Soaking up the Poetry at Ledbury Poetry Festival

The Market House at LedburyI’ve just spent two fabulous days losing myself in the delights of language at this year’s Ledbury Poetry Festival. It was hot and sunny, and although many of the events were available to watch online, I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of being right there, in the old town of Ledbury. The workshops were held upstairs in the Heritage Centre, a quaint (and very wonky) building, with a sloping floor.  

I was lucky enough to attend three very different writing workshops, each of which has given me a fresh approach to my writing. I always find it helpful to get into the writing zone by first reading someone else’s poem, and discussing it with others. Jessica Mookherjee presented us with several short, profound poems, including a Swedish poem by Tua Forsström, which we attempted to ‘translate’ ourselves, before reading the English translation. We also looked at ‘The Horse and Rider’ by Louise Glück, and ‘Without’ by Joy Harjo, both of which have settled in my mind.

The old Heritage Centre building

The old Heritage Centre building

Anthony Anaxagorou’s workshop focused on the unexpected elements of poetry, beginning with nouns and their opposites, as he pushed us to add an element of surprise to our writing. I found this workshop quite freeing, as the emphasis was very much on playing with language, and I’ve found myself thinking about how I could incorporate this into my own work more often.

The third workshop, delivered by Em Strang, was very different, focusing on movement and awareness of the body. At the end of the workshop several of us performed our poems in front of the group, and Em gave helpful feedback on all sorts of things many of us had never thought about, from posture and position, to adjusting our voices in different ways.

Iryna Tsilyk (via Zoom) and Johanna Venho, reading at the festival

Iryna Tsilyk and Johanna Venho

The Versopolis event was particularly poignant, with readings from Finnish poet Johanna Venho, and Ukrainian poet Iryna Tsilyk. Iryna spoke to us via Zoom, from the forest in Ukraine, where she had joined her husband (also a writer) who is currently fighting on the front line. Both poets spoke about their writing process. Iryna talked about how the genre of poetry has felt like a powerful tool through which to respond to the distress and chaos of war over the last seven years or so.

I also enjoyed hearing readings and discussion from poets writing in very different styles, including Emma Purshouse, Claudine Toutoungi, Jessica Mookerhjee and Maria Jastrzebska, and I’ve come away refreshed and full of ideas for my own writing.

Jessica Mookherjee and Maria Jastrzebska

Jessica Mookherjee (centre) and Maria Jastrzebska (right), event chaired by Sarala Estruch (left)

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Declaration: I received free tickets for most of these events in return for blogging.

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