This epic week of poetry at Exeter Poetry Festival continued with Daljit Nagra’s Retold Ramayana which, for me, was a revelation and held me spellbound. This live Jaybird performance was illustrated with projected cartoon characters who were somehow perfectly suited to the dynamic reading with its linguistic athleticism. It was a surprise to see the words on the page in the book in long lines and short lines as well as in shapes as his voice had been! I couldn’t resist buying it and now my every reading of it will bring back the delicious performance. If you get the chance to see this I recommend it (for instance: Bridport, London). It is also incredibly scholarly and he has studied all the different Ramayanas that exist in the world and selected and melded the different versions to make this new telling.
Later, at the Exeter Poetry Feast, I discovered the wonderful poems of Fiona Benson who read from her collection, Bright Travellers, that was short-listed for the Forward First Collection Prize. Her poems are beautiful and passionate and incredibly honest. I was on the edge of my seat some of the time: for instance her poems about child-birth, miscarriage and child-rearing nearly ripped me open. I enjoyed her poems about Van Gogh too, particularly Portrait with a Bandaged Ear.
She was reading with Carrie Etter who read poems from her three collections, in particular her latest, Imagined Sons, which is mesmerising. It’s a series of contemplations by a woman who, at the age of 17, gave up her baby for adoption. She imagines the son as a pilot, a baker, an olive in a salad among other incarnations. The man is everywhere in her life. These poems are movingly punctuated by ten sets of different questions in A Birth Mother’s Catechism which is brilliantly structured and movingly expressed.
I confess I missed Gillian Clarke (ouch) and Peter Horovitz and Kate Tempest. (But I am skint so can’t go to everything.) Apparently I missed two treats. (I hate missing amazing events.)
To add icing to my cake: as those of you on Facebook might already know (sorry), my poem Nightjar was commended in The Battered Moons Competition but I had to miss the award ceremony at Swindon Festival of Poetry with Cristina Newton and David Morley because I had another poem in the Exeter Poetry Festival’s pamphlet based around World War 1 (called Voices and Memory). There was a wonderful launch and reading of all the winning poems and I felt very honoured indeed to have Lusitania Riots, 1915 in that lovely pamphlet in the company of so many great poets. But why when nothing particularly lovely happens most of the time did two busloads of joy have to arrive on the same day?
And then today, we walked out across the northern part of Dartmoor from the village of Belstone, near Okehampton, to find the Ted Hughes Memorial Stone. We chose today as most of the rest of this week is due to be wet and windy ( I hear it winding up already) and we had wanted to go all summer while it has been dry underfoot. I don’t think it would be easy or much fun if the bog was squelching all the way there and back. It was also because I thought I had just recovered well enough from my pneumonia to do a big walk. And I had…it took us 7 hours! But that is really because we made one big mistake and walked too far uphill to try to avoid the marsh area and ended up at Taw Head, near Cranmere Pool in the biggest and worst bog. So then we had to think hard about our mistake and while we ate a late sandwich we could work out our error and go back about 15 minutes. I just knew it would have to be within earshot of the running brook that was the baby River Taw. We only had the flimsiest of instructions which included words like “eventually” and “a grassy mound” and it makes you feel you don’t know what is meant when everything is ‘eventually’ and there are lots of ‘grassy mounds’. And then there it was on a really big grassy mound with the sound of wind swishing in the grasses and the brook tinkling down below. It’s a huge stone like a body that was still warm in the day’s sun. Lovely patterned lichens are spreading over it. Here are some pics. Now I know the way I can tell you if anyone ever wants to know!
I know this has been a bit long but I had a lot to be very thankful for this week.