Peace in our broken world at Stratford-upon-Avon
The 65th annual Stratford Poetry Festival draws to a close having delivered an invigorating and varied mix of events and readings to uplift the soul.
The opening event, inspired by the closing words of Shakespeare's Cymbeline: Washed with such a Peace was an absolute delight and featured RSC stalwarts Christopher Ecclestone and Niamh Cusak reading an expertly compiled program of poetry on the theme of peace. Festival highlights included War Girls, a collection of poems from the First World War beautifully researched and performed by Ruth Sillers, and the Open Mic evening at the Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust.
Perhaps the jewel in the Festival's crown was the wonderful Evening with Tony Harrison (pictured) which was, not surprisingly, one of the best attended events at the festival and featured the hugely respected veteran poet reading a selection of his work interspersed with amiable chat and anecdotes.
Gary Carr is a poet who was very happy to have travelled from Staffordshire to see Tony Harrison at Stratford and told me "standout poems for me were Them and [uz] and Bookends. All of the poetry was delivered with quiet confidence, in a measured and thoughtful style." Fellow attendee Emilie Lauren Jones, a Coventry-based poet said "A highlight was probably A Kumquat for John Keats which he wrote when he was 42. He is a big admirer of Keats and believed that he would have appreciated the metaphor of the kumquat being sweet and sour at the same time and being unable to tell when it changes from one to the other 'like day turning into night'".
There were lessons to be learned for festival organisers as several event-goers commented on the less than satisfactory acoustics and lighting, but thankfully it seemed these minor grumbles were not enough to distract punters from the quality on offer.
Previous festival Director Roger Pringle who this year designed the final event, a tribute to the poems and letters of Wilfred Owen, told me in a radio interview how moving it was to mark the centenary of Owen's death with an event of this kind. "He died at the age of 25, just a week before the end of the war, so he did not to see the peace for which he longed."
Speaking about the Wilfred Owen event, this year's Festival Director Paul Emberson said "Poetry continues to provide peace in our broken world. Peace and reconciliation are very much the golden threads though from that time to ours, a gold we need constantly to mine, and for which we will always long."