Just gathering my thoughts after spending most of the weekend at the first Polyverse Poetry Festival, at Loughborough University, but suffice it to say that a great time was had by all, with the highlight being the showcase reading by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy on Saturday night.
That things went so well was a tribute to the efforts of organiser Radcliff Gregory, whose brainchild it was, Kerry Featherstone, who seemed to be on hand anywhere and everywhere at all hours, and a number of other volunteers. Of course (and this is true of pretty much every poetry festival I’ve ever been to), there were times when it would have been nice to see more visitors, and especially more non-poet visitors, but from what I’ve seen elsewhere, events like this need a year or two to build momentum, so I expect it to go from strength to strength.
I pretty much kicked things off, on Friday evening, reading with Nottingham poet Mike Wilson in the main theatre. There was a reasonable turn-out and I thought we complemented each other pretty well with our differing styles.
I stayed to hear Bob Mee, formerly editor of Iota and a fine poet in his own right. I thought he read particularly well, and it was nice to discover when chatting to him that he’s a Leicester City fan (there had to be another). Reading with him was Nick Carbo, from the Philippines, who was making his UK debut and didn’t disappoint, with some wryly funny poems that hinted at US influences but also bore a distinctly Filipino stamp.
Saturday afternoon was a veritable feast of readings. Angela France and Ben Stainton got things off to a really strong start, and Gillian Spraggs and Chris Kinsey were excellent too. Gillian’s a poet who shares my love of all things Anglo-Saxon, while Chris’s work features a lot of very finely-observed nature, so they were always onto a winner with me.
Mark Goodwin’s always a great reader, too, and I really enjoyed his set – he’s at his best when writing about that crossover point between urban and rural. Later, I enjoyed excellent performances by Jon Stone and Sam Smith. And they were performances, too – I can be very wary of poets overdoing it when reading their work, but Jon injected plenty of energy into his witty and always entertaining poems, while Sam introduced a random element into his reading, asking audience members to pick which poems he read.
CAD’s reading was preceded by four young Leicestershire writers – Myfanwyn Ryan, Jenn Clarke, Ella Pocock and Stevie Watson, and they were hugely impressive. Ryan in particular is a name I’d expect to hear a lot more from in the future.
So to the Poet Laureate. Never having seen her read before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but she really did bring the house down. I think what was most outstanding was the pacing of everything – not just the structure of the set, but the voicing of the individual poems. It set me thinking about whether poetry on the page can ever be a sort of musical notation for poetry read aloud, or whether you just have to accept that they are two very different things, but I’ll write about that at more length soon. And it sent me home wanting to re-read any number of her poems that I’ve probably skipped past previously.
Sunday was a bit less hectic, but I heard Jane Commane (particularly liked her OS map poem), Andy Fletcher, David Bircumshaw (another genuine performance, and really compelling), Amanda Lambourne Jones, Matt Nunn (reliably entertaining and thought-provoking), and Tony Williams, who read from his forthcoming Salt collection, The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street. If the title poem in particular is anything to go by, it’ll be a cracker.
Steve Rooney and the man himself, Radcliff Gregory, set the seal on things before I had to dash off, with an excellent reading back in the main theatre. Both, I think, touched on the fact that poets of all stripes had read with and listened to each other, which after all is pretty much the point of most festivals, so it was a fitting way to end.
As always, it was good to meet people like Tony Williams, Angela France, Bob Mee and Jon Stone, who previously have only been names on an online forum, or on the end of an email, to see readers who were completely new to me, and to catch up with the likes of Jane Commane, Matt Nunn, Mark Goodwin and Chris Kinsey.
In between times, I bought Sandra Tappenden’s Bags Of Mostly Water, having liked her more recent Salt collection, Rupert Loydell’s recent chapbook Lost In The Slipstream (I’ve recently refound and reread his excellent The Museum Of Light), Sam Smith’s Rooms and Dialogues, and also swapped books with Mark Goodwin (his collection Else is from Shearsman) and Mike Wilson (the spendidly titled Desperanto, from Smokestack).
Oh, and my set list, for those interested, was:
The Meeting Place
The American version
Things Left In Hotel Rooms
The Mad Mile
Scorpio Over La Selva
The Memory Of Water
Worst Case Scenario