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.


2 comments on “Report from the Festival by Hannah Hodgson

  1. Thank you so much, Hannah! I couldn’t go to all the readings this year. You have brought to life beautifully all I missed. Thank you to you all! I hope we’ll meet again at the next excellent Kendal Poetry Festival!

  2. Rory I couldn’t be there with you Hannah but your blog gave me a real insight into what must have been a wonderful weekend

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