Friday, 30 September 2011

Sussex by the sea

I'm just back from two glorious days in Sussex, reading at the Chiddingly Festival with David Swann, Maureen Jivani and Clare Best. The sun shone, there wasn't so much as a single cloud, the readings were excellent, the people terrific, and I even did some quality birdwatching yesterday.

The first thing to say is that Chiddingly is a wonderful place to read. The venue, the Six Bells, is exactly what an old-fashioned country pub should be, with good food and beer (I can recommend the Harveys Sussex bitter), and an excellent room for the event itself, complete with bizarre but endlessly intriguing decor (you really need to see it).

There was a good-sized, responsive and appreciative audience, the whole thing ran like clockwork, and it was a pleasure to hear three really fine poets. I knew Clare's HappenStance pamphlet Treasure Ground already, but she also read from her just-published Waterloo collection, Excisions, and the poems are outstanding - direct, lucid, and yet constantly surprising, startling even.

David Swann is also with Waterloo - they really have an impressive line-up of poets for a relatively new press - and his collection The Privilege Of Rain is subtitled Time Amongst The Sherwood Outlaws, a reflection of the fact that it draws on his time as writer-in-residence at Nottingham Prison. I think what's most impressive about the poems is that David manages to bring humour and humanity to the most harrowing of situations, without either trivialising anything or allowing his gaze to be anything other than honest and unflinching. The poem he read in which he effectively remakes that old cliche "at the end of the day" was a favourite, and his between-poems banter is worth the admission price alone.

Maureen Jivani's Insensible Heart was shortlisted for the 2010 London Festival Fringe New Poetry Award, and I can see why. The poems she read were often rooted in her day-to-day work as a nurse, but were unafraid to take imaginative flight and consider a much wider perspective, and there's a lovely balance of delicacy and strength.

We all read two sets - one of 15 minutes and one of five - so I did a more general longer set, and a bird-oriented shorter one, both from hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica. The books sold well, and doing a quick stock-take when I got home last night, I found I have only two copies of Troy Town and four of Making The Most Of The Light left. If you want one, now's the time to say.

I'm very grateful to Clare both for inviting me to read, and for putting me up at her lovely home (a stay enlivened by her seven-month-old whippet, Flint), and then I was able to make the most of the glorious Indian summer weather with a walk around Cuckmere Haven, and later near the Long Man at Wilmington. There were warblers and Redstarts dripping from the bushes at the coast, presumably enjoying this sudden heatwave before flying south, and it was the same story further west, at Pagham Harbour and Bosham.

I'm looking forward to reading all three poets' books this weekend, and I'll be writing more about them in the near future. In the meantime, I've got notes for poems to write up - long drives always start me writing.

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