I miss going to live poetry events: meeting friends, visiting the bookstalls, the bustle for perfect seats, listening to poets you admire while nursing a glass of wine (beer, coffee, hot chocolate etc.) and being inspired to try and improve your own stuff at the end of it all …
So, in these times of restriction during lockdown, I am grateful to those wonderful people who organise virtual festivals: marvellous events such as the 2020 BBC Contains Strong Language at Tullie House in Carlisle, the Verbalise Zoom events at Kendal Brewery Arts Centre and the Wordsworth Online Contemporary Poetry Series that started so successfully last week with ‘Glue’ read by the brilliant Louise Wallwein, hosted by respected and massively talented poet Dr. Kim Moore.
Kim is also very busy organising the third Kendal Poetry Festival. Created in 2016 with co-director Pauline Yarwood, the event rises majestically from the ashes of the pandemic in 2021 as an online version from Friday 19th to Sunday 28th February. Pauline, poet, potter and co-ordinator of Brewery Poets in Kendal (whose work has appeared in The North, Strix, The Interpreter’s House and several anthologies, with a debut pamphlet, Image Junkie, published by Wayleave Press in 2017) decided after the 2018 festival to concentrate on her own creative outlets, but will be hosting ‘Afternoon Tea With The Brewery Poets’ during the latest set of events.
For the online version in 2021, Kim has teamed up with Clare Shaw to organise a series of Zoom events described as ‘a 9-day immersive online experience, bringing together poets, audiences and organisers from across the UK’.
Featuring international poets and some of the brightest stars of the UK contemporary poetry scene, Kim and Clare promise nine days of wall-to-wall, cutting-edge poetry. With its trademark emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility, this year there will be early morning writing workshops with the festival directors and evening events with poetry stars such as Moniza Alvi, Mark Waldron, Roger Robinson, Vahni Capildeo, Abeer Ameer, Alison Brackenbury and many more. We are promised that every day will be packed with readings, open mikes, panel discussions, talks and stage shows.
The last Kendal Poetry Festival I attended was a brilliant success. Back in 2018, when the only masks I remembered were worn by Zorro, The Lone Ranger or Derek Chisora, the event was a four day occasion at the Castle Green Hotel on the outskirts of Kendal. I enjoyed listening to poets such as Wayne Holloway-Smith and Dean Parkin, both entertaining the poetry masses with effortless ease and page after page of brilliant poetry. Kim Moore had told me at the time they would be excellent and she was spot on. With other Dove Cottage Young Poets, my daughter Em Humble read her own wonderful poems, coping with a room change and dodgy microphone with a confidence and presence I certainly never had at twenty years old (she also knocked up a quick film for the festival, brimming with her trademark life and creativity, which can be seen here
>>> CLICK ).
The following day, I listened to Liz Berry. This was the ticket I’d bought first; she struck me as other-worldly in her demeanour and writing, almost as if the poetry faeries had granted her gifts of language at birth beyond what is usual in these circumstances. I half expected her to float up and out of the window on the completion of her set …
When the 2018 festival was finished, in the bar afterwards (something else I am missing during lockdown), while waiting for Em to wrap up her filming, I had a lovely chat with poetry gods Alison Brackenbury and Pascale Petit, neither poet having a clue who this bloke clutching a pint of Guinness and a book of Liz Berry poems was, but indulging his questions with patience and grace. When Em arrived, so did Liz Berry, but we were a bit late at this point, so we had to make our excuses and leave, while Ms Berry ordered a glass of flower nectar and tucked her wings away for the evening.
Tickets for the festival in 2021, which range from £0 to £5 for readings and £16.50 to £45 for workshops, are available from the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal. In addition, audience members will be issued with invitations to two free half-hour sessions called “Zoom for Beginners” on Thursday 4th February, 19.00 and “How to make the Most of Your Online Festival Experience” on Thursday 11th February, 19.00.
The importance of youthful poetry is once again emphasised with the Guerrilla Poetry project bringing creative work into the heart of Kendal town centre. Members of Dove Cottage Young Poets will be performing alongside the guest poets, with the festival featuring a Young Poet, Young Musician, Young Blogger and Young Artist in Residence.
My advice is to get your hot chocolate, wine or beer organised beforehand, arrange/book your comfiest armchair with your family, practise your skills on Zoom if necessary, put your mask to one side for a while, have a look through the programme on the website
( https://www.kendalpoetryfestival.co.uk ) and enjoy, what I am sure will be, a festival to remember.