Above is a thank you from Chris Agee and a blessing (in Irish) from Paddy Bushe. A thank you and a blessing began and ended my time at Poetry in Aldeburgh. A thank you and a blessing is what I give for the chance to continue to be involved in bringing poets to this small seaside town – the thing I brought my family down here to do! It has been quite a journey.
The first thank you was from author and critic Amit Chaudhuri, for reminding him that he also wrote poetry. A blessing in disguise was his not being able to make the festival in the end, which lead to me being asked by the Trustees to read in his place with Tiffany Atkinson, one of my favourite poets in English. Her originality of image and language is a model for how to write poetry, so it was quite nerve-wracking to be asked to read with her, but she was graciousness itself, and the audience was very warm in its reception. I chose to read some of Amit’s poems as well, old favourites and some new poems he sent, written in Calcutta, full of colour and taste and life.
A blessing too came from Michael Laskey, the founder of the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, who was reading this year. As I climbed to the top of the Lookout Tower to see Issam Kourbaj’s sobering exhibition of tiny boats full of burnt matches, Dark Water, Burning World, with Ruth Padel’s poems playing in the background, Michael walked past in his trademark beret. ‘I was just this moment thinking of you,’ he said in his quiet way. ‘How are you?’ The answer was too big, so I smiled, he nodded, and we parted again.
Highlights of the festival? Top would be the Irish contingent. I was lucky enough to be involved in bringing Chris Agee over from Belfast, and with him he brought Bernard O’Donogue to give the Irish Pages lecture, and then read with Paddy Bushe. Very close after that would be the Jamaica contingent: Ishion Hutchison and Raymond Antrobus were particularly gripping – ‘blown cane’ and life with deafness in a hearing world were among the revelations that complimented the festivals themes of place, identity and language. The night in the Cross Keys afterwards was fabulous, as the conversation continued. Refugee Tales, a book of poems on the model, photographer and child rape victim Lee miller, and a big poetry community thank you to Mimi Khalvati after 20 years of The Poetry School completed my festival. Helen Mort’s The Singing Glacier, with accompanying film and atmospheric music by William Carslake, also deserves a special mention. All in all the blessings were many. Thank you Daphne Astor – stepping down as curator this year – and Robin Boyd, our Chair, for a wonderful time. High praise too for Sally Carruthers of the Poetry School for some top notch curating! Sally will be taking over from Daphne Astor at next year’s Poetry in Aldeburgh. I can’t wait to see what comes.