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Back from Swindon Poetry Fe(a)st

I must stop trying too hard with blog post titles. What’s with the ‘fest’/’feast’ thing? Stop me, somebody.

Anyway, I’m now musing on a weekend in Swindon, not a place I’ve ever had strong feelings about, I confess, but clearly a place where poets settle and are proud of. The indefatigable Hilda Sheehan and her team worked hard all weekend, and the atmosphere was one of laid-back fun and a definite hippy vibe. Workshops and readings took place at Lower Shaw Farm, which looked like the set from ‘The Darling Buds of May’ with a bit of fruit-picker-style accommodation thrown in. It’s clearly a secret place – without the help of sat-nav I found myself in estate cul-de-sac hell for some time before I found it on Friday afternoon. One attendee came by taxi and admitted the driver had never heard of it. “What happens here?” he asked nervously, as if expecting the reply “oh, cooking with cheesecloth, tantric sex and ritual sacrifice.”

Over the two days I enjoyed hearing readings from Kathryn Maris, who turned out to be none other than Maurice Riordan’s ‘willowy companion with the ombre hair’, Maurice Riordan, Alison McVety, Don Share, David Morley, Cristina Navazo-Eguía Newton and the prize winners in the Battered Moons poetry competition. I also took part in a short workshop led by Cliff Yates and a day-long masterclass with Don Share (more on this in a separate post). It was great fun to meet some people I’ve only known via this blog or social media, or just by reputation: Cliff Yates, Judi Sutherland, Alison Brackenbury to name but three, and to catch up with blogging buddy Josephine Corcoran and editor of The Interpreter’s House Martin Malone.

Don Share and backing musicians
Don Share and backing musicians

One thing I really enjoyed about the evening readings was the music element  – on Friday we were treated to Don Share reading to a musical backdrop from some fine musicians doing jazz improv. It could have been the sixties, but without the marijuana, the greasy hair or the loon pants. Then on Saturday, to complement the Battered Moons competition readings, there was a wonderful performance of flamenco guitar from a chap whose name escapes me (what a shame) and Cristina Newton mesmerised us with her dramatic and moving reading interspersed with some Romany singing. This photo doesn’t do her justice. She has a wonderful singing voice. Fire and beauty.

Cristina  Newton
Cristina Newton

Although it rained on Saturday morning, in the afternoon the skies cleared and we had a wonderful walk up at the White Horse at Uffington.

On the Ridgeway
On the Ridgeway
Robin Houghton & Josephine Corcoran
With Josephine
The eye of the White Horse
The eye of the White Horse
Poets at the White Horse
Poets at the White Horse

And so to Sunday, and our day with Don Share. So much great stuff came out of that, so I’m going to write a separate post with as many tips, stories and Don-isms as I managed to jot down.

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  1. So much wish I had been there, too! lower Shaw farm sounds unmissable. Looking froward to the Don Share experience.

    • Thanks Becky! And congratulations on your success in the Battered Moons comp. I was looking forward to seeing you on screen, but you were so in shadow as to be invisible – a woman of mystery, clearly!

  2. […] After Swindon Poetry Festival I am in a high and happy poetry place, and I risk losing my euphoria if I try to set down in words what it was about Swindon that I loved so much.  Luckily, there are already two brilliant posts for you to read, as Robert Peake and Robin Houghton have captured much of the magic and mayhem in their entertaining, beautifully written reports.  Robert’s article is here and Robin’s is here. […]

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Robin Houghton 2021