Thursday, 25 June 2009

Hay Poetry Jamboree: John Goodby Reports...

The first Hay Poetry Jamboree (28 MAY – 30 MAY 2009) organised by John Goodby and Lyndon Davies, and supported by Swansea University School of Art /CREW, the Dylan Thomas Centre, Library of Wales and Academi, took place at the Oriel Gallery in Hay-on-Wye on 28th—30th May. It was made possible by the generosity of Geoff Evans, Oriel’s owner, who allowed free use of the gallery (a listed seventeenth-century building with Victorian chapel attached), and of the artist-poet Christopher Twigg, who bravely allowed his home at Church House, Talgarth, to serve as a dormitory-cum-junketing centre and yurt-pitching zone for many of the poets and performers.

Buoyed by such gifts and sponsorship, plus much goodwill, the Jamboree ran as an unsolemn antidote to the ‘High Street poetry’, as Ric Caddell once called it, on offer at the official Hay Festival of Literature. Rather than blandly glittering prizes and commercialist razzmatazz, the event showcased five leading Welsh poets in the experimental tradition of David Jones, Dylan Thomas and Lynette Roberts—that tradition which, while it tends to be neglected, is Wales’s most important contribution to twentieth century literature.

Electrifying performances by Peter Finch and Boiled String on Thursday evening, got proceedings under way in appropriate style. They were followed, at Friday’s main event, by a memorable reading from her latest collection, The Land Between, by Wendy Mulford, and by John James, whose set included striking new ‘sonnet’ pieces and powerful elegies for Barry MacSweeney and Andrew Crozier. Chris Torrance and David Greenslade brought the poetic proceedings to a close in a packed and lively final session on Saturday evening, after which discussions went on far into the night in Church House’s owl-haunted, river-run garden, over much Romanian potín and seventeen meals from the local Chinese takeaway.
Between the three keynote readings came two rapid-fire mini poetry-fests, on Friday and Saturday, featuring a further dozen poets, among them Samantha Rhydderch, Graham Hartill and Chris Ozzard. There were also two academic lectures, by Alice Entwistle (University of Glamorgan) on Welsh women’s experimental poetry, and Matthew Jarvis (the Antony Dyson Fellow at Lampeter University) on Wales’s alternative poetries. There were many other memorable highlights and portents: among them the blackbird which entered the gallery and took part in proceedings on Friday afternoon, Messrs Harthill and Ozzard’s shamanic / shambolic attempts to conjure up a Cabaret 246 member last sighted in 1993, and John James’s prediction that the Hay Jam would become the new CCCP (the Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry). These aside, glorious weather played its part in the high attendance throughout the three days, as did the postgrad CREW horde, which hit on Hay on Saturday to push attendance up to the fifty mark. But the turnout, and the general buzz around the events, was a reflection above all of the current revival of innovative poetry going on in Wales.

Over the last few years, this revival has shown itself in many and varied ways—in the poetry lists of Parthian, Salt and Shearsman, the Glasfryn seminar series, and the hospitality to experiment of Poetry Wales under Zoe Skoulding, for example. In this sense, the Hay Jam belonged to a broader movement, although its success could not have been predicted. And, while almost no-one from poetry officialdom attended it, its grassroots success makes a repeat highly likely. If that does happen, the organisers have gone on record as saying that they will relish the challenging proximity to Britain’s largest literary festival, and attempt once again to champion their belief that versified anecdote is one thing, but a real poetry of the present invariably involves risk, discussions under the stars, yurts, strong spirits, and the dislocation of language into fresh meaning.

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