I deliberately kept the events I pre-booked at Ledbury Poetry Festival down to about one a day, so I didn’t get overwhelmed. Since I was attending 5 workshops over the week, overdoing it was definitely a risk. Also, I was hoping to do some unrelated writing. That mostly went for a Burton since the holiday house had a TV (I don’t have a TV) and Wimbledon was particularly exciting. Thinking about it, that might be why I didn’t get round to going to more events as well…
Monday’s event was particularly memorable though. ‘Tokens for the Foundlings‘ is an anthology of poetry about childhood, in support of the Foundling Museum. The story of the Foundling Hospital was by far the most interesting part of the talk, with particular emphasis on the fabrics and trinkets that were left with children in the hope that they could be used to reunite them with their mother if her circumstances ever improved enough for her to reclaim the child. Who knew that they now have one of the most important fabric collections in existence because of all the bits of cloth left?
The poems were introduced by the anthology editor Tony Curtis. I think I preferred the ones that directly address the foundling experience, but it sounds like an interesting collection. Tony’s tone varied a bit from serious to flippant, and I felt that jokes about ‘the most important relationship in a child’s life – the grandparents!’ were heading for inappropriate when we were sitting there feeling so moved by mothers giving up their children – and also, the foundlings being separated from their foster parents at the age of 5 (this happened into living memory) when many of them didn’t know that these weren’t their legal parents.
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I went to a series of workshops held by New Zealand poet laureate Bill Manhire. All three were very calm and clear, very inclusive of everyone in the workshop, and gave some really interesting methods to prompt writing. I particularly liked the ‘Accident and Constraint’ workshop talking about how putting limits in form, structure or method of creation can lead to interesting writing. The others were on memory and on telling lies (I have a separate ‘telling lies’ post coming up, so I’ll leave that for now). I certainly got a lot out of the workshops. My one criticism is that I’d have liked a bit more writing time – maybe some of the first hour’s talk could have been spun off into a handout or something so that we could have had two writing sessions.
Bill was paired with Kay Ryan for a World Laureates talk on Friday. I was tremendously excited about seeing Kay Ryan since I didn’t see her when she came to Edinburgh, and after that I really got into her work. Both poets were dry (in a good way) and interesting in talking about their work, although I’d say that for both of them I’d probably get more out of going back and back to their poems on the page than from hearing them read once. Still, great to be there.
My final event of the week was another workshop, Dave Lordan‘s workshop on performance poetry. This was probably the thing I was most looking forward to. There were only six of us in the workshop so it could be very personal. My experience from learning public speaking is that getting feedback on the technical aspects of your performance (pitch, volume, how you stand, how you dress, irritating habits…) is daunting but essential, and I think this goes for performing poetry as well. (I was massively disappointed when I found that my public speaking experience didn’t seem to cross over into being any less nervous or newbieish about reading poetry!)
We did a storytelling exercise to get us all up and presenting, and then gave feedback on the details of the performance not the story – everyone else was great but everyone can use a little feedback! Dave was encouraging us to get into memorising our poems, which is a bit scary, but what I liked was that he gave a detailed pathway towards doing that so it doesn’t seem like just one big leap. I liked that he talked about his philosophy for making art in a sensible way and his analysis of the performance scene. He was also very interesting about lies, but that also will wait for the follow-up post!
Overall I was really pleased that I went down for the week – I doubt that I could devote a whole week in future. If I did get to do it again, I think I’d dial down the workshops by one or two (although looking back, I’m not sure where I’d cut) and go to a couple more readings by people I hadn’t heard of.