Sunday, 13 March 2016


At the end of a course on the Metaphysical Poets one of my students said, "Thank you for making me think".  It is very satisfying to stimulate the brain into exploring new ideas and perceptions.

That's what Words by the Water has been doing for the last 10 days.   There is a real buzz and long after a speaker has walked off the stage the discussions continue in the cafes and the foyer of the theatre.  Not for nothing is it called a Festival of Words and Ideas.

There's been a lot to take in.  Janet Denny gave an excellent talk on her book, The Man on the Mantlepiece, about the father she never knew.  Patrick Cockburn, the renowned Middle Eastern journalist based in Baghdad, gave us an intelligent, balanced and thoughtful view of the current situation in Iraq and Syria.  Alice Roberts gave an enthusiastic and engaging lecture on the Celts - with no notes.  Andrew Dickson shared his research about Shakespeare reading and performances across the Globe - reminding us that themes such as exile, war and divided families are as relevant today as they have ever been.  Particularly moving was his photograph of the Robben Island 'Bible' (a smuggled and disguised Shakespeare Complete Works) open at the page signed by Nelson Mandela where he had marked the lines in Julius Caesar -

Cowards die many times before their deaths:
The valiant never taste of death but once
... death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

The highlight of the poetry events was Grevel Lindop's reading from his latest (and best I think!) collection Luna Park.  It would have been good to have a bigger audience (but he was in competition with Dermot Turing and the film about his uncle, Alan Turing) but those who were there loved the reading.  Grevel was the judge of the biennial Mirehouse poetry competition and as usual the awards ceremony in the lovely surroundings of the garden barn at Mirehouse was a special occasion.  We heard all the shortlisted poems and the winning poem, "What We Learned in the Shorthand Room".  Many congratulations to Alison Carter.  The poem ends, "thin stroke, thick stroke, 'Love life', "Love life'."

Finally, the flood appeal reading was fun.  I started off fairly seriously with three watery poems but by the end Taffy Thomas (in his lovely storytelling garb) and Brindley Hallam Dennis helped us let our hair down.  Mike (alias BHD) read one of his Kowalski monologues and sent us home laughing.  From beginning to end all ten of us were well-behaved and stuck strictly to our allotted time of 6 minutes.

All this thinking and I'm festivaled out but I think the impulse of the last 10 days will stay with me for a long time.

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