HH: I asked Kendal Poetry festival directors Kim Moore and Pauline Yarwood to take some time out from their busy schedules to answer some questions about what it is really like to start and run a poetry festival. I was Young Poet in Residence last year, and had the time of my life. Last years’ festival was an enormous success due to these two – so here’s to another successful year!
1. How did the idea of the poetry festival come about? It’s a huge project!
KM: I absolutely love going to poetry festivals, both as an audience member, and I really like reading at them as well. I love that you can do a poetry-binge over one weekend, that you can catch up with people from opposite ends of the country in person rather than just on social media and you get to see poets that you might not get another chance to see again. The other side to this is that a couple of years ago The Wordsworth Trust lost its funding for the Contemporary Poetry programme, which I loved going to, so it felt like there was a real gap in the area that needed to be filled. I can’t honestly remember how the conversation came up though, maybe Pauline will be able to tell you, but it feels like it was one of those ideas that was passed back and forth between the two of us, and then just gained its own momentum as we got going on it.
PY: I’d been organizing the twice-a-year Brewery Poets readings for some time and thought that a poetry festival would be a good way of raising the profile of poetry in Kendal, bringing new poets to the area and trying to reach an audience that wouldn’t normally go to poetry readings. It turned out that Kim had been having the same idea, so, with the help of Brewery Poets, we decided to see if we could do it. At the beginning, I don’t think we thought of it as being a huge project – we just sort of cracked on with it. I think we were surprised, and utterly delighted, that we got the first festival up and running in a matter of months, and even more delighted that it was such a success.
HH: If you had to put a number on it, how many hours would you say you have spent planning this years festival so far?
KM: Ha! I wouldn’t like to put a number on it! Now that the programme is up and ticket sales have started, I would say I spent on average an hour every day on the festival, either blogging or editing/proof-reading the blog and keeping up with the social media side of things. When we were writing applications to the Arts Council and the other charities that have kindly agreed to fund the festival this year, Pauline and I would meet for four or five hours at a time, probably five or six times in total, and that was just to get the application forms filled in. I spent the whole of a six hour train journey down to Swindon writing the copy for the website, and I’m sure Pauline spent just as much time editing that copy down to fit it onto the brochure! There are so many jobs that people probably don’t think about that need doing. We’ve had a few five-hour proofing meetings for the website and the brochure with our brilliant website designer Claire Steele as well. Then there’s meetings with our venues, Abbot Hall Art Gallery and Kendal Library, meetings with Waterstones who are supplying the books this year, the list is endless! I knew it would be hard work putting a festival on, but I don’t think I quite understood the time that it takes.
PY: It’s impossible to say, but it’s a lot. There is usually something to be done every day and some days are totally handed over to festival things. I could count the emails that have sped between Kim, Claire Steele (our amazing web and marketing designer) and myself on a daily basis since last October – but, in the current run-up to June, there isn’t time!
HH: What were your personal highlights of last year?
KM: There were so many! Seeing the rooms full to bursting for each reading and the atmosphere over the whole weekend was just amazing, and slightly addictive, which is why we’re doing it all over again this year. I suppose the real highlight for me was seeing the Dove Cottage Young Poets standing on stage and peforming their work alongside the invited Festival Poets. The inclusion of the young poets just gave the festival a completely unique feel for me. I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite out of the Festival Poets though – every single poet was invited because we loved their poetry, and one or both of us had seen them perform and knew they would do a brilliant job at the festival. I must say however, that the genius programming moment was putting together Clare Shaw (passionate, heartfelt) with Hilda Sheehan (surreal, playful). On paper, it shouldn’t have worked, but in person, the reading was electrifying.
PY: My personal highlight was on the first evening. Introducing the discussion between Jane Routh and Andrew Forster, I said ‘Welcome to the very first event of the very first Kendal Poetry Festival’ and a huge cheer went up. It was such an unexpected response and it set the atmosphere for the whole weekend, which was fabulous. I think Kim and I relaxed at that point, knowing that people were really looking forward to everything.
HH: If you could have any poet alive or dead come and perform, who would it be and why?
KM: I would love to have Sharon Olds at the festival. She is one of my favourite poets – once I drove from my house to Sheffield (about three hours drive) just to see her read for 20 minutes. Then I drove all the way back again and had very little sleep before getting up to do a full days teaching the next day. So I would love to have her read in Kendal. But for poets who are not alive anymore – I’d like to have C.P.Cavafy – he is one of my favourite poets to read in translation. I don’t know how he’d be in performance – but sometimes you have to take a risk on these things!
PY: Can I choose one dead and one alive? Firstly, I’d choose Louis MacNeice because I’d love to hear him read his poem ‘Prayer before Birth’. I love the speed, pace and rhythm of this poem, and I especially love that, although written in 1944, MacNeice’s political and philosophical themes in this poem are still so appropriate today. I’d also choose Tishani Doshi who is of Indian and Welsh descent. I have only heard her read once, from her collection ‘Everything begins elsewhere’ and I’d love to hear her again. She blends her experiences of two cultures in beautiful, lyric poems that simultaneously have strength and softness, weaving from memory, dreams, place, loss. Quite mesmerizing.
HH: If you could give one tip to anyone looking to start a poetry festival what would it be?
KM: Find a friend who you can work with, who has different skill sets to you. I think this is really important so that you can divide jobs up, and so that the other person can pick up the slack when life gets in the way.
PY: Make soup, get in the scones, jam and cream and start planning. It’s exciting!