The other day I popped into Suffolk Poetry Festival for a couple of hours. It was held at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket, and we got there by train. We left Norwich in blazing sunshine, and by Diss the sky was dark grey and it was pouring with rain. Fortunately, by the time we reached Stowmarket it was sunny again. Poetry is like that.
I read a couple of poems (one of them is printed below) and some tanka authored partly by my friend Joy McCall, who is described in her latest book, Fieldgates (published in America), as “the quintessentially English tanka poet”.
Tanka are Japanese in origin, of course, but Joy is pretty English, and certainly expert in the field of tanka – which in case you were wondering, are five-lined verses with a fixed number of syllables per line. In my case this is 4-6-4-7-6. Joy’s versions are a little more flexible, which is why she is quintessential, and I’m not.
Actually, she is not only quintessential; she is incredible. Confined to a wheelchair by a road accident some years ago, she is in more or less constant pain and has repeated operations to stave off various kinds of collapse. But she is a prolific poet with enviable spiritual insight. The calm in the midst of the storm, you might say.
At the festival, I read my own tanka, and my wife read Joy’s responses. Joy not only finds travel difficult (though not impossible); she is also too shy to read for an audience; so this was a rare public performance of a tiny part of her work.
Funny things, poetry festivals. As well as readings of poetry and associated lectures and workshops, there was also at least one funny literary sketch, a lovely folk song and assorted monologues, one or two of them inspired. There was also a café run by the Green Party and an anti-Brexit rant in poetic form.
Not that this was a political or exclusive gathering. In fact poetry groups, and by extension festivals, are remarkably uncritical and welcoming – at least in Suffolk. There are no auditions, nor any obvious quality control. This is sometimes irritating but more often gives you a nice warm feeling in the stomach. Or maybe that was the coffee cake from the Green Café.