On Having Dreamt of Home
Greenbelt 2011 was only my second experience of the festival and my first as a contributor but that’s easily enough to make me hanker more than ever after becoming a regular Greenbelter.
I can think of nothing I wouldn’t classify as a highlight, although I know that sounds rather contradictory. The only possible exception is the weather, but that was hardly abysmal! (Also, the fact of the bookshop hadn’t managed to get hold of The Ambulance Box was something of a disappointment, but let’s not dwell on that one.)
My sessions went very well. On the Saturday afternoon, we had a great workshop, although a programming quirk put the Greenbelt scratch choir — all 101 adult voices of it — in the neighbouring room through a thin partition for the second hour. Everyone engaged well in the exercises and discussion; and as ever, I was dead impressed with much of the writing that was produced in the final exercise. It’s always fascinating to see how setting the same task for several different people can produce such a variety of good results.
Likewise, the reading on the Sunday went extremely well. Judging by this photograph — taken by my friend Jonathan Watkins, one of the official Greenbelt photographers — there were about 40 people there! They were an engaged audience and asked some really interesting, intelligent questions at the end. (You can buy a CD or MP3 of the session here. It’s £4.50 for the CD or £3.50 for the download; that’s 45 min of poetry plus the Q&A for under a fiver!)
As is now traditional, here’s my set for that reading:
- Improvisation for the Angel Who Announces the End of Time
- Fallen Icons of the Angel Barbie
- MacAdam Essays the Meaning of Loss
- MacAdam Takes to the Road
- MacAdam Takes to the Sea
- six poems from Pilgrim Variations: “The Departure Board”, “To the Naked Eye”, “Eschatology for Dummies”, “Fire Storm”, “Via Negativa” and “The Welcoming Committee”
- Personal Space
- The White Dot
- The Invention of Zero
- Dream Family Holiday
- 45 Minutes
- Bereavement Fir Dummies
- two poems from 10 x 10: “The Ravelling” and “Ferrous Sulphate”
- Breathing Is the Place to Start
I’ve had some great feedback on the reading and the workshop. If you’re interested, read some of it here and here on my Facebook page, and see what Annie Porthouse has to say on her blog. Speaking of feedback, I have absolutely nothing but praise for Ben Whitehouse (Greenbelt literature co-ordinator), the rest of literature team and the army of volunteers who helped to run everything. They’re fantastic.
Aside from that, I managed to catch Billy Bragg and Soweto Kinch — both tremendous in their different ways — on the main stage; catch up with some friends, including a couple whom I last saw at Greenbelt in 2003 or 2004; meet some folk I’ve known online for quite some time through Subway; and meet a whole slew of new folk, including the Inverness-based (performance) poet El Gruer, who is worth checking out, and Nancy Mattson, whose work — also entirely new to me — was a genuine find.
For me, though, perhaps the best thing to come out of Greenbelt was a renewed sense of what I’m doing in writing all this poetry and presenting it to the world is not just a nice little ego trip for me and a moment’s entertainment for a few folk in a drafty tent or noisy pub, but in some shape or form a spiritual service. I’m aware that can sound somewhat grandiose, but I don’t mean it that way. I suppose it’s simply about being, as the Northumbria Community would put it, available and vulnerable through the poetry to whomever I come into contact with as a result of the work. That’s the opposite of grandiose, really, because it requires humility and openness. Here’s hoping that sense remains.