From Organ Pipes in London to Masks in Swindon

Somewhere Else member Iris Anne Lewis reports on a weekend packed with poetry.

It was Swindon’s Big Poetry Weekend from October 4th to October 6th, with a range of workshops, readings and meeting up with poetry friends, old and new, all at the Richard Jefferies Museum. The Festival had a transatlantic feel to it this year, with digital poet Dave Bonta from Pennsylvania talking about poetry film, Nuar Alsadir from New York as poet in residence, and Jennifer Militello from New Hampshire leading a workshop and giving a reading.
The first day of the Festival coincided with a Camden Poetry Series event in London, at which I had been invited to read, so after attending a morning workshop on ‘Writing Obsession’ with Jenifer Militello, it was off to London for my own reading in Camden. The event was in aid of cold weather shelters for the homeless and was held in Trinity United Reform Church — the same venue that acts as the cold weather shelter It was the first time I had read in front of an imposing set of organ pipes but any initial feeling of intimidation while waiting for people to take their seats was soon dispelled by the warmth of the welcome by organisers and audience. Then it was back home for a good night’s sleep before two full days of poetry in Swindon.
Saturday morning kicked off with a workshop with Fiona Benson on letting different voices into our poems. For this we each had to don a mask and enter into a different persona as embodied by the mask — I had great fun striding around the room as a rather angry man. The rest of the day was less energetic with readings from well known poets; Carrie Etter in conversation with poetry publishers Claire Crowther (Long Poem Magazine) and Sarah Leavesley (V. Press);  and the Battered Moons prize giving.
Another workshop on Sunday morning — Letters to the World. Led by Zoe Brigley, a Welsh poet who now works  as assistant professor at Ohio State University, we explored what we might learn from the intimacy and directness of writing a letter. More readings in the afternoon, from poets, both international and local, well established and recently published. The Festival finished with the Domestic Cherry launch party, with special guest Julia Webb and hosted by Hilda Sheehan, as usual in playful mood.
Then it was off home, with a bag full of books, a head full of ideas and a sense of belonging to a warm and welcoming community.


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