Aldeburgh Poetry Festival
While you’re at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival you believe, really believe, that poetry is the most important thing in the world. And for those three days it is. Poetry nirvana! The streets are full of poetry fans on the move between the Peter Pears Gallery and the Jubilee Hall, the pubs are full of poets (natch) and the whole seaside experience of chilly autumn days and early dusk is unforgettable.
Now the hangover is cleared, I can reflect on the lovely people I met and the fabulous poetry I heard. I went this year as a volunteer, and I can safely say that the organisers are heroic in their dedication to the Festival, fuelled by their pure love of poetry and the impulse to convene a concatenation of like-minds (see below). I ushered, gofered, and taxied poets to and from Saxmundham station. I’m not one to name drop as a rule, so forgive me, but ferrying gave me the fabulous opportunity to have coffee with the remarkable Phillip Gross, and to speak with him about what it really means to hear poetry read aloud; how poetry and God are for him two sides of the same coin, and why he feels more drawn to the West of the country than the ‘disconcerting’ East. I had a chat with Mary Jean Chan —whose poetry I admire hugely —self-effacing but sharp as a whip, and did a spot of lock-picking (literally, sorry Robin) with editor Clare Pollard, and got to talk to her about translating poetry and keeping chickens. Just some of the highlights for me. Others were catching up with lovely Sue Burge, Heidi Williamson and Richard Lambert, all of whom are tutors at the Cambridge Writing Retreat.
I loved Cumbrian poet Kay Davies’ stunning performance of her wild yet grounded poetry, and London-based poet Lisa Kelly is hugely talented. But heck, all the poets are, from the nascent to elder statesmen like Hugo Williams. Liz Berry, Jean Sprackland, Richie McCaffery and Ramona Herdman just blew me away. I shared the seafront sunset over a bag of chips with Fenland Poet Laureate Kate Caoimhe Arthur, modest and thoughtful, and taking time out from her young children. Respec’. And I shared a brandy nightcap and some great conversation with Cheryl Moskovitz and her husband Alastair.
And I made a fab new friend; reader, celebrant, florist, muse and the most stylish woman I have ever seen, Karen Lear. Wisely, in the Cross Keys, she stuck to spritzers. I did not.
If you haven’t been to the Festival, and have even the most tangential interest in poetry, you must go! It’s always held over the first weekend in November. (A word to the wise: you’ll need to book your Airbnb now, as I discovered — but thanks to the hugely generous hospitality of Robin and Caroline Boyd, who gave me a bed for the weekend, (and who organise the Festival along with Daphne Astor, Paul Stevenson, Sally Carruthers and the lovely team from the Poetry School) I was tucked up by 1am. Way past my bedtime, but boy was it worth it.