I spent a contemplative weekend at Ledbury Poetry Festival, immersing myself in poetry events, performing one of my poems at the launch of Adam Horovitz's gorgeous, sappy, botanical anthology 'The Physic Garden' (available from Palewell Press - follow the link)...
... then hiding (in a park, or at my comfortable, secluded B and B - Harlequin-Ledbury, recommended!) to think and write... for me a perfect combination.
One of my highlights was a little exhibition of artists' books (Ledbury Book Arts) where I discovered the book art of Anthony Bateman. Anthony told me he is proud to live next door to John Masefield's childhood home, and he's made a beautiful art book from an edition of Masefield's work. Turning the pages with delight, I came upon the opening of Masefield's poem 'Tewkesbury Road', and was thrown straight back to childhood, to the first poems that moved me. I still carry in my head lines and phrases from this poem, learned by heart at primary school: 'the shy-eyed delicate deer', 'the dear wild cry of the birds'. I suspect that traces of Masefield's rhythms and images linger in my own writing.
I also loved the way the whole town seemed drawn into the festival spirit, with a shop window competition, poetry chairs around the streets and free and fringe activities too throughout the weekend.
I learned how to write a triolet with American poet A. E Stallings (a great teacher as well as poet; if you ever get the chance do go to one of her workshops).
I caught parts of 'Fair Field', a promenade version of Langland's 'PIers Plowman', too, brought up-to-date in anti-austerity style and performed around town and up in the Malvern Hills.
I cackled with the best of 'em at Nicholas Murray's feisty 'A Dog's Brexit'. Cathartic rage! (And shades of Bulgakov?)
And I carried home a pile of books for my 'to read next' shelf, from the poets I'd heard reading, too many to mention but perhaps the stand-out for me were Ana Blandiana, legendary Romanian 'Poet of Freedom' prize-winner, and Turkish/Kurdish poet Bejan Matur with her translator Jen Hadfield. These poems ('If This is a Lament') bear witness and lament without ever losing that sense of word-joy that poetry can give. Bejan's chapbook sold out before I could get to the book table - so I have it on order from the Poetry Translation Centre!
I guess for some of us, a poetry festival is the equivalent of an activity holiday, doing the things we love best in a different and beautiful setting. Thanks to the Ledbury Festival, I feel very fortunate to be able to do so.