I have spent the most fabulous weekend at the Wenlock Poetry Festival. It has been a real delight to experience and be part of the Festival so here are my potted highlights of the weekend.
Denise and I arrived on Friday afternoon (after Denise had watched the Royal wedding on TV) and we settled in with our hosts for the weekend (Many thanks David and Jen) while I went to check in with the Festival office and books tickets for that evening.
We went to see Ian McMillan and his orchestra which was a fantastic experience. Ian was on top form and this was the first time I'd seen him with his five musicians backing him. It was simply a highly enjoyable 90 minutes. Ian was sharp, funny and obviously relished a full house and the wonderful acoustics of The Edge theatre. The skill of the musicians were showcased and they produced a wonderful sound which seemed to be much bigger than the sum of their parts. What seemed obvious was how much Ian and the musicians enjoyed themselves and the audience certainly did too.
The highlight of the show for me was the improvised piece by Ian and the band based on suggestions from the audience which were beards, mathematics, Doncaster Rovers Football Club and Alternative Voting. The rhyming story that emerged was a premier league conspiracy to keep Doncaster out of the Premiership using AV taking into account the number of female bearded fans. It was a polished evening of words perfectly married (appropriately enough).
We then made a mad dash down to the Priory Hall which hosted this year's Slam. I was the inaugural Champion last year (which led to the invitation to be part of the Festival this year). I did a quick poem to allow the judges to deliberate ( one of the judges was Miriam Margoyles who described my poem as "Great and beautifully performed"). In a hard fought contest, Emma Purshouse deservedly emerged as this year's winner. That rounded off Day One.
Day Two and I went to see John Hegley doing his children's show "Animal Alphaboat". John is a consumate performer and communicater whether his audience is adults or children and this show was no exception. John has a demeanour which brooks no hecklers and yet he can encourage an audience to join in when needed. He expertly talked to children without talking at them them or above their heads and there were plenty of laughs for adults as well as the children.
After lunch, I went to run my Performance Poetry Workshop which I really enjoyed. After this, we rested until the Friend's Party in the evening where it was a pleasure to mingle with some of the key supporters of the Festival, Committee members and other poets.
Day three was the day of my show "Poet in Motion" at the Pottery. The show tells my story of coming out as a poet at my first open mic less than three years ago (actually three years ago this very day) and the 200 gigs since, winning Slams and finding a niche of the poetry circuit. The Pottery is a lovely venue and the room was comfortably full with a receptive and appreciative audience it was a real pleasure to perform for. I really enjoyed playing the gig and I was pleased to receive some lovely feedback from the audience. After that, I went to be part of the "Poetry takeaway" a brillant idea from Tim Clare. You can order an original poem freshly written by a team of poets on any subject. Tim and his team have a mobile "burger" style unit now and poems are can be "open" or "wrapped". It was a challenge to work quickly and to a specific brief but it was great to write poems for birthdays, wedding days etc. After that, time for a final cup of tea before we headed home.
Wenlock is a small but perfectly formed poetry Festival spread over one long weekend. All the venues are walkable from each other and the quality of the line up was exceptional: Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Jackie Kay, John Hegley, Ian McMillan, Jo Shapcott and many more. It's also great that Performance Poets are represented and they include a Poetry Slam. If you can, put next year's dates in your diary now! (13 to 15 April, 2012)
Keep writin' and recitin'