Sheffield Poetry Festival: a day ticket

Well, two day tickets, to be exact, if you count my Leicester-Sheffield return rail fare.
Another half term treat to myself, my £20 day ticket for Sat 1st June gained me entrance to all four headline events at The Hubs (which my defective inner sat nav failed to find from Google’s 3 minute walking directions, even though the distinctive space-pod-cum-kettle Student Union building is fairly prominent when you know what you’re looking for as you exit the station…).

Each event was a pairing of poets as follows:

River Wolton and Julia Copus
I enjoyed River Walton’s relaxed and confident introductions to her poems, chosen on the theme of uncertainty. These included ‘Everything I Know About War’, on the plight of refugees, from her Leap collection. She finished with a Specular poem, which form Julia Copus devised, apparently. Copus began her reading with ‘This is the Poem in Which I Have Not Left You,’ on the theme of wanting to change the past. She is not afraid to let her poems breathe in the silent space she allowed each at the end. I liked this. Her own specular, ‘Raymond at 60,’ about her father, preceded three poems from a sequence, ‘Ghosts,’ about longed-for parenthood.

Paul Batchelor and Jean Sprackland
Batchelor’s opening poem was ‘Keening,’ for the Northumbrian poet Barry Macsweeney. My favourites were ‘Seated Figure with Arms Raised,’ picking up on Walton’s theme of uncertainty; ‘To A Halver,’ an expansive litany about the good and the bad of rioting. You can read it here.
Jean Sprackland read the title poem and others from her forthcoming collection (Sept 2013), Sleeping Keys, about objects in an abandoned house.

James Caruth and Bernard O’Donoghue
Several echoes here. Their readings were my favourites of the day. Belfast-born Caruth read ‘The Deposition,’ which won the Sheffield Poetry Prize in 2011.The poem compares Caravaggio’s painting (The Deposition From the Cross) to the famous photograph of father Edward Daly on Bloody Sunday. His Poetry Business pamphlet, Marking the Lambs (which includes this poem) was my must-read on the journey back to Leicester. O’Donoghue, born in County Cork, describes himself as Manchester-Irish. His poem, ‘Tinker,’ echoed Caruth’s poem for Tommy MacCarthy. In another Caruth-O’Donoghue echo, ‘Vanishing Point’ takes as its subject an Observer newspaper photograph of a young, dead Afghan soldier in Nov 2001.

In the final break between events, I caught the setting sun’s reflected heat from the metal walls of the pods. Looking up, I could read Andrew Motion’s cliff poem on another Sheffield Hallam building.

Paula Cunningham and Gillian Clarke
For Cunningham, the 1999 Poetry Business competition winner, the evening saw the launch of her first collection, Heimlich’s Manoeuvre. A Belfast poet and part-time dentist, her childhood was dominated by her country’s significant border. In ‘Mother’s Pride,’ the slicing of bread is a metaphor for her divided Ireland. (Read it here in the Sheffield Poetry Festival issue of Antiphon). Gillian Clarke, the Welsh National Poet, is a real ambassador for the art and a treat to hear. Hotfoot from The Hay Festival (where I heard her read last year, the only warmth in a very cold, wet day). She opened with ‘an unplaceable poem,’ ‘Daughter,’ for the parents of April Jones. Then to her collection, Ice, shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize 2012. The opening poem, ‘Polar,’ about a bearskin rug, is one of Clarke’s earliest childhood memories. ‘Home For Christmas’ harnesses the Child within the Adult, the delight in snow.

Then, coffee and homemade carrot cake in The Showroom cinema bar opposite (at £3.25 for the two, it would have been rude not to), the short hop across the road to the station serving to underline my appalling sense of direction…

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Saboteur Awards 2013

The occasion: Sabotage awards evening cum 3rd birthday bash – a celebration of the best in indie publishing, as decided by open online vote.

The Venue: The Book Club in London’s trendy Shoreditch.

The hosts: Sabotage review team – Richard Watson (Fiction)

– Claire Trevien (Poetry)

– James Webster (Performance)

The vibe: lively, alternative (to a provincial poet).

Room’s distinctive features: cellar bar with an amazing false ceiling crammed with light bulbs; bar with white-tiled back wall featuring cocktail list, including one Shoreditch Tw*t.

Also on offer: a mini book fair.

It was lovely to see a familiar face at the bar in Jonathan Taylor, and to catch up with Agnes Marton whom I met earlier this year at a poetry residential in Cumbria run by Kim Moore and Jennifer Copley.

The runners-up and winners in each category were announced by the Sabotage team. Most of the winners were there to receive their no-expense-spared rosettes and to take their five minutes of fame behind the mike. There was much banter with the audience and general hilarity.

Award winners by category as follows:

Best One-off: Shake the Dust. Jacob Sam La Rose and his team were there and talked briefly about this schools slam poetry initiative and to introduce two young voices who then performed a short, spliced piece.

Best Short Story Collection: Tony Williams’ All the Bananas I’ve Ever Eaten.

Best Magazine: Rising. Its ethos: ‘tough on poetry, tough on the causes of poetry.’

Best Poetry Pamphlet: Charlotte Newman’s Selected Poems.

Best Spoken Word Performer: Vanessa Kisuule. (Click here for this Hammer & Tongue finalist’s performance of ‘Even Now’).
Best Regular Spoken Word Night: Bang Said the Gun
Best Spoken Word Show: Martin Figura’s ‘Whistle.’
Best Poetry Anthology: Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot.
Best Fiction Anthology: ‘Overheard: Stories to be Read Aloud.’ Jonathan Taylor read his story from the anthology.
Best Mixed Anthology: ‘Estuary: a Confluence of Art & Poetry.’ Agnes Marton spoke about these pairings of visual art and poetry in conversation with each other. (Click here to view pages from this beautifully produced book).
Best Novella: Luke Kennard’s Holophin.
Most Innovative Publisher: Penned in the Margins.

I’d have stayed for the musical conclusion to the evening, but it had been a long day and I decided to catch the penultimate train home – after making a couple of purchases at the book fair on the way out, of course: Binders Full of Women (click here to read online or download/donate) and Poems for Pussy Riot (read more here).

My apologies to all the runners-up and for missing details of the winners due to running out of notebook pages. An in-depth post will soon be available on the Sabotage site (click here).