Hay Festival 2018 – Part 1: Poets, Art, Ambience and the Taste of Words

hay festival 2018I’ve just spent three days immersed in the excitement and inspiration of the Hay Festival, writing about Welsh writers and enjoying the sunshine (with a little mud, lightning and rain thrown in for good measure) so here are some of my poetic highlights from the first few days of Hay 2018…

On Saturday morning I arrived bright and early to get a good parking spot and soak up the atmosphere. It was damp and foggy, but soon brightened up enough for an ice cream (gooseberry crumble flavour – the best I’ve ever tasted!).  

Kayo Chingonyi, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize

Kayo Chingonyi poet

Kayo Chingonyi being interviewed by John Gower

I enjoyed hearing Kayo Chingonyi speak about his poetry. He grew up in Zambia, in a multilingual household, where his first language was Bemba. He spoke about enjoying “the taste and texture of words… their chewiness or bitterness” and explained that he often speaks the words out loud whilst writing. He said the prize has encouraged him to continue experimenting with new work.

Poetic Responses to Gustav Klimt

I was very excited to hear three poets performing their work written in response to artwork by Gustav Klimt, commissioned by Bradford Literature Festival to coincide with the centenary of his death. It was an immersive experience, with readings performed alongside images and music.

Shazea Quraishi wrote in response to his most famous work – The Kiss, and explained her process of using the painting as a springboard for a poetic thread which begins with a focus on being held, as if the people in the painting were the only two people in the world, and feeding into a wider narrative about love and loss, and her own experience of seeing the Thames Whale with her young son. She began the poem as a sestina, but changed it as the form felt too rigid, explaining that “it has the ghost of a sestina in it” but was also inspired by Whale song.

poetry in response to klimt

Aviva Dautch performing her work

Aviva Dautch responded to the artwork entitled Fulfilment, also known as The Embrace. She initially struggled to identify with this painting, but her final piece was both beautiful and sad. It was interesting to hear her describe the writing process as a form of translation from one medium to another, pointing out that Klimt was himself inspired by other artists.

Jo Brandon wrote in response to The Three Ages of Woman, and was intrigued by the contrast between the beautifully portrayed mother and child, and the old crone standing side on, her head covered from view. The poems will be performed again at Bradford Literature Festival in July.

Simon Armitage on Bob Dylan

Simon Armitage delivered a wonderfully entertaining and fascinating lecture on the subject of Bob Dylan, examining his songs in the context of poetic criticism and the controversial Nobel Prize for Literature which he was awarded in 2016. My favourite quote (and the one which received the biggest applause) delivered after an intricate and close metrical analysis of ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol’, was this: “but scansion in poetry, as I’ve just proved, is boring”.

Armitage concluded that, when examined as poetry, Dylan’s lyrics are full of flaws, but that it is these very flaws which give the song a sense of “unpretentious authenticity”, exactly what was needed for a protest song about ordinary people treated unfairly by those in positions of power and authority. He added that, when examined as a musical piece, it becomes clear that the song is in fact a waltz, adding an extra level of tragic irony, as it becomes a macabre waltz between Hattie and her killer William Zantzinger.

part of the Ambient Lit piece - Words We Never Wrote

part of the Ambient Lit piece – Words We Never Wrote

Ambient Stories and Artwork in a Bookshop

I happened across some rather odd-looking things in Richard Booths Bookshop on Monday morning, and discovered that I’d walked into an art installation. It was an audio piece which you could listen to as you wandered around the bookshop, approaching various artworks in turn to hear sections of the story. It turned out that the creators of this piece were running a workshop that afternoon, so I ended up going along and discovering the weird and wonderful world of ambient literature – stories created with sound effects, using physical space and mobile phones as a starting point.

The workshop was interesting, though limited in impact due to the distracting and noisy crowds outside the tent. But it has certainly provided food for thought. You can download examples of ambient lit from their website.

Watch out for part 2 of my Hay Festival Experience later this week… or take a look at my piece in Click on Wales about Welsh writers at Hay, including interviews with some of the ‘Writers at Work’

ambient literature

3 thoughts on “Hay Festival 2018 – Part 1: Poets, Art, Ambience and the Taste of Words

  1. Gooseberry crumble ice-cream?? Was that from a vendor on the site – if so which one please (i am planning to be at Hay on Friday). Now you’ve got my curiousity awakened also with the installation in Booth’s bookshop I’m just going to have to find a way to fit in a visit there…..

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