Thursday, September 27, 2018

Winchester poetry festival

On the cusp of winter, poets will be travelling to Winchester for a poetry festival that is growing into one of the best in the country.

Mixing readings with workshops and poets discussing individual poems, as well as a translation 'duel', Winchester Poetry Festival has fixed itself into this glorious time of year with a full weekend programme from Friday to Sunday - 5, 6 & 7 October.

Readers include some of poetry's big names such as Gillian Clarke, Vahni Capildeo, Pascale Petit and Ian McMillan but mostly poets who contribute to the enormously various landscape of poetry, like Rebecca Goss, Nick Makoha, Karen McCarthy Wood, Stephen Watts and Maura Dooley, poets writing from as many different perspectives as there are names. And this is what marks a good festival, programmed with thought, sensitivity and awareness as well as an international perspective, thanks programmer-poets Sasha Dugdale and Sarah Hesketh.

Some of these poets I've seen before, one or two I've read with in the past. I know the work of many of them. But while a festival is a chance to celebrate the work you love, as a reader and a writer, it's also a chance to fill up, to open up, to wonder about work you might not have been drawn to otherwise. Poetry belongs to, and thrives in these moments of change - personal, seasonal, political, social.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

The bin says break the rules

The bin caught my eye on a morning walk around the neighbourhood this week. I've become a person I would have called straight when I thought I was a rule breaker. But I wasn't. I just had very short purple hair.

So I thought about self-imposed rules - I don't eat meat or fish. I don't drink gin or cow's milk. I walk somewhere every day. I recycle and reuse, don't watch daytime TV.

I don't remember the rules I may have imposed on myself in childhood although I do remember a visceral dislike of Brownies because of its rules. I loved the rule of cleaning a bridle after a ride, the smell of saddle soap. I was terrified by Father Walker and catechism classes.

I am slowly coming to the conclusion that the bin would be more interesting if it urged me to Break the rule because
Wet paint - please don't let your dog wee on this wall
it's now become a headline in a self-help magazine encouraging me to a second (twilight) career as an entrepreneur or marketing executive, or a retirement gap year.

I fantasise that I may already be breaking rules - how a woman of my age should behave, the rules of poetry. And there are pages of allotment rules I couldn't quote. But if there's anyone awake in the house that's chucked this bin out, they'll be wondering why I'm taking so long over a photo of their rubbish.

What comes next is pregnancy, birth and the terrible twos.  I wonder how long these books have been on the shelf and I can't stand in front of them for long. A trio of what to expect books, almost the counterpoint to rule-breaking but actually how could I forget how many rules there are here, in this confusion of mother and child, in the endless doubt and need for a definitive answer in the early hours of the morning when the crying doesn't stop?

The rules of breast feeding, breast pumping, of school and diet, of sweets, of phone or no phone, and how long a teenager should stay out. A bafflement of rules and so often no choice but to break them.

And now, living back to back, stacked on top of each other, squashed together queuing for doctors, dentists, stamps, petrol, cash, the bar and the cinema, in such close proximity to each other, so needing to be different, to be distinguished from the next person in the queue, the opportunity for that small thrill of breaking or making a rule has become a kind of treat. So while marketers write revolution onto bins, chalked on the pavement is a plea for courtesy (mutual respect) and written on the wall is the most confusing sign of what we've come to.