Poetry and Magic – Festival Day 1

The Gazebo Garden in the East Pallant car park is a tranquil and secluded space to spend time that many people who use Havant all the time don’t know or forget about. It was an excellent setting for some of the performers in the Word on the Street event.

During my visit, I enjoyed listening to Ann Crowe and Judith Worley who encouraged audience participation in some of their recitations of poems on the Festival theme of water, including an extract from Beowulf about a battle with sea monsters, and ending with Henry Newbold’s rousing response to Turner’s painting of ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ .

They were followed by a set from members of Write Angle, a writing and performing group from Petersfield, who offered an amusing and entertaining blend of their own poetry and music. Write Angle hold regular ‘open mic’ nights at their home venue at the Square Brewery in Petersfield and poetry cabaret nights, the next one on Tuesday. Find out more on their website. There is another opportunity to see Write Angle at the Poetry and Pints event at the Robin Hood on Thursday 1st October at 7:30pm (free entry, but you’ll have to pay for your beer!).

My next stop was for a look around the book fair at the URC, plenty to choose from both fiction and non fiction and I also relaxed with a cup of tea in the Festival Bistro.

Later on, I attended Philip Carr-Gomm’s fascinating talk on English Magic, based on his newly published book co-written with Richard Heygate. Book info and Philip’s website

Philip outlined the history of how England came to be a centre of magical tradition, drawing on influences from many different parts of the world through. He also spoke about different types of magic and its practioners and how it touches every part of our lives, often when we don’t recognise its presence. For instance, how astrologer and scholar John Dee influenced Elizabeth 1st in matters of state and personal affairs and whether Cherie Blair’s lifestyle advisor Carol Caplin could be regarded as a magic practitioner through her use of holistic healing and health advice.

Certainly, in the past the ‘healing arts’ were looked on as magical and we don’t yet know enough about the brain to know why it responds to the ‘placebo effect’. 

Philip commented on the extent to which we all respond to magic in our surroundings, particularly in the natural world and the wider universe and how this resounded in his own druidic spirituality and practice including the artistic sphere of poetry and music. This was brought to us at the event by bardic harpist John Corin and in the display of pagan inspired art.

I wonder when Prince Charles becomes monarch, who his advisors might include and how they will be perceived by the public and the media?

Later when the event was opened to questions from the floor a spectrum of opinions and attitudes emerged from members of the audience as to what magic is and whether it exists. Philip’s book was sadly beyond my pocket for the moment, but one of my personal experiences of magic is that money, items and even people often come into my life at times when they are really needed, not just desired.

In the best theatrical tradition…

It is said that a bad dress rehearsal can precede a wildly successful first night so tonight’s Opening Ceremony  at Havant Arts Centre ought to mean a great Festival ahead!

It was wonderful  to see a big crowd, with many of our honoured guest speakers and patrons present. Festival Director Lucy Flannery introduced Havant Mayor,  Councillor Jackie Branson and Caroline Lucas MEP who both gave us cracking opening speeches with lots of encouragement for new writers and the importance and significance of literature in all of our lives.

Competition winners were announced and prizes awarded and further speeches followed. Find out who won what on the competitions page.

Unfortunately many of these words were difficult to hear for those furthest from the stage due to the microphone being out of commission – this was really sad, and if anyone videoed the whole event with sound,  let us know and we will try and get it on the website.

Then came the grand finale – the fire alarm bells pealed out and we were all ushered out into the car park, the most astute still clutching their wine glasses.  It didn’t look like we were going to get back in any time soon so myself and my companions retreated to a nearby restaurant.

Lucy, don’t stress about this – it has taken many long hours of organisation to make this Festival happen. You have done a superb job and we will all see the results of your hard work in the coming days.

Break a leg.

What is a Poetry Slam?

BBC Radio 4 introduces COMPETITIVE poetry tonight (Thursday 24th September) at 11pm. A high octane content is guaranteed, with marks awarded for content, delivery and audience response.

A selection of modern poets will perform their work live for the judges during the first of a 3 part series. We pick up the competition at the semi-final stage.

Competititors from around the country have already performed and have won or been eliminated in heats at Exeter,  Edinburgh, Birmingham, Belfast, Brighton, Newport, Newcastle, Manchester and London, with two performers from each heat getting through to the semi-finals.

This first program comes from Bluecoats in Liverpool and is hosted by poetry performer Dreadlockalien.

Next week’s second semi-final comes from the Arts Centre in Reading and the final at the Conservatoire in Birmingham on Tuesday 6th October at 7pm, appropriately on National Poetry Day.

For free tickets for the recording of the Poetry Slam final,, please visit the Birmingham Book Festival website or ring 0121 303 2323.

Programmes will be available on BBC Iplayer/Listen again after transmission.

The Big Countdown

With only a few days left to go to the start of the festival, tickets are selling well and some events are already sold out – please check the programme pages – see sidebar right – before you phone to book.

There have been some changes to the programme too – I’ve been ‘tweeting’ all the updates, but if you aren’t a Twitterer, you might like to visit the programme pages to ensure that the event you plan to attend is in the same place and the same time.

One particular one to note is the ‘Poetry and Pints’ event on Thursday 1st October is now at the Robin Hood, not the Star, due to a change of management at the original venue.

I’ll also take the opportunity to remind you about the three exhibitions and events that run throughout the Festival.

The Arthur Conan Doyle and Read ON exhibitions are located in the Meridian Centre, Calligraphy and Art over Water exhibitions are at Nineveh in The Pallant (the street next to Waitrose), and Childrens’s Colouring Competition and Shop Window Library Quiz are at Bookends in High Street Emsworth.

The very first event will be the Grand Opening and Prize Giving Ceremony at the Arts Centre (The Spring) in East Street, starting at 6pm.

Come here every day during the Festival to find out what is on next and reports on what you missed!