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Sheffield Poetry Festival

I was lucky enough to attend the Sheffield poetry Festival last week where I saw the lovely River Woolton alongside Julia Copus.  I met River in 2009 at the first live poetry event I had attended, not counting the Liverpool poets whom I’d seen a few times some twenty years earlier.

While nervously waiting for my spot on the mike at the lovely Y theatre in Leicester some four years ago,  I got chatting to this tall and friendly person who, unbeknown to me, was the headline act. We talked about writing and life in general as we leant on a wall and sipped our beers. I was very surprised when the headline act was announced and River smiled at me before taking the stage and winning the rapt attention of the audience.

Many of the poems were from her Smiths/Doorstop collection ‘The Purpose of Your Visit’ (2008) which remains one of my favourite poetry pamphlets.  A selection of the pamphlet poems later appeared in River’s full length collection ‘Leap’. Since that evening our paths have crossed several times and River always greets me with a lovely smile and an enquiry as to my poetry progress. So it was great to see River and to hear her read before Julia Copus delivered some of her deceptively simple sounding and wonderfully fluid poems.

I stayed for the rest of the excellent programme, which included Jim Caruth, Bernard O’Donoghue and Jean Sprackland. I’d seen Jean read before and been a fan of her work since I’d read her brilliant collections ‘Tilt’ and ‘Hard Water’.  Jean read exclusively from her new book ‘Sleeping Keys’ which will be out with Cape in September this year. Jean is one of the poets whose collection I await eagerly and purchase on publication. I was pleased to be able to say hello again and to tell her how much I’d liked the new work, particularly a poem which had some scaffolders and scaffolding in it. I mentioned that Kim Moore also has an excellent and very moving poem ‘ A Psalm for the Scaffolders ’  which you can read on The Troubadour Prize 2013 website along with the other winning poems.

Discovery of the day for me was Northumberland based poet Paul Batchelor. I wasn’t familiar with Paul’s work having somehow missed him, but after his reading I immediately bought his 2008 Bloodaxe collection ‘The Sinking Road.’  Paul read some of his longer poems including a great piece about coal as well as his epic  ‘To a Halver’ which is addressed to the half brick of the title.
The lovely little poem below is from ‘The Sinking Road’ and you can read this and other poems at the Poetry Archive.  

Tree Climbing

Grasp this: it doesn’t matter if the rasp
of bark to palm is second nature or
if this is your first time, there are

no experts: ash or oak, the look of bole
or canopy means nothing till you throw
yourself off balance, wrap

your feet around the branch you hold
and from that new perspective see
how the world hangs: head over heels

it all floods back to a heart
that won’t forget vertigo’s bloodrush
nor come down when they call.

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