Highlights from the Cardiff Poetry Festival 2020

Tony CurtisNow in its third year, the Cardiff Poetry Festival (run by Seren Books) has moved to a new venue. The Temple of Peace is a strange looking building, a cross-between a war memorial and a beacon of hope – it looks rather grim on the outside, especially in this weekend’s torrential rain, but it is quite magnificent on the inside. The festival itself included a mix of poetry readings, workshops and talks, but the highlight for me was Cherry Smyth’s performance of an incredible poetic sequence which evokes the horror and hunger of the Irish potato famine, accompanied by jazz singer Lauren Kinsella.   

Cherry White's performance of 'Famished' accompanied by Lauren Kinsella

Cherry White’s performance of ‘Famished’ accompanied by Lauren Kinsella

Their performance incorporated the haunting sounds of hunger itself, of poverty, loss and despair, along with the appalling statistics of the numbers who died, quotes from newspapers and the arrogant voices of English landowners: ‘Why don’t they eat fish?’ and ‘I say, who’s that wretch, stepping on the lawn?’, interspersed with the repetition of that familiar rhyme: ‘One potato, two potato, three potato, four, five potato, six potato, seven potato, more’, counting down each time.

I really enjoyed attending three of the writing workshops, including an inspiring workshop run by Carrie Etter on writing prose poetry, and workshops led by Rhian Edwards and Sandeep Parmar. Attending three workshops in two days has certainly kick-started my own writing again!

The Temple of PeaceTony Curtis gave a fascinating talk about his lifelong interest in seeking inspiration from visual art, and the day ended with the prize-giving ceremony for the new Wales Poetry Award – an interesting mix of poetic styles appeared in the shortlist.

Wales Poetry Award prize-giving ceremonyThis year’s festival had a good vibe, and it felt a lot more accessible than last year in terms of price, with some fairly low-cost events, and free entry to the Wales Poetry Award event for Poetry Wales subscribers. The café set-up seemed to work well too, provided by local charity Oasis Cardiff, and the venue itself was warm, with plenty of places to hang wet coats, and parking spaces right outside.

The festival continues today, with more events and workshops, and I look forward to going again next year…