Ledbury 2018: A review
The Ledbury Poetry Festival takes place over ten days each July (29th June – 8th July in 2018) and has long been a key event in the poetry world. Now in its 22nd year, Ledbury is the UK's largest poetry festival, and for the most recent edition, welcomed the likes of Sinead Morrissey, Jackie Kay, Major Jackson and Hollie McNish onto its bill.
Joelle Taylor (pictured) kicked off the festival with palpable excitement in her performance poems from Songs That My Enemy Taught Me (Out-Spoken Press, 2017), joined by renowned Zaffar Kunial (Poet in Residence) and Major Jackson. The opening event placed emphasis on nurturing the next generation of poets with an eclectic poem-dance sequel from John Masefield High School pupils, a Foyle Young Poet alumni showcase, and a reading from Eloise Unerman, Ledbury Poetry Festival Young Poet in Residence. The commitment to supporting writers at all stages of their career continued with the 20 minute free readings in the Panelled Room of the Master’s House, which gave both a brilliant insight into rising talent and a much-needed short break from the beating sun.
The international scope of the festival, which is part of the Versopolis programme, a pan-European platform promoting the exchange of poetry, was particularly impressive. It was unusual but ultimately rewarding to hear poetry being read in a variety of languages during the grand finale with Versopolis poets Kateryna Kalytko (Ukraine), Tomica Bajsic (Croatia), Michal Sobol (Poland), Lou Raoul (France/Brittany); their poetry weaving into simultaneous English translations like lacework. They read in the Burgage Hall alongside the ‘British Versopolisers’ of Sasha Dugdale, Sandeep Parmar and Mererid Hopwood, creating a wonderful sense of community.
At literary festivals, the fringe events can sometimes be more stimulating than more traditional poetry readings, and that wasn’t untrue of Ledbury. The Live Poetry Jukebox was a particularly memorable treat, offering a selection of delicious and delectable poems in jars – which are actually sculptures in jars with symbolic gestures. The novel concept was to enter the Jukebox, choose a jar, sit down and a poem will be performed for you. I was struck by the broken wine glass wrapped in barbed wire, which, created by theatre maker Adie Mueller and designer Trui Malten, sparked the imagination in thought-provoking ways. There was also Sally Crabtree offering a tasting session from her special edition of Poems in a Tin, elsewhere inviting visitors to hook a duck to win a poem, or be entertained by her bath time serenades.
‘Poetry Walk: Poems and Paths’ was a relaxing chance to reconnect with nature in a walk led by poet Jean Atkin, weaving through the ancient woodland that lurks on the fringe of the town. Taking place on the last day of the festival, the gentle pace was conducive to the winding down of things, allowing for pauses to listen to a poem and respond in writing to prompts the traces of medieval coppicing and charcoal-burning activity. The beautiful scenery of the surrounding area was definitely worth incorporating into the program.