Big names take their turns at busking, and how I ended up in an ambulance
ONE OF the many good ideas and nice touches at Wenlock poetry festival this year was The Poetry Busk – an open mic running for five hours from 12 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday – which featured not only local poets but big names who had been performing at The Edge arts centre up on the hill, and were then persuaded down into the town to join in the fun in the hall at Much Wenlock’s Methodist church. Thus spoken word star Hollie McNish, Forward prizewinner Liz Berry, Costa poetry winner Jonathan Edwards, and poetry band Little Machine were among the more well-known names that took part in the event hosted by Liz Lefroy. Afterwards she listed all the poets who took part on Facebook, and here they are, in order of appearance: Jean Atkin, David Bingham, Steve Mearns, Kate Innes, Bethany Rivers, Suzanne Iuppa, Liz Berry, Andrew McMillan, Oliver Jones, Ted Eames, Keith Chandler, Ruth Cameron, Cathy Dreyer, Anna-May Laugher, Jonathan Edwards, Paul Francis, Emma Duffee, William McCartney, Lucy Cunningham, Immy May, Rennie Parker, Tanya Prudente, Adrian Perks, Vuyelwa Carlin, Charlie Wilkinson, Pauline Prior-Pitt, Ross Donlon, Jonny Denfhy, Colin Sutherhill, Tina Sederholm, Steve Thayne, Carol Caffrey Witherow, Hollie McNish, Josh Ekroy, Tom Wyre, Adrian Blackledge, Mary Cunningham, Gary Carr, Emma Purshouse, Graham Attenborough, Tom Wentworth, Nadia Kingsley, Martin White, Barry Tench, Dorothy Anne Prescott, Chris Kinsey, Robert Peake, Kevin Bamford, Roz Goddard, Jeff Phelps, Steve Griffiths, Emily Wilkinson, Jay Walker, Di Slaney, Lindsey Holland, Anna Lawrence, Lottie Holder, George Morehead, Rajesh Bhardwaj, Liz Lefroy, and Steve Harrison.
FIRST to read at the launch of the Poetry Busk – and quite right, too – was the festival’s poet-in–residence, Jean Atkin. She also introduced the launch event on Friday night at Priory Hall with readings from Luck’s Weight, her collaborative work with photographer, poet and writer Andrew Fusek Peters, which was exhibited in the Priory Hall. Her other duties over the festival weekend included a poetry breakfast on the square, two sessions with youngsters in the library, lighting the fuse on The Sunday Poem – “a great, baggy, inclusive work of Wenlock” in which everyone could join and write – talking about her own poems in conversation with Roz Goddard, and finally sharing a stage with Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharker and Little Machine at the closing gala performance on Sunday night. In between all that she could often be found in a corner of the Priory Hall, an excellent meeting place and home of the Poetry Café, writing poems on her 1932 Imperial portable typewriter.
ON SATURDAY, in my keenness to cover as much as possible at the festival for Write Out Loud, I had been to seven poetry events, and maybe overdone it a bit. Consequently on Sunday morning, I won’t say I was suffering from poetry fatigue – “if a man is tired of poetry, he is tired of life”, or something like that – but I did feel in need of a pick-me-up. Luckily, help was at hand, in the form of Emergency Poet Deborah Alma, whose 1970s ambulance was parked beside the Priory Hall. I won’t go into details of the consultation – some things are private – but at the end of it all I was prescribed three poems to take away with me, and read at a quiet moment with a glass of cider. Maybe I’ll do it when I’ve finished this last piece. Deborah and her partner and fellow poet James Sheard were possibly feeling a little weary themselves after 28 consultations the previous day at Wenlock. If so, they didn’t show it. The wonderful thing is that it’s all free – just like the NHS.