Pedalling poetry

Well, it looks like I won’t be driving in time for my first Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, and I’ve decided to embrace this and see how much of my work in Suffolk can be done via train and bike! It’s been great fun so far – last week I went to see Maggi Hambling at her studio, then cycled out to Snape Maltings, one of the sites of the Festival, for a meeting with Aldeburgh Music, our partners, who own the site and run the Box Office for us.

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It was a big cycle, but very beautiful, especially up on the ridges with not another person in sight, and wheeling my way past churches and pubs and fields. Suffolk is a very beautiful county. You often get a nice rare treat on the road, when someone has left their windfall Bramleys outside their door for free, or farms are selling eggs and fresh local vegetables on the honesty system. For those interested, the cycle from Saxmundham Station to Snape Maltings is 30 minutes – and I am NOT very fit!

I was lucky to be wearing my full weatherproof gear though, as mud was splashed over me top to bottom in the current weather. Of course a visit to the ladies to freshen up is essential before a big corporate meeting. I turned up looking reasonable smart but the mud-flecked satchel somewhat gave it away!

My visit to Maggi Hambling‘s studio was mindblowing – to see some of her sea pictures life-size is almost as terrifying as facing off the real thing at Dunwich on a stormy day. Big, child-eating waves and miles of ocean that seem to be crying for the melting icecaps. She was cheering me up and helping out with advice on fundraising – money for the Festival is so tight this year it leaves a mark – telling wonderful stories about getting funding for ‘Scollop’ as she calls it – her controversial sculpture on Aldeburgh beach (the boys and I are fans). I got a beautiful illustrated poem full of waves as a good luck present. This new life in Suffolk is never boring…

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Later that same week I did it all again to catch an afternoon of the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme showcase with #APF blogger and poet JL Williams as well as an Aldeburgh Eight graduate, Richard Scott. That was an ear-opener – poets often make the best librettists, and Jennifer and Richard did not disappoint, with three striking pieces: JLW on the awful world of battery chickens (which reportedly put the audience off its lunch!) and Richard with the story of a boy who traps beetles to play with them having the tables turned on him – a fascinating piece of music by Shiori Usui that imitated the bugs’ chittering vividly – and another opera about a rehearsal of the rape of Leda by Zeus as a swan. Other pieces that drew my attention were the heart-clutching music of Naomi Pinnock with Nic Green‘s story of grief and trauma in Susan Are You Ready? and Andrew Thomas and Daniel Solon’s Charlie Grimes,  which had me in tears, about the true story of the shooting of an eight-year-old boy. As Roger Wright, Chief Executive of Aldeburgh Music, remarked, “You poets rarely write happy songs do you?” JLW has declared her intention to write a comic opera forthwith!

A full and rich cultural experience in Suffolk – all done by bike and train, getting back in time to pick up the twins. Non-driving poetry Mum tries to do it all! Let’s see if I can keep it up…

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About Pedalling Poetry

Writer Ellen McAteer is founder of Tell It Slant poetry bookshop in Glasgow, and a visiting lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art. She was a mentee of the Clydebuilt Verse Apprenticeship Scheme, under Alexander Hutchison, and a singer with the band Stone Tape, as well as a solo singer who won a BBC Radio competition with her song Blue Valentine. She was Director of the Poetry Trust, which ran the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, a director of the Scottish Writers’ Centre, a visiting lecturer at Oxford University's MSt in creative writing, and a member of the core group of performers at the Hammer and Tongue spoken word collective in Oxford. She is a qualified Librarian.
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