Tag Archives: Wells Festival of Literature

Tone down the strangeness

Our very first, and long-postponed, Festival Fringe event was a huge success. Our featured poets Michelle Diaz and Graeme Ryan gave dazzling and moving performances.

Michelle is a long-standing member of the Fountain Poets. Earlier this year she was elected the Chaired Bard of Glastonbury, a role she has embraced with gusto. There is both suffering and joy in Michelle’s 2019 pamphlet from Against the Grain, The Dancing Boy, which ‘combines painful honesty with a sense of hopefulness’. Above all, these are poems of love, understanding and acceptance. They tell painful stories but never bear grudges. They reveal a generous spirit and a lively sense of humour. Michelle had come hot-foot from her role that afternoon as a short-list selector for the Wells Young Poets Competition.

Graeme’s full collection, Valley of the Kings, was published earlier this year by Coverstory Books. It is an excavation of family history and of contemporary life, revealing the voices and worlds always present under this one, more real. It is a blend of scholarship, close observation, devotion to the natural world and breathtaking imagination. It is an inexhaustible treasure-house. Every poem reveals more on a second, third or fourth reading.

The meeting was well-attended and there were some very strong readers during the open-mic session, with a handful of particularly hard-hitting social-comment poems. I read out Linda Saunders’s prizewinning poem Two Wood Pigeons (Highly Commended AND People’s Choice) from the aftenoon Wells Festival prizegiving. This poem would still be a joy if it were nothing more than a meticulous observation of the birds preening themselves. But it’s more than that; there’s gentle humour and the poem opens out into a reflection on the work of a poet. I think all of us went home feeling energised and inspired. This post’s title comes from a poem read by Tristram Fane Saunders, judge of the Wells Festival Open Poetry Competition. He has a new book coming out next summer and has expressed interest in coming to us as a guest reader.

We next meet at 7pm on Monday 7th November, upstairs at The King’s Head in Wells High Street, conveniently close to the Union Street Car Park. No guest poet; plenty of open-mic opportunities.

“How do you know if what you’re revising out of a piece isn’t the very thing that made the piece interesting to someone else? What is the difference between thinking about “the reader” and pandering to “the reader”? How do you know if you’re thinking too much about “the reader” or not enough? What if you never think about “the reader”? Do you risk writing poems that are just you mumbling to yourself? What if there is no “reader”? Ever? Is the thing you made still a poem?” This is from a recent blog-post by Marilyn McCabe. The whole is well worth reading here.

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A Skiff of Gilded Darkness

What an excellent evening of poetry we had on 1st August! It was lovely to welcome back Jo Waterworth and David Ketelby and to meet Rina May and hear her well observed and crafted short poems. My title is borrowed from Martin Porter’s mysterious poem ‘Pacifica Queen Mab’. The photo is from Shetland, about as far from the Pacific as you can go, but it spoke to me of gilded darkness.

Some dates for your diaries:

Fountain Poets’ next meeting will be on Monday 5th September at 7pm upstairs at the King’s Head in Wells High Street, with the lovely Annie Fisher of Fire River Poets as Guest Poet. Her latest pamphlet is ‘The Deal’ (Happenstance 2020) – “poems of outlandish comedy undercut by profound seriousness.” – Matthew Paul. There will also be open-mic opportunities as usual.

We shall be having two meetings in October. David Niven will chair an open-mic meeting on 3rd October, and on 17th October (after the Wells Litfest Poetry Competition prizegiving and readings 2-5pm in Cedars Hall) we’ll have a Festival Fringe Binge, with two guest readers, Fountain poet Michelle Diaz, the Chaired Bard of Glastonbury, and Fire River Poet Graeme Ryan, whose stunning collection ‘Valley of the Kings’ was published earlier this year by Coverstory Books. Both meetings are at the King’s Head at 7pm. There will be open-mic reading opportunities.

Rosie Jackson has sent news of her forthcoming events at Dillington House:
6 October one-day course on poetry writing. ‘How to Write Poems that Matter’.
27 October lunchtime talk/slide show/poetry reading from her Stanley Spencer book. ’Two Girls and a Beehive’ .
4-6 November residential memoir writing course.
All details are on the Dillington House website.

This year’s Tears in the Fence Festival runs from 2nd – 4th September at the Stourpaine Village Hall. The Festival theme is ‘Bewilderment / Be-wildered / Be wild’. There will be readings, talks, discussion, book signings, music, refreshments, and a Festival bookstall. From our group, Mo, Andy and I will be among many others taking part. Details on the festival website.  

Fountain poet Beth Webb will be storytelling in the Bishop’s Palace, Wells on 18th September. Details should soon be on the Palace website.

Before all these events, I (Ama Bolton) shall be one of the readers at Contextual 10 from Coverstory Books on Wednesday 31st August on Zoom. Details here
and on Thursday 1st September at the next Fire River Poets Zoom meeting, when Graeme Ryan (see above) will be the featured poet. See details here.

Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. – Audre Lord.

Worm made flesh

Deborah Harvey gave us a magnificent reading at our last meeting, in Jinny’s lovely salon in Glastonbury.  Her work expresses the humour and pathos of life, and shows an observant eye for nature and landscape and a keen sense of history. In addition, she has great technical skill.

This post’s title is taken from Deborah’s first poem, ‘Old Moulder’s Almanac’, which she described as “a mad astrological calendar”. She ended her first set with a breathtaking and very moving wreath of sonnets written since the recent death of her father.

Her wide-ranging second set took us from Bristol, the Quantocks, Chew Valley Lake and Dartmoor to Leningrad and Chernobyl by way of High Wycombe. 

Poems from the floor included three from the new issue of Tears in the Fence, from Andrew, Rosie and Morag. Other readers were Rachael, Ama, Izzy, Ewa, Michelle, Wendy (a Creative Writing prizewinner in the recent Mid-Somerset Festival) and Sara.
Our next meeting will be on Bank Holiday Monday 7th May, 7.45 to 9.45 pm at Loaf Bakehouse, 38 Market Street Wells BA5 2DS. Please arrive in time to order your drinks before we start at 8pm. The guest will be the young poet, playwright and actor Conor Whelan from Bath.
Other Poetry News
Friday 13 July at 11pm (past my bed-time!) at The Globe in Priest Row: The first ever Wells Theatre Festival Poetry Slam, being run by the Hip Yak Poetry Shack. A quick-fire knock-out incredibly cuddly poetry competition, featuring up to 8 slammers. Prepare for fun, friendly and exhilarating poetry for both audience and poets, hosted by national spoken word stars Jonny Fluffypunk, Chris Hammond and Liv Torc. Poets will be competing for a feature slot at Sunday’s Hip Yak Poetry Session plus the admiration of their friends.  Everyone welcome, new and old. The judges will also be performing feature slots before and after the slam.
Wells Litfest: time to think about your competition entry! The deadline for all four competitions is 30June, and the festival itself takes place in October.
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Poetry at Wells Litfest

In addition to the wonderful Lemn Sissay on 18 October (£10), there’s an afternoon poetry reading and competition prizegiving event with Greta Stoddart in the Bishop’s Palace on  16 October (free admission). Later on the same day there’s a participatory event (£5) fronted by performance poet Liv Torc. Our own Ewan Macpherson – brave man! -will be taking part.

For details and booking, see the programme.

Long time no sea

After a summer break we met again on 5 September at the Sherston Inn. We began with a reading by Clare Diprose from her pamphlet “Thinking of You”. It was lovely to hear the poems together and to get a sense of this Bridport Prize runner-up’s style – assured, economical, observant, with an instinct for the right word and a way of catching you off-guard with a haunting phrase.

thinking-of-you

We heard poems from Ewa, Ewan, Wendy, Jo, Caroline, Morag, Rachael, Jinny, David and Ama. Paul sent in a poem which was read by Ama. This post’s title is taken from Ewa’s poem about a visit to Burnham-on-Sea.

Rachael’s “Tradition” has been published in the latest issue of The Rialto, and she has been short-listed in this year’s Poetry Space competition.

Ama has a poem “Hartlake” in the new issue of Obsessed with Pipework.

Morag has a poem forthcoming in Tears in the Fence.

Jo will be reading at Tea and Chi in Glastonbury on 23 September.

Wendy will be one of the poets at Twenty Poets Perform in Bristol Central Library on 1 October as part of the Bristol Poetry Festival 2016. This is a really enjoyable event for all concerned, and entrance is free. Full festival details should be on the Poetry Can website pretty soon.

Finally, Rachael, Sara, Morag, Jinny, Jo and Ama will be giving a third performance of this year’s collaboration Second Skin at the Tears in the Fence festival fundraiser weekend at Stourpaine in Dorset this coming Saturday, 17th September –  details here. Andrew will also be reading at this event.

Latest news, hot off the press: Jo, Jinny and Rachael have all had poems accepted for the Broadsheet, which publishes once a year for SW poets. The launch is part of Exeter Poetry Festival in October.

The next meeting will be on Monday 3 October in Just Ales Micropub in Market Street (behind the bus station), 7.45 for 8pm. Real ale and local cider on tap, as well as coffee! There will be a Featured Poet and a charge of £2 which will be saved up until we have enough to pay a Guest Poet.

Other news: Poetry readings at Wells Litfest include Lemn Sisssay on 18 October. If you don’t know about him, do listen to his Desert Island Discs on the radio 4 i-player. He’s phenomenal! See the website for details.

Toppings bookshop in Bath have a programme of readings, including Carrie Etter and Claire Crowther on 1 October, Katherine Towers on 3 October, Rosie Jackson on 7 November, Alice Oswald in the nearby St Swithin’s Church on 15 November and Ruth Sharman on 16 November.

Yeovil Litfest 20-23 October.

It isn’t necessary to know where a poem is going in order to begin to write.  Writing can let you find out what you think.
– Roy Marshall

If you know exactly what you are going to say about a subject before you begin your poem, it is probably better to say that thing in prose.
– Sue Boyle

“I am below the lemon”

Seventeen of us met at the Rose and Crown on Monday to share poems on and off the topic of “Cocktails”. The pub has a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere and the cocktail-bar is nice enough though rather small. An eighteenth person would have had to stand in the doorway!

Cocktail-related poems included Jinny’s six-liner “Raspberry Gin”, Rachael’s “Working for Tips”, Annette’s “Special Brew Couple”, Chris’s “Body Politic”, from which this post’s title is quoted, Ama’s “Cocktails”, Caroline’s “”The Naming of Cocktails”, a couple of Haiku from Richard, and Rosalie’s “Pousse Rapiere”, read in her absence by Ama.

Other poems included two longer pieces from Karin, a prose-poem from Jo, a Molotov-cocktail of wartime reminiscences from Pamela,  “Glimpses of Bosom on Bathwick Hill” from Mark and two poems about poets from Ewan. Chris read one of his poems from the beautifully produced artist’s book “Flat Holm”, a collaboration with printmaker Otto Dettmer.

Flat Holm018

Altogether, thanks to all of you, my fellow-poets, it was an evening of rewarding listening to well-crafted work.

Next month we shall be meeting in the same place (come early to ensure a seat!) on Monday 4th May – May-day Bank Holiday. Ewa will be in the chair and her topic is “All about Eyes”.

We welcomed visitors Simon and Jenny from the Wells Festival of Literature, who came along to let us know about this year’s Festival Competitions. The judge will be Peter Oswald, husband of the more famous Alice, and he will read all the entries. The flyer is below. Full details on the website.

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I have Claire Coleman to thank for this month’s quotation:

Art is the bridge with the realm of the spirit – the necromancy of humanity.
from a novel by Mavis Cheek called Aunt Margaret’s Lover.