BRISTOL POETRY FESTIVAL 2012 REPORT
This year's attendance figures were up on both 2011 & 2010.
An undoubted highlight of Bristol Poetry Festival 2012 was the poetry & photography exhibition, held in the Light Studio of the Arnolfini:
THE WOMAN WHO SLEPT WITH BONES : a conversation about the nature of the night, illustrated with photographs by Alison Wills
and poems by Hazel Hammond.
This exhibition had its origins in a time when Alison Wills was finding it hard to sleep and had elected to turn this positive by going out
and taking photographs of the world at night. Inevitably as the eye and the mind of the artist begin to converse the photographs begin
to capture inner as well as outer images and landscapes/cityscapes. When poet Hazel Hammond joined her poems to this conversation
a fascinating project became more compelling still, for just as Hazel's poems responded to Alison Will's photographs so Alison began to
talk with Hazel's poetry in her photographs. The result was a beautiful exhibition that was a such a pleasure to visit and re-visit, one that
you couldn't help but engage with in your imagination and so be inspired by in your turn, the conversation grew. It ran during the Poetry
Festival from Tuesday 25 to 30 September and included a reading of the poems by Hazel and a talk by the artists about their collaboration.
PHILIP GROSS, KATHRYN SIMMONDS, JO BELL, MATTHEW BARTON – readings at the Arnolfini
Four poets, contrasting in style but with a connection in their viewpoints in that each seems to inhabit and to write from life's borderlines.
Bristol based Matthew Barton's awards include BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year, Matthew gave a wonderfully rich and strong reading, each
poem drawing the audience further into the natural world through the places where people and the world coincide, an heroic reading too
it was, because though he never mentioned it to the audience even once, the poor man was suffering from a dreadful toothache.
Jo Bell, the Director of National Poetry Day, long-boat-dweller on the country's canal, an indomitable poetry activist, has recently chosen to
base herself in the South West of England (a wonderful asset to the region), Jo gave a consummate performance, wry, wise then
whoop-eliciting funny then honest then touching then stirring by turns.
Kathryn Simmonds began by reading poems from her hugely entertaining first collection Sunday at the Skin Launderette winner of the
Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2008 then went on to read poems from her next collection, to be called: 'The Weather in the Blood'
(after a line in an Elaine Feinstein poem 'how do you change the weather in the blood?'), it was a privilege, the new poems sounded really good,
and I'm already looking forward to the new book, which should be out in October 2013.
Philip Gross is well known in Bristol (been a long time resident before his move to South Wales) and has many friends here. He is highly
respected for his very fine and skilled poetry and also for the kind and generous support he has given to his fellow poets over many years.
Philip, a T.S. Eliot Prize-winning poet is, of course, always a compelling poet to see and to hear, but on this night his reading of poems from his
most recent collection, Deep Field, which are all about his father, the life he lived, including, especially, his father's love of language and languages;
then the terrible, terrible loss he was forced to undergo through his experience of profound aphasia made for a particularly moving and rousing
experience that went straight to the heart of a man, to the heart of the Word itself, and to the very heart of a relationship between a father and
BRISTOL POETRY FESTIVAL POETRY SLAM: BRISTOL vs. DUBLIN
This event is an annual celebration of the art and the craft and the joy of performance poetry – slam style.
Each year we invite four performance poets from Bristol to compete against four of their peers from another city in the crucible of the poetry slam.
It's an opportunity not only to enjoy some of Bristol's finest but also to see something of what performance poets from other cities and countries are
doing with the form. Past Bristol Poetry Festivals have included visits from London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford, Paris and the
USA, to name but a few. It's also a great party with skilled, exuberant and entertaining hosting provided by Glenn Carmichael and
Claire Williamson. Dublin's performance poetry scene and community is relatively new but very enthusiastic and fresh, the Dublin team loved the
event and were full of praise for Bristol, they gave very entertaining performances and provided some memorable moments, John Cummins
inspired poem in praise of tea drinking following Jonny Fluffypunk's anti-tea-pro-coffee poem for example but in the end, on the whole Bristol
just had too much on the night, winning both the team slam and the individual award with Bristol's Stephen Duncan emerging triumphant.
An Audience with BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH
A full house at the Arnolfini gave Benjamin Zephaniah a rapturous welcome to Bristol Poetry Festival. Benjamin was here to tell some of the
stories behind the known and unknown facts of his life and times. In between the stories he performed a number of poems. He concluded with
a Q&A session. The stories didn't follow a careful chronological programme but jumped from time to time and he certainly didn't come anyway
near to telling all the "chapters" of his life. You had the strong impression that if you saw the same show on a different night it would be a
completely different set and order of stories. With open hearted honesty Benjamin Zephaniah held the auditorium in rapt attention, provoking
(in no particular order) anger and disgust (at one of his teachers who described him as "... a born loser"), laughter, delight, recognition, serious
thought, high and low emotion, pleasure in the sound of words and a recognition of the kindness within us all. Afterwards it took nearly thirty
minutes for Benjamin to cover the very short distance between the auditorium and the table in the Arnolfini bookshop where he was to sign
books, it was just that so many people wanted so very much to ask a question, to tell him something significant, to elicit his support for a
cause, or just to tell him how much they had enjoyed the evening and to shake his hand. Signing books at the bookshop table he didn't stint
with time but engaged with everyone who wanted to talk, or ask, or share. Benjamin was there signing and talking for well over a hour and a
half. People at the end of queue didn't give up and go home but were happy to wait their turn, talking, smiling, enjoying the buzz of the evening.
There was a feeling that something good and right had happened.
On STEPPING STONES: INTERVIEWS WITH SEAMUS HEANEY BY DENNIS O'DRISCOLL
This was poet, editor, critic and Poetry Can patron Dennis O'Driscoll speaking about the experience of working with Seamus Heaney, and the
process of putting together one of the most beautiful, enjoyable and absorbing books about a poet, and poetry, ever written.
One of the reasons that the book is so enjoyable, Dennis O'Driscoll pointed out, is that the interviews became something more than what might
be reasonably expected of even a well conducted, very good interviewer and interviewee... because Seamus Heaney, being Seamus Heaney,
this book was and is not only a work that sheds another kind of light on his life and poetry, which would be interesting enough certainly, but
Heaney's responses to the O'Driscoll's shrewd, well chosen questions soon become poetry in their own right and, ultimately, an essential part
of Seamus Heaney's oeuvre. There really isn't anyone quite like Heaney , Dennis O'Driscoll said, and rightly so... this was an informative and
inspiring talk that included an equally enjoyable question and answer session.
DENNIS O'DRISCOLL, HELEN DUNMORE, ELAINE FEINSTEIN – readings
An undoubted highlight of the festival, the evening began with Helen Dunmore reading from her latest collection The Malarkey, one of the most
impressive collections of 2012 and one a reader might make the time to read from cover to cover in one sitting. A half hour reading doesn't allow
that, though now that I think about it, a single poet having an evening to read one complete collection cover to cover is a really good idea.
Helen Dunmore has a strong and beautiful voice and is a very assured reader and she was certainly able to draw an increasingly willing audience
into the very heart of this much recommended and inspired collection.
Elaine Feinstein is of course a prolific poet and writer, and much admired by her peers, by younger poets (Kathryn Simmonds for example,
titling her new collection from a line in an Elaine Feinstein poem) and also by her many readers. Her first collection In a Green Eye was
published in 1966, so you could say her work as a poet goes to the root of contemporary poetry in the U.K. Elaine is a generous reader, reading
poems ranging widely from various times in her life and career. She was sometimes moving, sometimes intriguing, sometimes hilarious but always
Dennis O'Driscoll is such an entertaining reader, the pleasure and delight he brings to any reading makes him well worth the booking if you're a
literary event promoter and well the seeing if you enjoy the arts in general and/or poetry in particular. On this occasion he read from his new
collection Dear Life. It's fair to say that you are entitled to expect some degree of originality from the poetry of any good poet, the poems read by
Dennis were more than just original, they were the kind of poems that could show you the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary experiences of
everyday life, of course you could also say most good poetry does that too... but the poems from Dear Life that Dennis O'Driscoll read at Bristol
Poetry Festival 2012 were the kind of poems that could surprise you into heaven.
NEXT GENERATION POETRY SLAM
BRISTOL vs. APPLES AND SNAKES
An event to showcase the talent of the next generation of performance poets (16-25 year olds) from Bristol and around various regions of England.
It was the culmination of a year's work that included the setting up of the Siren Says monthly open mic. event for young people and the Next
Generation Poetry Slam that had taken place in Bristol during the Bristol Spring Poetry Festival 2012. Hosted by poet and teacher Tim Gibbard, this
event featured five Bristol poets : Harry Baker, Vanessa Kisuule, Emma Ward, Jack Dean and Lydia Beardmore taking on five of their peers
selected by Apples and Snakes from around the regions: Ben Lawrence (South East), Rowan McCabe (North East), Ben Norris (West Midlands),
Indigo Williams (London) and Carrie Wilde (South West). There were some stellar performances from both sides and it really could have gone
either way but in the tightest of slams Apples and Snakes came away the winners by a single point. The real winner of course was certainly an
enthused and happy audience, on a wonderful Bristol Poetry Festival night it was great to showcase and demonstrate the abundance of young
poetic talent we have in Bristol and in England.
Tim Key was another highlight of this year's festival, every seat in the house was sold to this high profile performer (Edinburgh Festival Comedy
Award winner, Bafta nominee, guest on all manner of TV programmes including Never Mind The Buzzcocks, host of his own late night poetry
programme on Radio 4, to name but a few) touring his current show Masterslut. A very popular, rip-roaring event from a very likeable and amiable
Bristol Poetry Festival 2012 Events Around Bristol organised by Poetry Can and local poetry promoters included book launches, open mics,
poetry films, slam events, readings from international, national and locally based poets, a music and poetry band, and workshops at events such as:
Lansdown Poetry Evening; Siren Says; Dead Poets Slam, Twenty Poets Perform, Poetry Cafe at the Vintage Cox & Baloney Tearoom;
Acoustic Night – Instant Anthology; Between The Lines – An Intimate Evening with Ash Dickinson; Nii Ayikwei Parkes; Hammer & Tongue Bristol,
Can Openers, Park Street Poetry and Poetry Pulpit.