Re-entry -after the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival

aldeburghIt’s hard returning to earth when you have been roaming around in a different universe, hopping on and off stars and planets, having conversations you wouldn’t have anywhere else, hearing voices that lift you off your feet and send you spinning. That would be you, Tony Hoagland, Kim Addonizio, Choman Hardy, among others. Yes, I’m back at home in Leicester after a truly exceptional weekend of poetry, more poetry, meeting up with friends, making new ones.I arrived in Aldeburgh late Thursday afternoon-it gave me a little more time by the sea the main festival mostly takes place at Snape Maltings. I stayed one night at the Brudenell Hotel and then checked in to the apartment near the High Street I have rented for the past four years. The Brudenell is at one end of the sea-front-the sea almost laps at its steps. My room wasn’t overlooking the sea-rather expensive these- but it was good to look out over the street, over garages, and at the marshes beyond.

boat aldeburgh

I remembered that when I started coming to Aldeburgh ten years ago I would collect sunrises, photo after photo. This one was taken on Saturday morning. I was up at 6.30 am and wandered over the pebbles to catch the sun before the clouds blurred it. I love how it tints the sea and warms the pastel colours of the houses. Kim Moore has summed up on her blog just why this festival was exceptional, not least hearing poets, like Addonizio, Hardy and Hoagland that take you somewhere else. Robin Houghton has also given a good overview of the festive on her blog ( not least about threats to its funding) and has drawn attention to other festival stars. Zaffar Kunial was the stand-out poet for me in the New Voices reading although all of the poets were confident performers and held their own. Zaffar’s pamphlet is one of the Faber New Poets series, No. 11. From ‘A Drink at the Door’- ‘Like a burr stuck in the folds of my scarf,/this light has trailed me longer than I knew./ Out there, the darkness also has a hand/in these refractions.’

Before Kim Addonizio’s workshop on Friday afternoon, I drove into Thorpeness,  braving heavy rain to have a look at this windmill and the famous ‘House in the Clouds’

windmill ThorpenessThe House in the Clouds Thorpeness

The theme of this year’s festival was ‘Poetry and Freedom’ which revealed itself  in many different ways. I arrived at Kim’s workshop, ‘Screw Decorum:  a little damp but was warmed by the discussion of what constitutes ‘decorum’ in poems; how this changes from culture to culture. And as for taboos-certainly the body, sexuality, a combination of both, rank highly here. We wrote a poem about a deep dark secret, not for airing in public but for allowing the genie out of the bottle. It’s true to say that, as Kim said, we need to be very careful and attentive to our craft but if we don’t say what we really need to we may become blocked. How do we attain the right balance? She quoted the wonderful Tony Hoagland who has spoken about the ‘ruthless observer’, a ‘spiteful and perceptive angel’, who sees and tells unimpeded by niceties and second thoughts. Here is a line from one of the poems we looked at, ‘The Pope’s Penis’, by Sharon Olds, that exemplifies these traits: ‘It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate/clapper at the centre of a bell.’

Later Hoagland gave a stunning, rapid-fire, scintillatingly intellectual and accessible talk on Olds, ‘The Inventive Heart’, which positioned her in far more interesting ways than as a merely ‘confessional poet’, label often ascribed to her. His own reading was a tour de force of passion, craft, ‘ruthless observation’, as was Addonizio’s, the taboos a-blazing in searing, and, for the poem, ‘Penis Blues’, ‘I would like to order a penis , please,/with dressing on the side.’, an ‘scratch’ blues accompaniment of three brave male volunteers from the audience (Roy Marshall, I salute you). Kim rounded off the reading with storming blues harmonica tune of her own. It was ‘just the thing’ – an energetic high-point and a difficult act for John Burnside to follow.

I could mention so much about the weekend: Michael McCarthy and Christine Webb’s finely pitched and paired reading ‘Duet’: Helen Mort, Kei Miller and Dorothea Smartt; Helen’s engaging talk on Norman MacCaig and metaphor; Dean Parkin’s launch of his ‘ ‘The Swan Machine’; the weather which poured and blustered but on Friday night, back in Aldeburgh, was calm and mild, and, for a while, a liquorice haze hung over the sea and it seemed as if the town might slip its moorings and float up into the sky.

Enough of this waxing lyrical. I’m in Leicester, at work, and the nights are back to normal, closing in in a bad way. It was an exceptional Aldeburgh which will stay with me for a long time. There are still books to buy. Tony Hoagland’s had sold out by the end of his reading. A big thank you to Dean Parkin and all at The Poetry Trust. It is very sad that this will be Dean’s last year as Creative Director and that funding looks threatened. However, full houses and high book sales must suggest that this Festival can thrive. Fingers crossed. I want to return for another helping next year.

These last lines come from the beginning of ‘Lives of the Poets’ by Kim Addonizio:

One stood among the violets
listening to a bird. One went to the toilet
and was struck by the moon.One felt hopeless
until a trumpet crash, and then, lo,
he became a diamond.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. grandavies says:

    It was such a special event. I agree about Choman Hardi and Tony Hoagland. Didn’t know either of them before the festival but I’ll be getting to know them better now. Loved Addonizio’s and Smartt’s readings. And Kei Miller: what can I say? Brilliant reading as ever and a wonderful talk on ‘the image that doesn’t close’. Came home inspired. And good to see you again too 🤗

  2. It was good to see you too, Rachel. Such a special, inspirational festival.

  3. jaynestanton says:

    Pam, it’s lovely to read your personal account of Aldeburgh. I’m hoping that funding is found to keep the festival going, not least because I’m saving my first visit until the time when I can enjoy a slow deflation on a Monday morning, mid-autumn term. (Read: positive self-talk). Sounds like you’re feeling suitably refreshed, though. 🙂 x

  4. Jayne, I really hope it continues and you get the chance to go. You need that Monday free to ‘re-enter’. Last year I was more tense as I had to drive back and teach but not so this time.

  5. E.E. Nobbs says:

    Enjoyed your post very much. I expect that many people who go, are like you – and make it an annual pilgrimage.I like the poems I’ve read of Kim Addonizio’s and I admire her use of form – so it’s great to learn more about her. And the issues of decorum, non-decorum & balance. Thanks 🙂

  6. Yes, Elly, it is a unique festival. This year’s was better than ever. I think Kim A has influenced me a lot this time-we need to be bold and at the same time, hone our craft even more. Thank you.

  7. Thanks Pam, this was a good read… and I love the photos! You’ve reminded me that I didn’t mention Dorothea Smartt in my account – I was really pulled into her poems, loved the way her accent moved seamlessly from London to Caribbean and back, and she looked so stunning.

  8. Thanks Robin. She was amazing wasn’t she.

  9. Great to catch up with you at Aldeburgh Pam, and I love this blog. In the discussion on Freedom Tony Hoagland mentioned the ‘self-authorized liberation’ of writing. I love that phrase so much – it’s already helped to keep me going during the drafting process: giving myself permission to delve deeper…

  10. So lovely to see you too.Hang on to that phrase, yes. You should always have permission to delve deeper. Me too. Strange how we need these permissions. Looking forward to finding you in Brighton xx

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