Ledbury Poetry Festival, 9 July 2011

Leigh and I spent a showery Saturday at the Ledbury Poetry Festival; it was both my first time in Ledbury and my first time to the festival. I loved both. The town itself is a fantastic mix of 17th century buildings, cobbled streets and alleyways and hidden modern gems.

Such as Scandinavian interior design store, Hus & Hem, which is bright, clean and everything Ikea wishes it could be. And it sells these, very cool trophy deer heads:

Further down a cobbled alley, we stumbled across the wholly-unexpected Tinsmiths building (which Jonathan Glancey talks about here):

(Image from: http://davidnice.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html)

However, what Ledbury lacks is a selection of restaurants willing to serve customers between 5pm and 6pm. Just when Leigh and I needed to eat. Cue a dash to visit Leigh’s partner’s mum, who knocked together a delicious home-cooked meal in her beautiful kitchen, overlooking the Herefordshire countryside. Wonderful.

Fed and watered, we ventured back to the town centre and to the Burgage Hall for our first event: Stuart Maconie’s Poetry Playlist. A Desert Island Discs affair, Maconie talked about his love of poetry and picked ten of his favourite poems, reading them from his iPad (or, where technology let him down, a fail-safe piece of paper). His choices ranged from familiar classics – such as Keats’s ‘An Ode to Autumn’ (which I had to recite at school, I can still do so) – to poems I’ve never heard of but thoroughly enjoyed. I am very pleased to have discovered Billy Collins’s ‘Man In Space’ – the best poem about feminism I ever heard (and by a man!). Maconie was witty and engaging; his description of Philip Larkin as poetry’s Morrissey was absolutely spot on and his unashamed love of poetry was evident.

After a quick half of Wye Valley Brewery’s HPA in the Prince of Wales (hurrah!), we were joined by Hilary for readings by Ann Caldwell and Costa winner Jo Shapcott. Caldwell’s sequence of eight poems – The Underwater House – reminded me of Ali Shaw’s strange fairy tale, ‘The Girl With The Glass Feet’, and of the maritime storytelling of Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Lighthousekeeping’. Both particular favourites of mine.

Our last event was the Jamaican dub poet, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, who we’d spotted earlier whiling away the July afternoon on a shabby sofa outside the Prince of Wales, cigarette and wine in hand. Breeze was an absolute blast. She read and sang her poems of history and heritage and lust and loss and the audience lapped it up. Her poem ‘The Flag’ moved me to tears and she had me singing along by the end.

All in all, a lovely day. Here’s Simon Armitage reading ‘The Christening’ (from 2:29) – one of Maconie’s Top Ten – to make you smile and also frown a little bit in confusion.

“Stuff comes blurting out.”

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