Report from the Festival by Hannah Hodgson

Stay tuned for a series of reports/reviews/overviews of the Festival!  The first is from our wonderful Blogger-in-Residence, Hannah Hodgson, pictured here reading at the Open Mic.  If you didn’t manage to get to the festival this year, we hope this in-depth account will make you feel like you could have been! 

You can follow Hannah on YouTube, or on her blog

At our Festival Launch Matthew Sowersby performed three poems, each on a different theme. One that made my hairs stand on end was after the Manchester Bombings, while watching the OneLove concert he spoke out of the cowardice it takes for grown men to attack children. We also heard from the Director of the Anne Frank Trust Tim Robertson, who spoke of how the reputation of Wordsworth’s daffodils poem has vastly differed over time, with the most comedic and toe curling of those mentioned being the Heineken advert, “refresh[ing] the poets other beers cannot reach!”

We also enjoyed the first performance from the Young Musician in residence, Alistair Burton on the Violin.

On Friday evening both Kayo Chingonyi and Judy Brown read for us.

Kayo read  about an initiation rite called ‘Kumukanda’, which would have normally been performed only a short while after he left Zambia. This rite is to “cross the river boys of our tribe must cross in order to die and come back grown.” This, and other poems read by Kayo have a strong sense of culture – specifically him feeling close to sometimes, and far away at others. His performance also gave the audience an appreciation of how important this initiation right is, because he talks of this other self (that would have been come to life after the Kumukanda) having opinions on his “literary pretentions”; and the idea that this other self knows all of his ancestors in the afterlife “Would he be strange to me as I to him, frowning as he greets me in the language of my father and my father’s father and my father’s father’s father?”

Judy then read. She performed an array of poems around being short sighted, and the gruesome discovery of a dead rat on her sofa. The last poem that she read was about her father having heart surgery. The poem detailed the medical professionals cooling her fathers body down so his organs weren’t so oxygen hungry, and then about heart restarting itself after surgery; this made the whole operation almost sound like an act of wizardry. It made the reader confront the reality of mortality, but also the strength of the human condition.

On the Saturday of the festival, our first reading came from Wayne Holloway Smith and Dean Smith.

Wayne read a poem called ‘Everything is always sometimes broken’, which used the image of “a single crow fell out of my mind and fell at your feet” as a metaphor for a deep sense of grief. This image is so powerful because it works on both a physical and visceral level. We all know what a dead crow looks like, but we also all know deep emotional pain which can make you feel numb, or even a little dead on the inside for a while. You may be trying to think of where you have read about a crow and grief before, and that would have been in Grief is a thing with feathers by Max Porter, which frustratingly for Wayne was only released a week before his book came out. However, having read both I feel the way in which they differ is the recognition that many people can be having these feelings at once – “Some people have crows, its no big deal” means the poem not only addresses his feelings, but potentially the feelings of readers as well.

Dean read from both his book The Swan Machine and The Bubble Wrap. He read the poem “Sweet Offer”, which involves a rather melted Murray mint, and how a few misheard words can land you in a rather sticky (pun definitely intended) situation with someone.  Another poem he read revolved around Robert Broomfield “The cobblers laureate”. Before reading Dean said that he sees himself as a modern day ‘Peasant poet’, and so felt an affinity to the subject of the poem. He also noted that the poet Robert Broomfield sold 20,000 copies of his book in the first two years of sale, and to put this in to context Wordsworth only sold a matter of hundreds. The poem charts both his literary success, and the factors that led to his downfall. Dean’s poems have a deep sense of humour, and they linger in your mind long after you have left the reading.

During the Saturday afternoon we heard from both Patience Agbabi and Sasha Dougdale. Patience recited work from her most recent book, Telling Tales which is a retelling of the Canterbury tales. Patience is a performer, she had memorised all of the numerous poems she read out, had developed accents and character traits for each poems speaker; and gave an entrancing performance. The rhyme scheme, length of poems and performance skills of Patience gave the audience a feeling of being spellbound, totally in the world she was creating for us. Patience also read from another piece of work she had written in conjunction with a refugee. Although had to change the persons details for their safety, her work brought in to sharp focus the ease of which someone’s life can be ruined, and nearly ended (by a house fire) simply because of some documents the dictatorship government believed she had seen, when in fact she had no idea what they were referring to.

Sasha is a poet and playwright, and this definitely came across in her monologue ‘Joy’, which won the Forward prize for the best single poem in 2016. The poem is from the perspective of Catherine, William Blake’s widow. It seems to, at times, be oxymoronic with grief – such as with the actual title of ‘Joy’ – but also gives the reader windows in to her deep sadness.

“The eye watered

The world was a mote in that eye

The mote was a world in that eye

And his brush was a blade and his tears made a Lake.”

Sasha is very softly spoken, which only added to the beauty of this piece.

On Saturday evening we heard from Pascale Petit and Nicola Madzirov. Pascale read from her latest collection ‘Mama Amazonica’. It looks head on at her mothers mental health problems. Every poem is interwoven with beautiful metaphor from the Amazon rainforest, which Pascale uses to give stark contrast to her mothers experiences. Her mother needed sanctuary, which was given within the psychiatric hospital, the Amazon.

“My newborn mama washed clean by the drugs,

a caiman basking beside her.”

Taken from Mama Amazonica.

Nikola Madzirov lives in Macedonia. He read from translated poems, published by Bloodaxe. The poems said things in a way that is unlike I have ever experienced in poetry. The poems are written with sentences that are in a slightly different order than you would expect to find, and this gives it an extra special quality in translation.

On Sunday morning we heard from Claudine Toutoungi and David Constantine. Claudine read from her collection ‘Smoothie’. She read a wide range of poems on a variety of themes. The poem ‘Reunion’ centres around herself and a former lover, who have a coffee together. She manages to convey the awkward feelings between the two people who are chatting, the obvious feelings she still has for him, but also uses brilliant metaphor to convey this conflict of feeling in Reunion.

“You’re there in front of me looking like the longest, tallest coolest glass of water.”

David Constantine gave a reflective reading from his most recent book Elder. He read poems about aging and death, and mourning someone that you knew a long time ago. He talks of memories copying his teacher with school friends now passed on. He gives an unflinching look at both the past and all of our eventual deaths, showing us all the importance of fun as a young adult and remembering the dead for who they once were to us.

Our final reading of Kendal Poetry Festival was given to us by Liz Berry and David Harsent.

Liz read for us about both her love for her children and her struggle with post natal psychosis. Her beautifully chosen words create stunning images such as these, taken from her poem ‘spiritualist church’ –

“my soul rising from the X-ray of my skeleton like a white-veined moth.”

Her careful, considered writing is at odds with her horrendous experience of postnatal depression, and so she creates poems that are haunting, informing and beautiful all at once.

David Harsent was the final reader of this years festival. He read from both his latest collection ‘Salt’, and new poems he has been working on. Many of his poems have strong images of the sea; and as he was reading I noticed how tidal I found his voice. As it got deeper I felt the sea swelling around his words, and as he continued I felt another wave building. The poem that has stayed with me detailed the similarities between putting salt on a slug to kill it, and rubbing salt on a whipped mans back.

Thank you ever so much for coming to Kendal Poetry Festival this year. The dates of the next festival will be announced very soon, so please sign up to the blog or follow us on Twitter or Facebook to be kept up to date. It has been a pleasure to both read at the festival and blog about it. Thank you so much to Kim Moore, Pauline Yarwood, Katie Hale and Caroline Gilfillan for all of your hard work organising this festival; and finally a last thank you to the poets who have made this years festival incredible.


Five Minute Interview with Peter Sansom



Welcome to ournext Five Minute Interview, this time with the legendary Peter Sansom.  Peter will be appearing alongside our special guest Stuart Maconie in a literary pub crawl, introducing audiences to a variety of new writing celebrating the British pub from the ‘One For the Road‘ anthology.  This event is on Sunday 9th September, 3pm-4pm.  Tickets are still available for this event from The Brewery Arts Centre for a mere £5.

Peter Sansom has published five collections of poetry, which include a Selected Poems with Carcanet and his most recent collection Careful What You Wish For. He is the director of The Poetry Business where he edits The North magazine and Smith/Doorstop books

Thanks to Hannah Hodgson, as always for this excellent interview and to Peter for taking part.

HH: Can you pinpoint a single thing that made you gravitate towards poetry as opposed to other mediums?

PS:Like most people ‘fit for nothing but literature’ I blame an inspirational English teacher.  The first poem in my Selected Poems is about mine, Mike Allen — not much older than us and completely on our side though completely different, being from the South and public school.  I’d like to write other things, best-selling novels for preference, but I don’t know enough and haven’t enough attention span.  Radio 4 broadcast a couple of plays by me and I’d love to do more, but somehow never seem to.  They were commissioned and while I was on with them it was like being a real writer. 

HH: For anyone who hasn’t come across the Poetry Business, how would you describe the work that you do?

PS: We’re a publishers and writer development agency, or the other way round maybe, and from being a single trader in 1986 the Business has become an organisation (ten people, all part-time), with me and Ann Sansom doing most of the teaching, mentoring and editing of books, pamphlets and The North magazine.  I’m fond of saying it’s better than being down the pit (which my mum worried I might) or being Peter Andre for a living (though actually he seems a nice man, Peter Andre).  The PB is an exciting place to be esp with our youngish team and the younger writers coming up now; though it is rather wonderful to read and to continue to be able to publish our older authors.  I like to think the monopoly that Faber (deservedly) had when I was growing up has given way a little and, though there’s more competition from other larger presses, specialist outfits such as ours are not as marginalised nowadays.  I’d like to think that.  But it’s human nature with books as in any other marketplace to trust the brand you know.

HH: If you had to pinpoint a person ( who may not be a writer themselves) who has influenced you, who would you choose?

PS: My favourite writer is the Sheffield poet Stanley Cook (1922-1991), who taught me at Huddersfield Poly, and whose poems spoke to me at once because of their honest, intelligent voice and their wit, and the way they look so closely at everything, especially the mostly working class world around him.   He was an influence in so many ways, and it was through him that I got a job at the Poly, which developed poetry workshops in a happy time of being young(ish) alongside Simon Armitage eg and Ian McMillan and with the Poetry Business just starting.  I wrote a poem about it (‘Sofa’) in my last book.  There was an article about Stanley Cook anyway in my first year on the library noticeboard photocopied from The Guardian, ‘Poet at the Poly’, when he won a competition (£2000, big money in the seventies).  Otherwise you’d never know he wrote poems.  He never mentioned it and his books were in the library but not many bookshops.  Later he was editor of Poetry Nottingham, which he published me in, and then Poetry Nottingham pamphlets with mine the first in the series.  I still can’t believe it, because he really knew what he was doing, and I certainly didn’t.  More amazing still was that he was an extremely private person and yet he let me read his long poem, ‘Woods Beyond a Cornfield’, in typescript when I was in my third year.   Douglas Dunn among others admired this poem (‘a masterpiece’) and the privilege of Cook letting me read it and some of his other poems before they were published has never left me.  The oddest thing is I do think he was well aware of my weaknesses (as a person and as a poet, posturing and that typical young man self-importance, some of which I hope I’ve grown out of, and shallowness) but he saw something else in me too, and that sustains me when I get knocked back or when (like almost everyone is) I am overlooked. I edited and published his Collected Poems after his death, and wish I’d thought to ask Simon A to ask Faber about doing it, because the PB didn’t have the clout to get him the readership he deserves.  His writing is so rooted in real life, and so clear-eyed and yet completely imaginative and at times otherworldly.  Stanley Cook also incidentally very much admired Ann Dancy, who later became the Bloodaxe poet Ann Sansom.  

HH: You obviously have a huge workload surrounding the Poetry Business – how do you make the time for your own writing? 

PS: I write sometimes in the mornings (if possible not starting PB work till after ten) and it feels great if I can get some headspace and the momentum of several days in a row.  And now and then I write alongside others when I’m running a group.  I don’t write as much as I might, because though I know it isn’t, it still feels like an indulgence.  Even when poet in residence somewhere I’m comfortable actually writing, because people think my real gift is for getting others to do it.  My editor Michael Schmidt at Carcanet (another important person for me) tried to dissuade me from the Poetry Business, because it would distract from writing just as Carcanet might have done him, were he not actually three people.  Actually I think running Carcanet and PN Review and being a Professor of Poetry has distracted others from seeing him as a poet. 

HH: Do you have any tips for any new or young writers?

PS: I like Hunter Davies’s dictum ‘Don’t get it right, get it written’ — which is obviously saying trust yourself, trust the process, don’t worry that you think you’re not good enough — but it is also saying get your head out of your poem’s backside and get on with the next one now.   Most poets know their own writing down to the last syllable and never look with anywhere near the same attention at anybody else’s. It’s natural esp for beginning writers to be in love with their own work, but the poets who succeed grow into being interested in poetry rather than their own writing per se.  The other essential thing is to get out there — networking, publishing.  It’s not enough to write well, you have to be noticed.  Ann and I at The North always say we’re very unlikely to publish you if you don’t send us your work.  Magazines are a sort of meeting place, a place to see and be seen.  And actually meeting other writers at festivals and such as The Arvon Foundation is a great resource — you grow as a writer for being with other writers and you support each other and make alliances and take over the poetry world.  I may be wrong but it seems a very hospitable place the poetry world, but it naturally has factions and hierarchies, a word that spellcheck tells me I don’t even know how to spell. The other thing to remember is to enjoy yourself.  The other other thing fogeys like me will tell you is to be yourself, but who knows how to do that, so maybe it’s just enough to enjoy yourself, and to bear in mind that most poems in the Oxford Book Of Now That’s What I Call Poetry were written by young poets, not the old fogeys they became, so think on.

HH: Thanks Peter! If you’d like to read some of Peter’s poetry, you can order some of his books over at the Carcanet website 


Five Minute Interview with David Constantine


We are less than two weeks away from the start of the 2018 Kendal Poetry Festival and things are hotting up here at festival headquarters.  Pauline is travelling around Kendal so fast she has turned into a blur, distributing brochures,  putting up posters, checking in with the venues and doing a hundred and one last minute jobs.  I (Kim) am busy posting these blogs, liasing with the Festival Poets and rounding up the Young Poets  – always a job to keep me on my toes.

Our fourth Five Minute Interview of 2018 is with the David Constantine, who will be reading on the 9th September at 11am, along with Claudine Toutoungi.  You can get a ticket for David’s reading here.

David Constantine was born 1944 in Salford, Lancashire, and spent 30 years as a university teacher of German language and literature. He has published a dozen volumes of poetry.  His most recent collection is Elder (Bloodaxe, 2014); two novels, Davies (1985) and The Life-Writer (2015), and five collections of short stories. He is an editor and translator of Hölderlin, Goethe, Kleist and Brecht.

For his stories he won the BBC National and the Frank O’ Connor International Awards (2010, 2013). The film ‘45 Years’ was based on his story ‘In Another Country’. With Helen Constantine he edited Modern Poetry in Translation, 2003-12. His new and greatly enlarged Selected Poetry of Hölderlin will be published by Bloodaxe later this year.

You can order David’s books from the Bloodaxe website

Thanks to Hannah Hodgson, as always for this excellent interview and to David for taking part.

HH: On days that you know you have a lot of work to get done, so you have any treats / bribes to make yourself get your work done?

DC: I tell myself, You can plant the beans (or whatever else needs doing in the garden) when you have written what you have to write

HH: If you could narrow it down to one, what would you class as your favourite event that you have read at?

DC:  Over many years I have enjoyed many events.

HH: Can you recommend a book of poetry that you feel should have more ‘hype’ surrounding it?

DC: Sorry, no. I don’t think poets are helped by hype.

HH: If you could pick any poets as members of your poetry family, who would you choose?

DC: They are all on my shelves. But I’d be glad of a conversation with, say, Emily Dickinson or John Clare.

HH: Do you have any tips for any new or young writers?

DC: Read a lot of poetry, ancient and modern, from home and abroad. Translate a foreign poet if you can. Don’t ever write just to get published. Write when you must. Avoid the anecdotal (recounting your experiences. Robert Lowell: ‘A poem is an event, not the record of an event.’

HH: Thanks David! If you’d like to read some of David’s poetry, you can order Elder over at the Bloodaxe website


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!