Report from the Festival by Jamie Hale

In the second of our series of ‘Reports from the Festival’, one of our Bursary recipients, Jamie Hale gives his account of the weekend.  Reading his thoughts after the weekend is over brings home how important it is that organisations make specific and tangible changes to ensure that events are accessible, so that as many people as possible can attend and are made to feel welcome.  Thanks to Jamie for writing this comprehensive reflection on the festival experience, and we wish lots of luck and open doors to you for your future.
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Kendal Poetry Festival – Doors were Opened
By Jamie Hale


I was awarded one of the three Opening Doors bursaries to Kendal Poetry Festival. The fact that these bursaries exist is incredible – when I first heard about the Opening Doors bursaries, I didn’t see how this could be done in a way that was accessible to me, as I’m completely reliant on wheelchair access, and home-based bursaries would not have been accessible. Discovering that thanks to the generosity of the poet Christine Webb, the festival were able to offer a bursary based in the adapted hotel.  This meant that for the first time I could look at attending a festival, and having attended my first festival I’ve caught the bug.

The bursary came with a hotel room for two nights, and a wristband that allowed me to attend all the talks and events – and I so greatly enjoyed everything I went to. My underlying condition limited the amount I could do, as did the length of my journey and the time I had someone available to do my care, but the access in the festival was incredibly well arranged, maximising what I was able to do. I’ve come away feeling a part of a poetic community that I have never encountered before.

The opening talk by Tim Robertson, exploring Wordsworth’s Daffodils, “I wandered lonely as a cloud…”, could so easily have been an excruciating cliché, but was instead refreshing and rejuvenating – much like his jaunty reading of it. Tim’s talk explored the events occurring at the time the poem was written and role of poetry in relation to society. It was political to write a poem about solitude and freedom at a time when the slavery abolition movement was growing, and the world felt tumultuous. The fact that it was written following a walk with his sister, Dorothy, also felt significant – that solitude and aloneness are different, that freedom, and solitude, and beauty can be experienced mentally, from anywhere. I really enjoyed that as an opening, and kept coming back to it during the weekend, as we heard lots of different poetic approaches. A reminder that poetry doesn’t have to be political to speak to politics.

Relying on wheelchair access and personal assistants means that I often miss events in my local city, so being able to drink in so much poetry over a weekend, and have it all be accessible, was an incredible experience. The highlight of the readings for me was Pascale Petit. I’ve read (and loved) Mama Amazonica, but hearing it performed brought it to life on a new level. The extended metaphor of the mother as the Amazon is beautiful, lush, and deep – hearing it be performed it swirls round the listener, I felt caught in currents and eddies of idea, the beautiful and the terrible, which is also the beautiful. The reading was incredible, and I really didn’t want it to end.

Another reading that stayed with me was the desperate entanglement of joy and grief in Sasha Dugdale’s Joy – a combination of emotions that speaks to anyone who has lost someone. The monologue in the voice of Catherine Blake, following the death of William Blake gains power as it’s spoken and heard, moving round the room and communing with the people inside. I found myself overwhelmed by the emotions in the words, but also in the reading, and have been left with a deep silence of contemplation.

Bursaries like this are so important in allowing people like myself, who would never have considered themselves able to attend a poetry event, access to poetry. Like most people attending (I’m sure), I also write – and while reading poetry broadens poets, I was reminded at the festival how much hearing poetry also broadens poets. I kept hearing (or sometimes mishearing) a line or phrase that sparked off a new chain of thought, and I feel like my creative work will be responding to my experiences in Kendal for a long time. Following the bursary, I plan to stretch myself further and work harder to attend poetry events when I can. It is so important in a tumultuous world to create space for freedom and solitude, especially solitude as a togetherness, and Kendal Poetry Festival achieved it.

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