Ledbury Poetry Festival – Celebrating Diversity

Daljit Nagra reading poetry

A week after the UK voted to separate itself from the EU, people gathered in Ledbury to enjoy poetry from all over Europe and further afield. I attended the festival for just one day, and the highlight was a Versopolis event, which included poets from Britain, France, Germany, Croatia, Norway and Austria. Versopolis is an organisation which gives European poets the opportunity to reach new audiences, having their work translated and performing at festivals. The festival was, of course, planned long before the referendum took place, and yet it seemed like every aspect of it was designed to celebrate diversity, encourage cross-border collaboration and create links with Europe and other parts of the world.   

Karen McCarthy Woolf (UK), Kim Moore (UK), Judith Nika Pfeifer (Austria), Samantha Barendson (France)

Karen McCarthy Woolf (UK), Kim Moore (UK), Judith Nika Pfeifer (Austria), Samantha Barendson (France)

I particularly enjoyed Samantha Barendson’s performance. She was born in Spain, grew up in Argentina and Mexico and now lives in France. She read her work in French whilst Daljit Nagra read the translated English versions. They performed one poem entitled ‘Writing’ in which they read simultaneously, their voices intertwining and echoing each other. It ended with the succinct line:

“Writing is risking poetry. And living.”


Monica Aasprong (Norway), Andre Rudolph (Germany), Jonathan Edwards (UK), Goran (Croatia)

Monica Aasprong (Norway), Andre Rudolph (Germany), Jonathan Edwards (UK), Goran Čolakhodžić (Croatia)

I enjoyed hearing Kim Moore reading poems from a new sequence, entitled ‘All the men I never married’. She described one of them as “depressing”, but I found it quite poignant – observing pain and discord in the life of a stranger and attempting to ignore it, to pretend it didn’t happen. Although it was about domestic violence, it seemed also to be particularly relevant to the current refugee crisis which Britain seems to have forgotten about in recent days.

‘We Are All from Somewhere Else’

This event, with Daljit Nagra and Ruth Padel, included readings and discussion on the themes of India and migration. Daljit described the process of researching for his epic poem / collection ‘Ramayana’, explaining that there are numerous and varied versions of the story in different parts of the world, which began as part of the oral storytelling tradition. He read a poem which described the snootiness of a British Indian family travelling back to India to buy dowry gifts for a wedding, with the final line: “spinning a penny to some limbless in a bucket”.

PEN – Poetry in Protest

Ruth Padel reading poetry

Ruth Padel

Ruth Padel began her reading with a PEN poem (part of a campaign to highlight poets at risk around the world). It was written by Lu Xia who has been under house arrest since her husband won the Nobel Laureate for human rights work in 2010. She can’t speak to anyone or read her husband’s letters, and the media has only managed to speak to her once during the last six years.

Padel read some of her own poems on the theme of migration, including some which examine the migration flight of birds, such as the Bar-Headed Geese which fly over the Himalayas. Other poems were quite stark, exploring the horrific experiences of refugees.

Fleur Adcock reading poetry

Fleur Adcock

Fleur Adcock also read a poem by Lu Xia, about a child who is mute, and Hannah Lowe’s PEN poem was by Mahvash Sabet, one of seven Baha’i leaders currently serving prison sentences in Tehran. It felt strange, but necessary, to hear these disembodied voices from across the world, and fitted well with the theme of global diversity which seemed to run through the day.

Hannah Lowe read poems in the voice of her father, speaking about his own father, who was a Chinese shopkeeper living in Jamaica, and his Jamaican mother. She spoke about a new poetic form which she has recently coined ‘The Borderliner’ (a derogatory term which denotes someone of mixed race) in which two separate poems are printed side by side so they can be read both individually or as one poem.

In between events there was time to explore Ledbury’s beautiful walled garden, where all sorts of family friendly events were going on. The weather was sunny and warm, though windy, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. The Ledbury Poetry Festival continues for the rest of the week.

poetry periscope

The poetry periscope played poems from other languages together with translations

church lane at ledbury poetry festival

Church Lane decorated for the festival

Jiggery Spokery performing in the walled garden

Jiggery Spokery performing in the walled garden

poets for hire

Poets for hire

See my Facebook page for more photos…

Declaration: I received concession price tickets for two of the events

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