The Festival – from the perspective of the Blogger in Residence

 

The Kendal Poetry festival has drawn to a close for another year, and what a festival it was. We had poets who are at the top of their game come to Kendal and deliver bold and touching readings to audiences who loved every minute.

On Friday we had the festival launch, opened by Michel McGregor from the Wordsworth Trust. Our Young Poet in Residence Florence Jones (Flo to us at Dove Cottage Young Poets), read some of her work which spanned a wide range of topics – from playing percussion to nudist swimming. She read some of her ‘Flo classics’ (Kim was right in saying she is the only one of us that could ever get away with saying that!), which set the tone for the festival – packed out and relaxed.

After that we all went over to the first main reading – Billy Letford and Hannah Lowe. I enjoyed both readings. Billy had a mixture of bold poetry about everyday life and an accent that helped you be swept up in a tide of poetry. Hannah’s poetry was about her Jamaican Chinese father who was an immigrant, the things he got up to and the period in which she grew up in. Her poetry has stayed with me ever since the festival and I have been re-reading Chick since the event. I really enjoyed the poem about her son and the hens.

That evening I was extremely exhausted. For those of you that don’t know me I have a lot of routine and medical things to do in an evening. By the time mum and I were able to go to bed it was midnight, but I couldn’t sleep because I was so happy about the way the events had gone. I kept on thinking about what a good job Flo did her reading, which is mixed with nostalga for me because I was young poet in residence last year and understand what a pressure it could be if you allowed it to be. She did an incredible job, and if she had any nerves you couldn’t see them at all.

The next morning we had readings from Chrissy Williams and Inua Ellams. I had read Bear by Chrissy and had reviewed it on my personal YouTube channel, so was very excited to hear Chrissy read. Chrissy read in a very gentle way, which I would have never associated with her poems until she did it. She had such a gentle voice next to such dangerous and shadowy bears! Inua read from his new collection, which has poems by prolific poets alongside his own. This gave his work a very distinctive voice, and modernised some older poets. I enjoyed hearing the different ‘versions’, and loved that he had decided to publish the original poet alongside the poems he had written in response, instead of just crediting the titles.

That afternoon we had a reading from Katrina Naomi and Malika Booker. Katrina’s work looked at the family and all had a gentle violence and twist to them. She read some very personal poems and had the room in the palm of her hand. Malika Booker, fresh from her dash through blistering heat in Kendal, read her forward prize nominated poem and others from her collection. Her performance style is intense, and there is not a chance that anyone’s attention wandered for a second from her cutting poems. I also read in the segment, and would love to thank every single person who was so very lovely to me after I had performed. It boosted my courage so much that when I got home I uploaded a poem to YouTube that I had been nervous about for a very long time.

Unfortunately those were the only readings I could make it to, as the heat was not my friend that weekend and I was not feeling very well at all. I attended Katrina Naomi’s wonderful workshop on Sunday, which has encouraged me to try and stretch my poems further and try and make them last over a page. After this I packed up and went home. It was a fabulous weekend filled with lovely people who all gathered for the same reasons. A passion for poetry.

See you for the next one!

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Five Minutes With Malcolm from Iridium

This is our last ‘Five Minute Interview’ as we start to get too excited to do interviews, as the festival is only TWO DAYS AWAY!  Hannah went to speak to Malcolm, the owner of Iridium, one of Kendal Poetry Festival’s favourite local shops, where you’ll find a  find a range of famous names in the fields of pens, pencils, inks and stationery.  Malcolm’s stall at last year’s festival was extremely popular and we are really happy that he has agreed to come and sell some of his products at this year’s festival.  We hope you enjoy the interview, and thanks to Malcolm for taking time out to answer these questions.

HH:   What did you do in your pre- Iridium life?

M: In the real World, I was a Civil / Structural Engineer… working in the energy sector for the likes of BP, INEOS and Sellafield. Large multi-million pound projects… writing specifications and scoping out work to clean up nuclear waste in Cumbria. Also refurbishing huge tanks in Scotland for storing North Sea oil and gas. Very smelly and very messy.

Oh… and in the 1980’s I had a sandwich bar in London, when a BLT or spicy chicken on granary bread was new… and avocados an exotic fruit. Who would have thought…!

HH: How did you come to own Iridium?

M: Well… one fine day, I attended one Corporate meeting too many. Surrounded by men in suits… I sat gazing at my latest fountain pen. Italian, colourful, gold pointed nib, majestic. Turning it round and around in my hand… wondering why I was still working in Engineering when my dream job could be selling Fine Stationery in a shop in Kendal. ‘Ping’… that was it. I gave notice to quit the next day and within three months I opened the door to Iridium in the New Shambles. That was nearly four years ago… selling fountain pens in Kendal. How can that be…? I’m still smiling.

 

HH: What is your favourite product within Iridium?

M: Not just one, that’s impossible. I can’t resist Japanese stationery… LIFE notebooks so smooth and stylish… and iroshizuku (translates to coloured dew droplet) ink… the colours and bottles are to die for. Also Blackwing pencils for that quick sketch or scribble.

HH: What would you recommend as your most useful product for a poet?

M: Without doubt… a Leuchtturm1917 notebook with pen loop and Lamy fountain pen… maybe a Blackwing pencil. The new metallic range… copper, silver and gold covers are my current favourite. And turquoise ink. But no erasers… never rub out your mistakes. How else will you learn for the future…?

HH: What is the strangest thing that has ever happened within your shop?

M: OMG…! One hot afternoon last summer, I had the shop door wide open and a lady popped her head in… ‘I think a mouse just ran in to your shop’ she said… ‘it’s hiding behind the door’
‘OK… thanks’ I said.
I moved the door aside… to find the biggest RAT I’ve ever seen. Horror…! Another customer pushed the door back trapping the rat whilst I grabbed a broom and huge cardboard box. Between us, we forced a squealing rat in to the box… and rehoused it back to the riverbank. Urghhh…!

Note to self… this story may put people off visiting Iridium. Not the brightest piece of marketing…! Haha…

Five Minutes with Wayleave Press

Hannah Hodgson has been busy interviewing Mike Barlow, the editor and publisher of Wayleave Press.  Mike will be appearing at the festival to be interviewed by one of our Festival Directors, Kim Moore on Sunday 18th June at 10.30.  Mike and Kim will be talking about publishing and setting up a small press.  The discussion will be followed by short readings from three Wayleave Press poets, Rebecca Bilkau, Paul Mills and Ron Scowcroft.  You can book tickets for the event here.

HH: When and how did Wayleave Press begin?

MB: Wayleave Press started in 2012, with a self-published pamphlet collection by myself, ‘Nothing About to Happen’. I had a collection of poems I wanted to put together, but felt they were unlikely to get anywhere in a pamphlet competition (too imagistic, allusive and elusive). So I put them together and sent them out to friends and fellow poets. The poems were well received as was the quality of the production from the local printer, so I decided it would be feasible to do the same for other poets who wanted to have a pamphlet out there.

The first pamphlet I published for someone else was ‘Moon Garden’ by Ron Scowcroft in 2014. Since then I have published 17 pamphlets (including two of my own). These have been poets I know of or whose work I already knew, or had heard read or, on one occasion, had recommended to me by a third party.

Wayleave is primarily a pamphlet publisher. I do not have the funds or expertise for full books. Nor do I have the time or ambition. However, the exception was Elizabeth Burns’ posthumous collection ‘Lightkeepers’, which was done as a one-off.

HH: What is your role at Wayleave?

MB: I do everything, basically. Edit, layout, produce. From time to time I consult my partner about design matters (choice of endpapers for instance) and she’s very good at proof-reading, something you can’t do too much of.

The business emphasis is on poets themselves selling their own pamphlets, since that is the main and most effective way of getting pamphlets about. I run a website and do some basic marketing, but the poetry world is such that it’s poets themselves who are the best marketeers of their work.

I work in co-operation with the poet. Sometimes a collection can be complete in itself, edited and ordered so nothing else needs to be done. At other times I can be much more involved, selecting from a body of work, suggesting the order and editing individual poems. It all depends on what I’m presented with, what the poet requires of me and what the poems themselves suggest they need.

Although I’m open to preferences and suggestions for cover illustrations from the poets themselves, most covers have been from my own art works, something that poets seem to be happy with and which seems to have become a bit of a brand feature. The exception is two pamphlets from Elizaneth Burns which were illustrated by paintings by my partner, Jane Routh.

HH: What would you say has been the highlight of your poetry career?

MB: I suppose I’d have to say winning the National Poetry Competition in 2006. That certainly gave me a boost. But these things pass. Being shortlisted for the 2004 Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize with my first collection ‘Living on the Difference’ and having a pamphlet ‘Amicable Numbers’ selected as a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice were pretty affirming.

However, there are lots of ways in which highlights pop up in the course of things. Sometimes (not always) you do a good reading and feel pleased, or you get a poem accepted by a particular good magazine. This sort of thing makes you feel your work is heard, appreciated and read.

And running Wayleave gives me many satisfying moments. I love getting involved in helping put a good collection of poems together well, and presenting them in a pleasing form. There’s a real buzz in picking up copies of a new pamphlet from the printers and getting them to the poet.

And then my partner Jane has just reminded me of a reading we heard at Stanza earlier this year, by Robert Crawford and Alice Oswald. The best reading I’ve ever heard and a wonderful combination of poets. We came away very excited, feeling an immense lift from it.

HH: What signifies a stand out poem to you?

MB: This is a difficult question to answer. For me it will depend on circumstances, where and how I come across the poem, my state of mind, how receptive I am to its particular music and ideas. I suppose the question comes from the competition culture of the poetry world, where a poem has to make an impact amongst hundreds of others.

I tend to respond more to bodies of work. For instance, I have a number of favourite poets whose work in general or particular collections stand out for me and who I return to frequently. Alice Oswald and Philip Gross are two examples.

But as for the particular question about stand-out qualities, I’d say I want a poem to have an air of self-confidence, a feeling that it’s arrived and says what it has to authentically. Imagery is important to me, and the flow of language, the music and rhythms of natural speech. What it says needs to be said in interesting and arresting ways with enough wordplay or play with form and allusion to make you want to read it again and continue to be able to mine it for enjoyment or meaning. There are many striking poems which are nonetheless ‘get-it-in-one’ poems which probably have a limited life in the reader’s mind. I favour poems with more dimension and depth offering a slower burn in their appreciation. Sorry, this sounds all very abstract.

HH: As a poet yourself what advice would you offer to young poets?

MB: I think I’d say read and listen continuously, write furiously but be ruthless in editing your work. Sometimes you can be very pleased with something you’ve written, but I’d say resist the temptation to consider it finished and send it out indiscriminately. The passing of time can do wonders for your critical faculties. And of course, we are all learning all the time; style and ‘voice’ is an evolving thing.

If, or when, you come across someone else’s writing that has, for you, that ‘wow’ factor, stick with it but don’t try and imitate, have confidence that your own ‘voice’ will take what it needs from the example of others.

 

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Five Minutes With Martin Kratz

 

Martin Kratz will be giving a whistle stop tour of some of our Festival Poets during his forty five minute session. He will be looking at the general themes that many of the poets explore in their work.   If you can only make a select few of our events this year,  it would be an excellent idea to book in to this talk. Or, if you haven’t heard any of a particular poets’ work and would like a preview, this is the event for you! The event is running on Friday 16th June, and would be ideal for those who are going to see Jack Mapanje from 3-4pm, as this event runs from 5-5.45pm, giving you the opportunity to grab something to eat before hand, then there will be time for a quick cup of tea or coffee before the launch begins at 6.30pm! You can book tickets here.  See you there!

 

 

HH: What is your personal background?

MK: I live in Manchester with my family. I am an Associate Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. I have a particular interest in poetry. Currently, I am working on a project on John Keats. While I’m in this part of the world I’ll be visiting some of the places he wrote about in his letters. He came here on a walking tour in 1818.

HH: What will you be doing at the festival this year?

MK: I am giving a whistle-stop tour of the Festival. I’ll be talking about the poets who are reading and looking at some of my favourite poems. I have also tried to identify any themes that link this year’s writers. Family seems to be a particularly strong subject this year.

HH: Why is poetry about the family important and why?

MK: I have been wondering about this connection. The Old English epic ‘Beowulf’ is a poem full of passages which list various family trees. That recollection sparked something in my mind about the link between the poetic line and ancestral lineages. Lines and lineages. Perhaps it has something to do with the way poetry might have functioned as a mnemonic device, helping to establish the provenance of certain powerful families …a kind of litany of power.

This is a pretty narrow version of family though, and a far cry from the way family is considered these days and in the poetry at this year’s festival. Here, the scope of family is very broad, and involves poems of redress, memory, speculation, and reimagining … Ultimately, the common denominator in poetry about family is love. Even when it’s lacking. And given that love is the driving concern of so much poetry, it’s perhaps not surprising to find the family given that much attention.

HH: In these times of uncertainty do you feel that poetry about the family makes people feel reassured? Is that why it is so popular? Or do you think there is another reason? 

MK: I don’t know. Poetry certainly can have that reassuring quality you’re talking about. In this year’s line-up, you have something of that, but mostly you have family presented as the often challenging, knotty thing it can be. There’s no reaching after easy nostalgia. Family doesn’t just happen. It would be nice if it did. But family actually takes work, and perhaps the poetry is part of that work. Also, in difficult times we are reminded of what’s important to us of course.

What I have been struck by in particular is the recurrence of the grandparent as a prominent figure. I suspect that in literature the grandparent is a figure that is often written about pretty generically and too simplistically. Grandparents can often be represented as uncomplicated and one-dimensional… this year’s poetry definitely challenges that idea.  

HH: What advice would you give to anyone looking to write poetry about the family?

MK: Read! There are so many different ways to conceive of the idea of family and to write about it, whether you’re writing about real families or imagined ones. In the end, you should write what you have to. Perhaps, write what you know. But read what you don’t.