Smaller, more beautiful, Aldeburgh Poetry returns
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.