24 hours in Ledbury

IMG_0624How much poetry festival can you cram into 24 hours? Quite a lot. Ledbury Poetry Festival runs for 10 days in July, and this year we made it along for the final weekend.

We arrived Saturday lunchtime and departed just over 24 hours later on Sunday as the… 

Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final was getting under way. In between we attended five wonderful events, providing much poetry stimulation and nourishment to last us for some time!

Our first event was Ali Smith‘s Poem Selection at the Community Hall. Literary journalist Suzi Feay was in conversation with Smith, who’d brought along a pile of poetry books, and a list of 28 favourite poems. There wasn’t time for her to read them all out, so we had a form of poetry bingo, with audience members calling out numbers and Smith reading and discussing the corresponding poem. Her passion, wit and eloquence shone through.

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Suzi Feay and Ali Smith

We had a couple of free hours then to browse the shops, wander the pretty streets, and eat chips sitting on the High Street, where we bumped into National Poetry Competition second prize winner Katie Griffiths and her husband Chris. Like us, they were excited to have tickets for the Margaret Atwood Poetry Reading that evening back in the Community Hall. Margaret Atwood!

She certainly did not disappoint. With stage presence galore Atwood blew us all away with a set of poems she’s yet to publish. Themes included the mess humans have made of the environment, the perils of translation, and handing on knowledge of nature to younger generations. Her wry humour had us all laughing and her cool pair of trainers had us all wishing we’ll be like her when we hit 80. What a superstar and a legend in her own lifetime.

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We rounded the evening off at Burgage Hall, at a pop up open mic and World Poet Series reading. Four Latin American and Caribbean poets had travelled to the Festival, thanks to funds raised through a Kickstarter campaign, and they each read four poems, with open mic performers sandwiched in between. Chilean poet Enrique Winter read poems in Spanish with English translations projected above. Shivanee Ramlochan read a selection of poems from Everyone Knows I am a Haunting that she wasn’t going to read in her longer set the next day. Then poets from the floor followed the main readers with confidence and clarity.

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Enrique Winter
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Shivanee Ramlochan

On Sunday, the town was buzzing with a Ledbury Celebration of food, drink, poetry and music in St Katherine’s car park, and a visit from The Sealed Knot, whose members marched up the High Street dressed as Parliamentarians at the time of the Civil War. It was quite something!

We also caught 20 Minutes with Margaret Adkins in the beautiful Panelled Room in The Master’s House. Adkins read from memory from her V. Press pamphlet Mingled Space, a very assured and composed reading of poems dealing with loss, family, place, her time working as a nurse and the interplay of conversations.

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Margaret Adkins

Then we dashed back to Burgage Hall for our last event, part of the World Poetry Series – longer readings from Enrique Winter and Shivanee Ramlochan, followed by a Q&A chaired by Chloe Garner, Artistic Director of the festival.

Many of the events were recorded and are available to listen to or download as a podcast.

Can’t wait for the festival next year. Maybe we can convince the Artistic Directors to include London Undercurrents in the line-up….

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