I am home sweet home after 10 days at Hay, exhausted, tanned and a lot more cultured. What a time! Following on from my first long weekend I got up relatively early on Wednesday and went along to the Ritzy Stage on the main festival site to see Seren poet Pascale Petit read from her poetry collection What The Water Gave Me interpreting the life and work of Frida Kahlo, a favourite painter of mine. The poems are insightful and emotionally charged. Later Pascale talks about using Frida as a mask, a way to talk of the difficult times in her own life without writing confessional poetry, or drawing the spotlight to close to herself. The technique is very effective. Afterwards I spent Wednesday preparing for the Hay Poetry Jamboree, working through my reading list, and catching up with friends to see comedy (Ross Noble) and music (The fabulous Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club, one of my long-standing albums to write to, and quite brilliant live).
Thursday saw the launch of the three-day fringe poetry festival – Hay Poetry Jamboree – featuring plenty of poets, poetry lovers and sunshine. After an hour of wine and chatter we were treated to two outstanding performances by Childe Roland (aka Peter Meilleur) and former editor of Poetry Wales, Robert Minhinnick. Both poets embrace the visual in their work. Roland displayed the world’s biggest pop-up book – a long stretch of concertinaed white paper along one length of the wall – and performed A Pearl, and an extract from Ham & Jam accompanied by the charming poet Sophie McKeand (one-to-watch). Minhinnick read poetic narrative from his new book Fairground Music (Gomer) examining the seaside holiday resort of Porthcawl . His readings were accompanied by live music and projections of the witty photographs taken by Eamon Bourke. I found both to be fascinating, mesmerising sessions offering plenty of inspiration on performance possibilities for word and the image, a current obsession of mine in new work. I’d recommend you have a read of the latest issue of Poetry Wales for some great essays and examples on this.
Friday morning and it was my turn to take to the stage, to host the Word Cloud session and perform poetry along with confident young talents Mab Jones, Sion Tomos Owen and Jack Pascoe. The event was fun, eliciting laughs, further experiments and new ideas. You can see some of the word clouds online.
Lucy Llewellyn interviews Tyler Keevil and James Smythe, my fellow BYTs
Afterwards I dashed up to catch the last few minutes of my fellow Bright Young Things (new novelists Tyler Keevil and James Smythe) in discussion with our Parthian editor Lucy Llewellyn before we grabbed a quick bite to eat and a natter. It was exactly a year since we had been up in Hay promoting the Nu: fiction & stuff anthology and meeting each other for the first time. Luckily we get on incredibly well. After a quick interview with a journalist from Swansea Life magazine Tyler, Lucy and I headed back to the Poetry Jamboree to see a great selection of short films curated by Elysium Gallery as well as poetry from a number of the festival poets includingKeri Finlayson, Claudia Azzola, and Samantha Rhydderch. We also managed to squeeze in to Rachel Trezise’s standing room only event in Hay Library talking about life in the South Wales valleys before the final poetry event of the day – Geraldine Monk and Alan Halsey rounded up my Friday night. I have only recently discovered Geraldine’s impressively innovative work, but instantly adored it. In person the Sheffield-based poet is exactly as sharp-witted and wide-eyed delightful as I imagined, and gave an engaging performance. I recommend this book if you want to get to know her work better too: The Salt Companion to Geraldine Monk.
On Saturday literary types who were at Hay for the long haul were starting to flag. Energies had to be revived with big breakfasts, plenty of caffeine and some sofa-based reading in Richard Booth’s bookshop with some good pals visiting from London. Body and soul revived slightly it was time for the final day of the Hay Poetry Jamboree, withPoetry Wales at the helm of programming. The afternoon event featured readings by the journal’s editor Zoe Skoulding as well as contributors Randolph Healy, Ian Davidson, Jean Portante, and Carol Watts. Afterwards we took it in turns to feed performance artist Kathryn Ashill cake in the chapel vestry before gathering for the festival finale. Magical performances from poets Elisabeth Bletsoe and Caroline Bergvall led us deep into the evening before plenty of happy poets danced along to dada band Chicken of the Woods. Good times.
On Sunday my good friend Naomi calls me early, acting as personal alarm clock to allow me plenty of time to pack my bags before my last performance of the main festival. Bags packed, flowery frock picked and hair straightened I headed to the Green Room to meet up with my fellow readers Mathew Andrews and Niti Jain and our interviewer Dr Paul Wright. After we had planned the running order of the session we joined friends to eat strawberries on the green before taking to the stage in Culture Cymru. We were there to read from our debut publications and talk about the pros and cons of Creative Writing programmes. Whether the cost was worth it, and whether writing could actually be taught.
Wales Book of the Year Shortlist 2010
After our discussion and the ensuing Q&A session with the audience we cleared the stage and grabbed a glass of bubbly in anticipation of the next event – the announcement of the shortlist for the Wales Book of the Year 2010. My guess work was completely out, I only got one prediction right for each language category (Philip Gross and Caryl Lewis, if you are interested). So probably for the best that I didn’t place a bet!
The three titles on the English-language short list are:
I Spy Pinhole Eye, Philip Gross (Cinnamon)
The Compilation of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, Nikola Tolstoy (The Edwin Mellen Press)
Carry Me Home, Terri Wilshire (Macmillan)
The three titles on the Welsh-language short list are:
Naw Mis, Caryl Lewis (Y Lolfa)
Banerog, Hywel Griffiths (Y Lolfa)
Cymru: Y 100 lle i’w gweld cyn marw, John Davies (Y Lolfa)
Ian Gregson, Chair of the English-language panel said: “This very diverse list contains a novel, a book of poems and a work of criticism: together they constitute an excitingly challenging set of texts which illustrates the powerfully innovative writing which is currently emerging in Wales.”
The English-and Welsh-language winners will be announced on Wednesday 30 June 2010at ‘a Glittering Ceremony at The St David’s Hotel & Spa, Cardiff’ where each winner will receive a cheque for £10,000 and the four runners-up will each receive £1,000. The evening will be presented by BBC Political Editor, Betsan Powys and the winners will be awarded by Minister for Heritage, Alun Ffred Jones. Actor Steffan Rhodriwill be the guest speaker. Meanwhile if you disagree with the shortlists you can vote for your favourite in the People’s Choice Award.