Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Southwell Poetry Festival

It is strange returning to Southwell Poetry Festival. The festival was conceived as a one off event as part of the local council millennium celebrations in 2000, but proved to be so popular money was raised to return in 2002. This time the festival was to run for three years only, but at the end the local paper ran a "Poetry Festival Cancelled" front page where local traders and others talked about the economic and cultural impact of the festival on the town, so money was raised again and after a year the festival was back. I have to say that, save for the first year, it was one of those festivals that never quite succeeded and never quite failed, but eventually ownership passed to Southwell Library and having that as a base made the event finally reach its potential in terms of local attendance, with lots of specialist events boosted to big numbers by Carol Ann Duffy, Andrew Motion and, this year, by Simon Armitage.

Southwell Library is one of those libraries you dream about - great stock, committed staff, room to move books to one side to set up a stage and create a hall for 120, a drinks license and a year-round programme. The Minster and the Minster School are to hand for really big events - 400 came from Carol Ann Duffy in my last year of involvement. In the same year I persuaded the library to open all night, with a night-long arts programme as part of the National Year of Reading. The staff did not take much persuading and again the library was the talk of the town.

It is good to see the Council continuing to support the festival, though the library has lost four workers in the recent round of library cuts. Nevertheless, the library does what it can with less staff than it should have and the festival is a major part of Nottinghamshire's literary calendar. Everyone is pleased that the Council continues to organise the event.

And me? Well, Five Leaves had an Adrian Buckner pamphlet launch at the Festival and our writer Andy Croft gave a good reading (with Tom Warner) last night, together with a fascinating talk on "the common music of poetry", which brought in football chants, his work that day in a special school, the work songs of slave and the Odyssey. I hope the lecture is published. The festival continues until 9 July ( But I have to get used to buying tickets rather than swanning around pretending to be important.

Anyone coming to the festival can be sure it will succeed. At the opening event, in the wonderful soaring Minster building, standing below a gold Christ figure (pictured) suspended from the roof as if he was going to fly (or go SPLAT) the Dean of the Minster said a prayer for the arts. We have God on our side. We cannot fail.

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