Town displays real hunger for poetry
Buy this photo » Roger McGough during his poetry reading at the Wyvern Theatre
THE Swindon Festival of Poetry is coming on in leaps and bounds in its second year in reaction to a growing demand in the town, according to organisers.
The four-day festival came to its completion yesterday after hosting a glut of famous names, including Liverpool’s Roger McGough and Warwick Prize winner Alice Oswald.
Matt Holland, festival organiser, said: “While the Swindon Festival of Literature has been going for more than 20 years, over recent times with the growth of interest in poetry in Swindon, people have been asking for more poetry in the literature festival. But there is only so much they can fit in over two weeks.
“We went about creating an extra space for poetry, which would be an autumn sister to the literature festival.”
While numbers are growing, Matt is keeping cautious.
“It remains an experiment,” he added. “While the audience size has varied, the buzz has increased dramatically from last year. “It will continue next year as long as the money does not run out. We are partly funded by the Arts Council, Swindon Council, and the literature festival itself.
“The idea is for development and education. We do not think we should get funding just to entertain people.”
The event has featured performances around the town, with 22 separate events across the four days. It included a Twitter poetry competition, the launch of an anthology of poems published by Swindon’s BlueGate poets, and a collaboration of poets from the length of the M4.
Hilda Sheehan, festival organiser, said: “It has been just brilliant, and really successful. There have been lots of people and lots of surprises. There have been so many versions of poetry using different places.
“We had a vintage bus, which celebrated the centenary of Alfred Williams, the railway poet. There were about 30 people who turned up for that alone, and many more who came along to the story telling afterwards.
“I think it has been much better than expected. Poetry is one of those art forms that is very difficult for some people to express. A lot more people are engaging with it, which is encouraging.
“Some people have come out of the woodwork slightly during the festival. People who are not poets and decided to try something out. We had a performance by the international Women of Swindon, which was a real eye opener.”
Matt added that despite the view that Swindon lacks a real cultural hub, poetry and literature could and should be enjoyed wherever people live.
“Poetry is something people turn to when they fall in love, have a baby, or when somebody close to them dies,” he said. “These are the three most important times in life, so it can bring people together no matter where they are from.
“It doesn’t matter if you live in Swindon, Bath or Oxford. Human relationships are the same.”
Readings by popular Poet Laureate cause a stir
THE WYVERN Theatre was packed on Friday night with poetry enthusiasts swarming to enjoy a conversation with Liverpool’s Poet Laureate.
Award-winning poet Roger McGough visited Swindon as part of the Poetry Festival, where he read a selection of old and new poems and promoted his latest collection, As Far As I Know.
Roger said: “When people asked where I was going and I said Swindon they laughed.
“I have been to Swindon before a couple of times and I enjoyed it.
“I decided to come because Matt Holland, who organised this, comes with a reputation as someone who is very professional and organised.”
Some of the work he read harked back to his boyhood days among the chip shops of Liverpool, others were clever jingles using wordplay for comic effect, and several spoke up the perils of getting older, approaching retirement and reflecting on death.
Matt Holland, one of the organisers of the Poetry Festival and the Swindon Festival of Literature, arranged to bring Roger to Swindon as one of the main attractions of the festival.
He said: “I’m a keen stalker of writers, authors, poets to get them all to come to Swindon. When I say stalker, I’m not really a stalker of course, just persistent in trying to get them to come and see Swindon and share their work with Swindon.” – Elizabeth Mackley
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