We are very lucky in these parts to have a few local independent book shops close by, and in particular in Woodstock, we have ‘The Woodstock Bookshop’ owned by Rachel. (The website is run as a blog.)
For the second year running Rachel has put together a marvellous program of readers for the ‘Woodstock Poetry Festival’ – which finished yesterday evening with an open mike session in ‘The Woodstock Arms’ where I stood up and read!
I missed Pam Ayres on Thursday 14th, as I was working, but on Friday after work I listened to a reading in the bookshop with Peter McDonald and Patrick McGuinness, who are both Oxford based poets. Relaxed and intimate, the reading was followed by a question and answer session which was fascinating – raising questions about self-identity and role, alter egos and narrators and how this can be handled in poetry.
On Saturday I collected a friend and together we went to a reading of an established poetry group, ‘MsCellaneous.’ (This reminded me of last year’s festival when I had been involved in a group reading at the festival: Rachel has been very good at supporting new writers and readers.)
This group, ‘MsCellaneous’ has been together for 12 years and they meet regularly to critique each others’ work. Some of the work they read was from a group visit to the town’s museum. (Unfortunately I had a coughing fit during the middle section of this reading and had to leave… missing the reading of the one member of the group who I know personally!) I particularly liked the poetry and style of their first reader, Claire Cox.
The reading was followed by tea and cake, which was a marvellous way to meet and chat with the poets and provided a great time filler as we waited for the next reading by Alice Oswold.
Alice’s poem, ‘Memorial’ is described as an “excavation” of Homer’s “The Iliad,”and in September this year it won the Warwick Prize, a £25,000 prize.
Professor Ian Sansom, chair of the judges, said it had been a “unanimous decision” to award the prize to Memorial.
“This is a book that forges its own unique medium of expression. Memorial is a book that looks to the present as well as the past, which combines the personal with the political, and my fellow judges and I were thrilled by its imaginative and intellectual ambition,” he said.
The reading was held in Woodstock Methodist Church. The lectern was backlit and Alice, a tall, willowy silhouette, came on after a brief introduction from Rachel, paused for a second or two, then started her recital, from memory. The audience was transfixed: we listened in semi-darkness, unable to see the reader’s face, aware only of the fast time tapping of her foot and occasionally of her hand as she spoke in a deep, modulated, resonate voice from behind the lectern, which carried around the hall. The book is 84 pages. She recited from memory the whole poem. Afterwards she slipped from the stage and disappeared from sight as we applauded.
The space between this reading and the next allowed recovery: a cup of tea in the hotel over the road. It was needed. As a listener I felt exhausted!
The next reading, again in the Church was by Julia Copus, reading from ‘The World’s Two Smallest Humans.’ I loved this reading. Her poetry is perceptive, amusing and accessible. Julia herself is friendly, generous and open. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had felt daunted by the fact she followed Alice Oswald’s amazing feat of memory, but her manner did not suggest this. I’m on a strict budget at the moment, and of all the poets I saw at the weekend, I chose Julia’s book as the one purchase I allowed myself. I bought ‘The World’s Two Smallest Humans’ and waited in the queue for her to sign it for me and to have a brief chat.
On Sunday I returned to Woodstock for a 4 pm reading, which had originally been billed as a reading with David Morley and Liz Berry. Unfortunately Liz had to pull out at the last-minute, and I was particularly sad about this as I knew Liz from a course we both attended a few years ago, and enjoy her Black Country Poetry and her performance of it very much.
David was engaging and interesting, reading from his collection ‘The Gipsy and the Poet’ which explores a relationship between the poet John Clare and a gipsy… interestingly linking up with the themes discussed on the Friday night reading, raising more questions about self-identity and role, alter egos and narrators and how characters can take a poet over when writing… and how this can be handled in poetry.
After this reading my little group and I went for a glass of wine in the pub over the road and after a while David came in, with his folding, portable rostrum, and recognising us as part of the audience, came to sit with us for a further chat.
Soon it was time for the 6:30 reading with David Constantine, Sasha Dugdale and Olivia McCannon. I hadn’t heard Sacha Dugdale or Olivia McCannon read before, but have heard David Constantine on a couple of occasions, reading both his poetry and his short stories. I enjoyed both. However I particularly enjoyed Olivia McCannon, who read first. I really related to her poems, and thought her delivery was excellent as she read from her collection ‘Exactly My Own Length.’ This collection won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. The writing is beautifully crafted, and compassionate, with very touching poems of elegy about her mother.
There was very little time between the end of this reading and the start of the open mike session in ‘The Woodstock Arms’ – not enough time to eat, and sadly the Woodstock Arms was not doing bar snacks!
The open mike was organised by Jenny Lewis, a poet I have known for several years now, who is a fantastic teacher and facilitator. The open mike went on from 8:30 pm, starting with my two poems, until about 10pm, by which time I was pretty hungry for my supper, but pretty much satiated with poetry.