Just lis­ten

Smaller, more beau­ti­ful, Alde­burgh Po­etry re­turns

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

LESS is more, they say. So when a ded­i­cated and de­ter­mined group of Alde­burgh res­i­dents de­cided to bring the an­nual po­etry fes­ti­val back to the town, they were un­abashed at set­ting a bud­get a fifth of what had gone be­fore, with no grants or arts body sup­port. Funds were raised en­tirely from ticket sales and dona­tions, and the or­gan­i­sa­tion was run by vol­un­teers. There were events, work­shops, ex­hi­bi­tions, open mic ses­sions, book launches and a po­etry read­ing in the North Sea be­fore break­fast.

Now in its sec­ond year, Po­etry in Alde­burgh is a not-for-profit reg­is­tered char­ity and has gained the sup­port of three out­stand­ing pa­trons, poet lau­re­ate Carol Ann Duffy, artist Maggi Ham­bling, and artist, writer and farmer Jason Gathorne-Hardy, founder of the Alde Val­ley Spring Fes­ti­val.

This year’s pro­gramme mixes high pro­file and es­tab­lished po­ets with emerg­ing tal­ent and, while aim­ing to build on last year’s suc­cess, the trustees are keen to main­tain an in­for­mal, re­laxed and small town feel.

“We’ve turned a virtue out of ne­ces­sity,” says chair­man Robin Boyd. “It’s less ‘pro­fes­sional’ but it has a vil­lagey at­mos­phere. We wanted to go back to the orig­i­nal model.” This means visi­tors can en­joy readings, per­for­mances and work­shops in a va­ri­ety of venues in Alde­burgh over the three days, tak­ing in cafes, pubs, ho­tels and, of course, fish and chips on the beach in be­tween ses­sions, and with­out ever hav­ing to drive.

“We are playing to Alde­burgh’s brand,” says Robin. “It’s got lots of fes­ti­vals – mu­sic, lit­er­ary, documentary films. And it has that as­so­ci­a­tion, so when peo­ple are think­ing of go­ing away, they know that Alde­burgh is a very at­trac­tive place, with all these other ac­tiv­i­ties to see and do. If you say ‘come and lis­ten to some po­etry while you visit’, it’s a strong mes­sage.”

The fes­ti­val springs off the back of an event which had been run for more than 30 years by The Po­etry Trust. Launched in Halesworth, it moved first to Alde­burgh and, af­ter 25 years, to Snape Malt­ings in 2012. “Many peo­ple had been sad to see the po­etry fes­ti­val move to Snape from Alde­burgh,” says Robin. “It is a world-class fa­cil­ity there, but maybe po­etry is cosier, smaller, and can get lost in a place that’s as big as that.” The am­bi­tion had been for the trust to be a na­tion­ally recog­nised in­sti­tu­tion for po­etry but, sadly, fund­ing was not forth­com­ing so it, and the fes­ti­val, was dis­solved at the end of 2015.

“This was a good op­por­tu­nity to bring the event back to the town but we had to act quickly. If we dropped it, it would take 10 years to get go­ing again,” says Robin. “Con­ti­nu­ity had to be main­tained.” Within a few months a com­mit­tee had been formed, headed by Mark Fair­weather, a lo­cal solic­i­tor. Join­ing him were John and Mary James from the Alde­burgh Book­shop, Caro­line Wise­man, Ian Grif­fiths, Madeleine Winn, Pamela John­son, Sally My­ers, Robin Boyd and Daphne War­burg As­tor who be­came the cu­ra­tor of the fes­ti­val.

“She has ex­cel­lent po­etry knowl­edge and has been able to ring friends and say ‘why don’t you come and join us’. We are very lucky to have a per­son with such strong lo­cal

‘This part­ner­ship with The Po­etry School means that we will be pro­mot­ing emerg­ing tal­ent as well as the es­tab­lished po­ets’

con­nec­tions to cu­rate the pro­gramme.” This year Daphne has brought The Po­etry School on board as a part­ner for the fes­ti­val with its ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, Sally Car­ruthers, shar­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for pro­gram­ming. The school, cel­e­brat­ing its 20th an­niver­sary this year, is the UK’s largest provider of po­etry ed­u­ca­tion and of­fers courses in cre­ative writ­ing.

“Alde­burgh tends to be known for its older res­i­dents,” says Robin. “We would like to bring younger peo­ple, grad­u­ates, to the town and show them what we have to offer. This part­ner­ship with The Po­etry School means that we will be pro­mot­ing emerg­ing tal­ent as well as the es­tab­lished po­ets.” Young po­ets in Suf­folk are also en­cour­aged through the Wood­bridge Po­etry Prize. Or­gan­ised by Wood­bridge School, this an­nual com­pe­ti­tion is open to po­ets aged 18 or un­der, liv­ing in Suf­folk. Last year it at­tracted 450 en­tries. Next year a dif­fer­ent cu­ra­tor, and a new part­ner­ship, will bring an­other el­e­ment to the Alde­burgh pro­gramme, in what is a five year vision for the fes­ti­val un­der the di­rec­tion of this team.

“The qual­ity of po­ets we’ve man­aged to at­tract is fan­tas­tic,” says Robin. “Af­ter all, it can be a bit of a trek to Alde­burgh. But we can draw on a two-hour catch­ment for Lon­don, Cam­bridge and Nor­wich.” Among the star per­form­ers this year are Lavinia Green­law and Ruth Padel. There is a talk by Ir­ish poet Bernard O’Donoghue, and a mas­ter­class by Ish­ion Hutchin­son. BP Por­trait Prize win­ner Clara Drum­mond will lead po­etry and draw­ing work­shops in the Alde­burgh Beach South Look­out and there will be a pre­sen­ta­tion about an arts and en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­pe­di­tion to Green­land from Wil­liam Carslake and He­len Mort. Called The Singing Glacier, this will in­clude a film, baroque quar­tet and po­etry read­ing. Michael Laskey, who lives in Leis­ton and helped found The Po­etry Trust in Halesworth, will be read­ing at this year’s event. “It’s a pleas­ing bless­ing to what we are do­ing,” says Robin. It’s an ex­cit­ing and var­ied pro­gramme and a num­ber of the events are free to at­tend.

“One of the good things about po­etry is that it is so ac­ces­si­ble,” says Robin. “Ba­si­cally it is about a per­son talk­ing to you. You don’t have to be ed­u­cated in clas­si­cal mu­sic or be a big book reader to en­joy po­etry. You just lis­ten.”

Po­etry in Alde­burgh takes place Novem­ber 3-5 www.po­et­ry­i­nalde­burgh.org

Maggi Ham­blin’s sculp­ture on Alde­burgh beach Photo: Ash­ley Pick­er­ing

Carol Ann Duffy

Maggi Ham­bling in her Suf­folk stu­dio

Jason Gathorne Hardy.

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