the reading, though, but perhaps that was partly because I was so familiar with some of the poems – the element of surprise was gone.
Essex poet Derek Adams is another name you see in a lot of small-press mags – he was also BBC Wildlife Poet Of The Year, 2006. His poems, I’d have to say, worked the other way round. I enjoyed hearing him read them, particularly his fine tribute to Ian Dury, but I wasn’t so keen on them on the page afterwards.
Next was the excellent James Caruth (not to be confused with the equally excellent Jim Carruth). He lives in Sheffield, but was from Belfast originally. His poems are taut, well-honed affairs, and his strong Northern Ireland accent and slow, measured pace helped do them justice. So much so, in fact, that I immediately bought his book, A Stone’s Throw (Staple).
He was followed by Angela Cleland, a Scottish-born but London-based poet. Her reading style, particularly with her first few poems, was very physical, bordering on acting them out. I’ve no idea whether she comes from a performance poetry background, but I did find it a bit distracting. Don’t get me wrong – it was good to see such an animated reader, and my own readings could certainly do with an injection of energy, it’s just that at times, she seemed to have gone too far the other way. Because these really were fine poems, and she delivers them in a generally assured, engaging fashion. Her book, And In Here, The Menagerie, was my next buy. Like all the Templar chapbooks and full-size volumes, it’s extremely attractively produced.
I’d heard all sorts of good things about Rob Hindle's Some Histories Of The Sheffield Flood, 1864, all of them justified, as it turned out. With the aid of an assistant whose name I didn’t catch, he gave a reading that was dramatic without being gimmicky. The contrast between the bald facts of the tragedy, taken from official accounts, and the more human stories behind them, made for a real tension. And for all that it’s dealing with gritty social history, Hindle’s poetry is lyrical and, occasionally, heartbreaking. Another chapbook I had to buy.
Judy Brown was another entertaining reader. Her banter never gave too much away, and the poems ranged from playful to profound. I was running low on cash at this point, but I’ll send for her pamphlet, I think.
Finally, there was Simon Armitage, complete with sore throat. He read a fair few new poems (I mean, post-Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. the Corduroy Kid), most of which I enjoyed, and a couple of which rather washed over me. I think I enjoyed the extracts from his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight most – as he pointed out, it seemed appropriate to be reading it just a few miles away from its likely origin.
Finally, I also bought Jane Routh's Teach Yourself Mapmaking, a book I've been meaning to get for a while.
All things considered, then, a very enjoyable day - I can see this festival going from strength to strength. Support it if you get the chance.

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