More Snape

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First, an official announcement. If you got an email notification about my post yesterday, but on clicking couldn’t find it, there is a reason. I’d edited it and either failed to click on PUBLISH or the PUBLISH hadn’t worked (which is my story). Anyway, it’s back now. Please look at it as this post won’t make a lot of sense without it. On the other hand, that may be how you like things. Are you by any chance a poet?

Now one or two things I didn’t mention yesterday.

There was a long and interesting panel discussion about poetry and beauty. What is beauty? What is poetry? What is and? Poets from the 17th to the early 20th century often used the word “beauty” but it’s now almost a dirty word. It’s vague, of course, and saying something is beautiful doesn’t help much to describe it. We’re also clear now that there’s no obligation for poetry to concentrate on beautiful things, or what would we make of war poetry?

It seems to me we still write sometimes about beautiful things, but often with a kind of reservation, and we don’t use the B word. I don’t either – and the things I find most beautiful aren’t often the subject of poems, though they often appear as images within poems. The exception, for some reason, is dragonflies. Twice in the same long poem (“Dark Lady”), I apply the B word to them (one beauty, one beautiful) though in each case the dragonfly is an image suggesting something else.

Now the other thing. As last year, the poetry readings were a revelation (and only occasionally, a revelation that I didn’t think much of that poet), but I found some of the introductions jarred. These were sometimes very obviously read word for word from a book or script. We hear that this poet shows “startling humanity” or something like that, and very rarely does it give those who don’t know his/her work any idea what it’s like. Does it matter (s)he’s published six collections or seven? Why not just get on with the poetry? If (s)he wasn’t well rated, (s)he wouldn’t be at Snape about to read to us.

Oh, and the Macedonian poet Madzirov is great fun.

Snape Poetry Festival

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I’ve just come back from the annual Poetry Festival at Snape Maltings, Suffolk. This was the 25th such, but formerly they were held a few miles away in the small town of Aldeburgh by the sea, a fishing settlement turned to tourism and music. Snape Maltings is a site by a river and reedbeds, consisting of beautiful industrial buildings turned to use mainly for music events.

Last year I made my first visit, staying just for the one day. I don’t live so far away that a day trip is problematic. But it did mean I’d have been unwise to stay for the poetry open mic, which finishes just before midnight. This time I booked into events from Friday evening to Sunday morning and had a go at the open mic. I stayed in a very friendly and convenient bed and breakfast on the main road at Stratford St Andrew, about a twelve-minute drive away.

This could be a very long blog, but it won’t be. Here’s just a few impressions.

At the start, it can be a bit intimidating. It’s a big venue and a big event. I found myself thinking it was a bit like arriving at secondary school aged eleven and having to cope with an alien organisation, a confusing multiplicity of rooms and a tight timetable. It didn’t help that it was raining heavily and dark. Moving from place to place withing the site involves going outside and in places the lighting is minimal. That helps deliver marvellous starscapes when it isn’t raining or cloudy, but also helps deliver you into potholes and puddles.

People were all friendly. That wasn’t always so the previous year when the “ushers” at the doors for the events were some of them rather forbidding. I met a lot of people including some of the featured poets. I bought poetry books by two of those, Kim Moore and Robin Robertson. I’ll blog about them when I’ve finished reading their books. There was much thought-provoking discussion and lecturing: the only pity was that this never involved the audience. I suppose that becomes difficult when so many people are present and the timetable is packed – difficult, but not impossible.

It seems to me that much contemporary poetry is thoughtful, compassionate and rational. It’s also in its main thrust quite different from the main thrust of what I write. I use common words and images of common objects, but I’m rarely chatty in poems. I use mystery more and observation of characters less. No problem: I learnt long ago in poetry to do my thing, not someone else’s.

One thing that does bother me a bit, taking in both Snape and recent browsing through a lot of poetry magazines (what I could find on-line) is that some poets seem to think their main task is to think up unusual ways of describing things, and then if they string together a few such descriptions with some light twine such as “Mother used to” or “In Manchester”, there’s the poem. I can see the inspiration this comes from, to see mundane things anew as Craig Raine said, but it can become a sort of competition exercise: “Find a new way of describing an ATM/someone drinking coffee/a bus stop/a poodle”, or “cram as many unusual metaphors and similes into the poem as possible”. Such ingenuity is fine, but if it’s valued too much, it becomes confetti without a wedding or even a wind to make it swirl.

The open mic was fun. I read “Death and the Magician” and “Night Vision”. One young female poet read a piece about refusing intimate shaving and it was very, very funny.

More soon.

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Aldeburgh Poetry Festival

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.