On Saturday I attended my first poetry festival – well, only one day out of three: Aldeburgh is near enough to home for me to drive up and back on the same day and far enough that I don’t fancy three such trips in succession. Many people, including some from quite near, stay in a hotel or B&B for two nights, but my policy this first time was suck it and see.
The website told me all sorts of things but not where the event was being held, except to give the vague impression it was in the small town of Aldeburgh. This was wrong, but it was there in previous years! There is a little bit of cosy insiderism about the event and I think the knowledge of the venue was intended to spread by osmosis.
The venue, Snape Maltings, is fantastic – converted old barns and industrial buildings at the upper end of a Suffolk estuary, with the river and reedbeds right by the buildings.It’s mostly used for music events and is a kind of memorial to the composer Benjamin Britten. Another, slighter, problem: I like classical music but am not a great fan of Britten, whose posthumous presence was a little overpowering. The conversion is imaginative, leaving interesting features like old wooden hatches as well as marvellous weathered brickwork.
Mixing with other poets and poetry-lovers is warming and reinforcing, though given the concentration there of serious poetry nuts, the programme might have included more discussion. Some excellent poets performed: I was impressed enough by Julie Copus’ vivid, caring language and David Wheatley’s anarchic humour to buy their books on display. Just from a few conversations with others attending, I found one person had come from Leeds and another from Manchester – a long way within England, especially for a location not easily reached by public transport.
The peculiarity of the incomplete information on the website was a warning that the organisation was rather patchy, especially in respect of the little things like doors you weren’t supposed to go through being so marked, but there were no major disasters. Most of the presumably volunteer helpers were very friendly and helpful but a couple of upper-middle-class older ladies were fussy and officious. Apparently the event’s funders have required it to reach out to a wider audience, and for this to succeed, such things matter.
The audience covered a wider range of ages and I think women slightly outnumbered men. I saw two Black faces and one Far Eastern, but two of those three were poets performing there.
While the poets performing were mostly exciting, I found people introducing them by reading rather pseud enthusiastic descriptions from a prepared text a bit of a turn-off. Some of these were reproduced in the programme. These were the descriptions of the featured “young poets”:
A: Intelligent and attractively idiosyncratic
B: Seriously playful and inventive
C: Appealingly intimate and assured
D: Eloquent and unflinchingly affirmative.
Now my first thought was that none of these descriptions would help me decide how much I wanted to hear this person’s work. The second one was that these could be four descriptions from wine bottles or wine writers’ reviews. I can quite easily imagine some wine writer for the “Telegraph” or “The Guardian” describing a wine as “eloquent and unflinchingly affirmative”. Maybe I’d be a bit worried to see my white wine was supposed to be “intelligent” (what would it be thinking as I drank it?) and just possibly the term “inventive” might worry me if it applied to the wine rather than the grower or bottler.
Nonetheless, a fun day.