It’s been a busy summer for Magma Poetry; we’ve taken part in three fantastic festivals all in the space of a month.
Clare Pollard and I took the train up to Bridlington in June, and spent a couple of days at the fabulously located Bridlington Festival, in the setting of the gorgeous Sewerby Hall. The hall itself is grand enough, but the grounds are even grander and overlook the sea. Clare took an editing workshop which sounded brilliant. I say sounded brilliant, because as I went up there to see how things were going, I could hear the laughter coming all the way down the stairs. But of course serious things were said and done, and it was clear from the faces of the participants that they were enthused about poetry and the editing process. Later, I took part in a panel discussion with Peter Sansom, longtime editor of The North, and Clare did a wonderful reading from her new book, Changeling.
On the same weekend as our trip to Ledbury, Magma ran a poetry afternoon at St John’s Waterloo, the church on the roundabout by London’s Imax cinema. The afternoon was part of a five-day festival about War and People, remembering the bombing of the church in 1941 and its restoration. St John’s became the Festival of Britain Church in 1951.
Clare Pollard ran a workshop on how poets express feelings about war. Later, workshop members read their original poems, and members of the Magma team read poems like Sitwell’s Still Falls the Rain and MacNeice’s The Streets of Laredo, coming up to date with a great poem originally published in Magma 37 – Steve Lorimer’s Gandhi’s Statue, Tavistock Square, about 7/7.
The afternoon ended with David Harsent reading poems about the experience of war. He finished with a new poem, The Headshot, written specially for the Festival. Everyone felt it was a moving occasion, especially as a celebration of people’s resilience and humour in a time of great suffering.
Meanwhile, in a two-pronged Magma attack, I headed to Ledbury with Roberta James. I’d been invited to read, as a past prizewinner, from my new collection, The Kitchen of Lovely Contraptions. The event was a Magma-sponsored one, and so I was lucky enough to have, also as readers, two poets I very much admire, both of whose work has appeared in Magma Poetry. Tim Turnbull gave us a lively and thought-provoking reading which included Dionysus is Our Friend from the recent Magma Poetry and also Ode from a Grayson Perry Urn, originally published in Magma and nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Simon Barraclough read from his second collection, Neptune Blue, which is simultaneously clever, moving and funny.
Alongside the readings, Magma’s Tim Kindberg, always at the cutting edge of technology, supplied a Poetry Turntable where viewers could interact with poems, as well as watch short films. He also curated and set up ‘Poetry in Motion’ where visitors to Ledbury could download poems onto their mobile phones using key words displayed on posters.
It’s always a pleasure to go to Ledbury where it feels as if the whole town mobilises to host the festival, and you meet a friend on every corner. Now we take a deep breath and begin to plan for next year … suggestions, anyone?