It's difficult to believe that Kendal Poetry Festival is only six years old.
Already, it is one of the most prominent fixtures on the national poetry calendar, with an international scope and following. But there it is, in Kim Moore's Facebook post of 11th January 2016, the announcement that she and Pauline Yarwood had been successful in obtaining Arts Council funding for the first Kendal Poetry Festival to be held between 24th and 26th June that year. Yay! The festival website states that the Brewery Poets — a local poetry group meeting in the Brewery Theatre for over 30 years and including many of the best poets of the area under the direction of Pauline Yarwood— 'had the idea of holding a poetry festival in Kendal to increase participation in poetry in the South Lakes, to develop and work with local poets, to provide opportunities for writing and performance and to bring national and international poets to the area. We also wanted to create a bigger stage for young poets.' This they accomplished, in shedloads, under the leadership and with the sheer hard work and vision of Co-Founders and Co-Directors Kim Moore and Pauline Yarwood.
And now, with Kim Moore and Clare Shaw as Co-Directors, joined by Katie Hale as Festival Co-ordinator, the festival is this year for the first time hybrid, with most events accessible both online and in person.
In 2021 an extended festival was held online in February which was fantastic, and brightened up the dark days of winter and Covid-19 like nothing else. In January this year we were treated to the month-long daily Writing Hours with Kim Moore and Clare Shaw. Those who took part will be cheered to see that a daily Writing Hour is once again part of the programme, on the three main days of the Festival, the perfect way to start the day, recalibrate, focus your poetry lens for the riches of the day ahead.
A notable feature at the heart of the Festival, is a commitment to accessibility.
This is laid out fully in the Access Statement on the website, and it is a shining example of what can be done, even whilst there may be aspirations for more. Enormous thought and care goes into this. It is born of personal care and knowledge of the challenges experienced by many on the road to full poetry participation. It is born of a passionate belief in equal access for all.
This is the ethos of a Poetry Festival whose organizers believe that poetry is for everyone.
If young people are not participating in the numbers they would like, they take extensive action to put this right. (And Dove Cottage Young Poets have been integral to the festival from the start). If disabled people come up against barriers they will do all they can to remove those barriers. If there are people who would love to take part but are on a low income there are Bursaries available under Opening Doors, and free tickets to most events for anyone under the age of 25 and for disabled people (plus their carers).
This is the ethos of a Poetry Festival whose Directors have a passionate belief in the power of poetry for the good: "In 2021," the website reads, "we wrote that these are 'difficult, distant times, but poetry brings us together.' — Now more than ever, we need those words, and that belief." There is a common perception and cliché of poets living in attics divorced from the world, but the reality is that poetry is nothing if not a manifestation of community. The power of Festival Poet (and this year's T.S.Eliot Prize winner) Joelle Taylor's oeuvre alone is a testament to this.
And the poets...I count 32 poets in the programme, but that does not include the many open mic readers, nor every one of the Brewery Poets or the Dove Cottage Young Poets. With memories of so many utterly spellbinding, stunning, moving, life-changing events and readings from the festival's previous years, the bar to exceed is high.
Once again a world-class roster of poets is coming to join us in this windswept corner of the UK.
They will be celebrated not only in readings and workshops but also in painted portraits and in parties, the unique type of parties, online and in person, that only Kendal Poetry Festival knows how to throw.
On Friday 24th June, Joelle Taylor will be in conversation with festival artist Clae Eastgate, whose exhibition Painting the Poets is on display during the festival and has several events linked to it. For an introduction to Joelle's T.S.Eliot Prize-winning masterpiece, C+nto & Othered Poems (The Westbourne Press) I recommend Saboteur Award-winning Josie Alford's review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nU1gyWlj9mg
Then for the main reading that night Joelle is partnered with Imtiaz Dharker, who brings us her most recent poetry collection, Luck Is The Hook, illustrated like her other five Bloodaxe collections with her own exquisite, powerful drawings. Dharker, who is Chancellor of Newcastle University and in 2014 received the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, is poet, artist, video film-maker and tireless humanitarian, and every one of her creations bears the stamp of originality, clarity, passion and truth. She is a beloved and revered poet across the world and it will be a monumental occasion when she reads in Kendal.
Next morning brings the pairing of Paul Batchelor, with his long-awaited second collection, The Acts of Oblivion, with Rachel Mann and her first, A Kingdom of Love, both published by Carcanet. Paul's book is a work of genius, a panoramic vision woven out of history, politics, language and dialect, and a sense of what is there hidden and revealed. It is also a read-aloud joy of a work, and I can't wait to hear it read by the poet. Rachel Mann is an Anglican priest, an academic and a novelist; her poems bristle with erudite liturgical and literary references and there is a profound and moving sequence on a personal illness.
Then in the afternoon we have Jane Burn and Victoria Adukwei Bulley. I wasn't able to get hold of a copy of Victoria's book Quiet (Faber) but it will be out in time for the festival: Kayo Chingonyi, himself a former Kendal Festival Poet, describes her book's forthcoming appearance as a 'seismic event'. Jane Burn's Be Feared (Nine Arches) is one of the most stunning and original collections of poetry I've ever read, and I can't wait to hear Jane read at the festival.
Next is an event bringing us two Czech poets from Poetry Across Borders, Katerina Rudčenková and Milan Dežinsky. Translated by Nathan Field and published by Blue Diode, the poems of Milan's A Secret Life veer between the quasi film noir of Laugh In the Rain and the philosophical musings of Outlet and Gullet, with sharp observational imagery between, while Katerina's poems in Dream of a Journey, Selected Poems (Parthian) translated by Alexandra Büchler, cover her four collections, all with 'the enchantment of direct speech' and amazing dramatic imagery and conundrums.
On Saturday evening the main reading brings together John Glenday, whose 2009 collection Grain was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award and whose Selected Poems (Picador) appeared in 2020, and Daniel Sluman, whose third collection single window (Nine Arches 2021) faultlessly traverses what could be a terrifying tightrope of experiential intimacy, never veering into bathos or cliché, delivering a work with a universality that enriches the reader even whilst dealing with uniquely difficult, painful experiences. The photographs and photo-captions are themselves poems of enormous power.
Sunday morning's main reading features Nafeesa Hamid and Carola Luther. Nafeesa's debut collection Besharam (one who is shameless), (Verve Poetry Press), is a searing autobiographical work of empowerment and rebellion about becoming a woman whilst growing up in an oppressive culture, 'torn between Pakistan and the West', and also includes a section introducing three new young poets. Carola's third collection is On the Way to Jerusalem Farm (Carcanet, 2021), a haunting meditation on loss in relation to biodiversity and climate change, ranging in forms as it ranges across different landscapes, from South Africa to the eponymous Jerusalem Farm, showing beautiful powers of observation and plays on language. The exquisite season-myth of The Swan's Egg alone deserves to become a classic.
The final main reading of the festival, on Sunday evening, brings together Don Paterson with Naush Sabah, who is Editor and Publishing Director of Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal and whose debut Litanies (Guillemot Press), contains all the intensities and conflicting experiences of faith and growing up a Sufi woman. The poems are wonderfully various and subtly controlled in form. Particularly notable is Sestina for Salah.
Don Paterson's new book Zonal (Faber and Faber) is a tour de force of perfect pitch sustained throughout a romp of hybrid autobiography and fan-fiction, titled after the first series of The Twilight Zone, and cries out to be heard live in the poet's voice. What a treat that will be.