It may seem a bit of a mouthful but this was a wonderful way to spend a Wednesday, and indeed to celebrate Canada Day for the first time. As you can probably tell I got way behind in my Event Reviews so this is a bit late. However, by being late it’s given me more time to digest it properly. There was so much going on, I don’t think I’d have done it justice nearer to the time. Another effect of the day being so full is that this may get a little rambly in sections – so I apologise in advance.
I should point out early on that my enjoyment of this event was unfortunately curtailed by an early morning incident. I managed to have a fall not long after arriving in Grasmere – my knee (which was already disagreement with me from the night before) decided it was no longer on board with the concept of walking and gave way as I was stepping off the curb. I ended up with a lot of jolted joints, a magnificently grazed left leg and sprained right ankle. I’ve got very hypermobile joints, so since the age of about 14 I’ve got fairly used to just hitting the deck at inopportune moments, but this one really hurt. Thankfully everyone was grand, Lindsay helped me up, John found me some antiseptic wipes and Polly and Will kept an eye on me throughout the day as I hobbled about. I owe a lot of thanks to all of them, for making sure I still got to enjoy the day and didn’t end up having to call a lift home until much later. The fact that the day was still so enjoyable after that beginning should be a testament to just how good it was.
The weather that Wednesday was beautiful and travel went incredibly smoothly. The morning was really sunny, but not too warm. My bus to the station (the 7:50 88A) arrived a bit early and I managed to get a seat (this never happens at this time of day so was pretty miraculous in and of itself). As a result of this early bus I got an early train (the slightly delayed 07:53) and managed to arrive at Oxenholme 40 minutes early for my train to Windermere (09:11). I was then lucky enough to get myself a seat on a bench looking out over the Lake District, that’s one of the things I love about the little Lakeland stations – Oxenholme and Kendal in particular – they have such wonderful views. Happily seated, I settled down to sort some stuff out on my phone and make a bit more headway in the wonderful Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
I freely admit that I didn’t make much headway – preferring instead to just sit there and take it all in. I don’t live far from the Lake District and I’ve made frequent trips up there my entire life. But I’ve never really been there at this time of year – apart from a brief holiday with a group of friends at the end of college. I’m more used to it in February when it’s a different colour altogether. The grey of the slate and stone mixing in with the bruised purple and brown of trees just coming out of Winter. The only green I usually see is the moss and it looks so bright against its surroundings that it almost hurts your eyes. So the Lakes in summer is – to me – a very different place entirely.
After taking the train to Windermere I walked off the platform just in time to see the bus to Grasmere pulling up. It was one of those opentop ones they often use for the tourist tours and there was no way on earth I was going to be sitting downstairs. I’ve only been on an open-top bus once before, on the aforementioned post-college holiday to Bowness, but the weather was very different then. It was in fact – more in accordance with Britain – absolutely tipping it down.
We still sat on the top deck, but we were huddled up at the front under the partial roof in an attempt to avoid the rain. I remember nothing of the scenery. In fact the only thing I remember of that previous trip, is that everything – the seats, the floor and all four of us – was soaked in spite of the partial roof. When we went round one of the bends my friend Lewis was caught off guard. He slid off his seat onto the floor and then backwards down the aisle, still in a seated position. I can remember watching it happen in a sort of slow motioned horror and then all of us just sitting there is silence for a moment when he finally came to a stop several rows back. Then laughing until we were nearly sick.
Thankfully, this time the weather continued to be decidedly un-british. I soon gave up on my reading again and just sat there soaking up the sun and the scenery with the wind in my hair. All journeys to work should henceforth be made by open top bus in the sun, The Lakes in the sunshine really is something to behold.
I made it off the bus fine – accompanied by Lindsey who used to be a secretary from my uni department and was there to help out. Lindsay now works for the FASS Enterprise centre which had helped fund #DWCDPP15 and the Helen Humphreys event I went to the week before. Unfortunately, she ended up having to help out a bit sooner than planned as that was when my knee rebelled. She was great and helped me get my stuff together before I hobbled off to try and wash the grit out of the mother of all grazes.
Once sorted out thanks to the Wordsworth Trust’s very handy First Aid Kit, the poetry got under way. After some opening remarks form Polly Atkin and Will Smith, we started off with Panel 1: Transnational Canada a poetry reading and Q&A with Megan Fernandes and Wanda O’Connor. They were two very different poets and they both read some really unique poems. Megan’s included – amongst other things – the complications of identity, intricate relationships and a sweet potato. Each poem displayed a very strong voice and Megan was a really good reader, slipping in relevant anecdotes and moving competently between them and the poems. I particularly enjoyed Megan’s reading and I managed to snag her first collection as part of that day’s mini poetry haul. Wanda’s poems were incredibly layered, skipping between languages and references with seamless ease. I had the feeling that for every detail I picked up another four were flying over my head – it was definitely poetry I wanted to sit down and pick apart to see how it ticked.
We broke for lunch which was – for me – some really excellent Welsh Rarebit from the Dove Cottage Café. It was a good chance to talk to other poet’s and I managed to have a chat with -amongst others – Penny, Emily and Kim before they went on in the next panel.
After lunch came Panel 2: Second Selves/Youthful Poets with Penny Boxall, Kim Moore, Emily Hassler and Eileen Pun. All the poets included in this panel had previously been interns or volunteers at the Wordsworth Trust and all had benefited from the experience in different ways. Each poet had a very individual style and it was wonderful to see so many Eric Gregory Award winners and shortlisted poets in one room – both on the panel and in the audience. My final two purchases of the day came as a result of this panel – Penny Boxall’s Ship Of The Line and Emily Hassler’s Natural Histories – although I was wishfully eyeing up Damian Rogers’ Dear Leader as well.
Penny dealt with space/place in a very interesting way, approaching it via movement though time as well as Geography. Her approach to architecture/buildings was really intriguing and made her collection an essential purchase. Kim – whose wonderful collection The Art of Falling I have previously reviewed here – was an incredibly engaging reader deftly moving between her darker material and more humorous pieces. I’d forgotten to bring my review copy of Kim’s collection for signing because I’m a fool, but I did get a chance to talk to her about reviewing. She also told me about Andrew Forster’s excellent new magazine The Compass, I’m really glad she did as I’ve been dipping in and out of it rather gleefully all week.
Emily – who had previously spoken with such enthusiasm about her time in the Lakes during the lunch break – gave us several poems with a very definite air of place and some wonderful imagery. After hearing her read I was certain I’d be picking her pamphlet up. It’s very clear why people are giving it such high praise. Eileen – one of the well-deserved winners at this year’s Northern Writer’s Awards – was equally memorable and one of her poems, about neighbours pegging out in a shared green space, will linger in my mind for some time. I’m eagerly looking forward to her first collection and I hope her award helps her work towards that!
We then had another break, this time for very good biscuits and some more poetry talk, before proceeding on to Panel 3:What’s Your Place In Poetry? This took a different format – an open discussion between all the poets who would be appearing on panels that day (the picture accompanying this post is of this panel). It was absolutely fascinating, split evenly between British and Canadian poets there were a multitude of different approaches to place in poetry, bot physically, mentally and in relation to the poetic space on the page. There was a debate about poets who were ‘placeless’, preferring to frame their poems in a more abstract setting and a really interesting thread of discussion regarding each poet’s views on their own place in the poetic genre. After each poet gave their own views on the topics there were questions from the audience and questions from the other poets themselves.
We had another brief break (when I managed to get my three books signed!) and then the final panel of the day with Karen Solie and Damian Rogers. Both read poems containing some strange and evocative images – including a line from one of Damian’s poems that has made it onto a badge! But for me the highlight of this panel was the Q&A, once the two poets began talking amongst themselves very little stimulus was needed from the audience and the two of them painted an incredibly vivid picture of the Canadian poetry scene.
After the panel we had some closing remarks and then a bit of a break. I sloped off to the back terrace of the Daffodil Hotel across the way to do a bit of reading before returning in time for the promised Poetry Party. Before the open mike we were lucky enough to have a wonderful spread put out for all of us: including chorizo, many salads and of course the long awaited baked potatoes. After tucking into the food, I was forced to take my exit and so sadly missed the open mike. From what I heard afterwards it was a resounding success and continued into the wee small hours. I was sorry to miss it, but my ankle was at the limits of its cooperation. I called my dad for an early lift back at the end of Panel 4 and he arrived to take me back home to a footbath full of ice cold water and some Savlon.
All in all it was a brilliant day and I was sorry that I didn’t get to make more of it than I did. The efforts of Polly, Will and Lindsay in particular were invaluable – as well as everyone else working behind the scenes. I am certain that I would never have had an opportunity to see such a varied array of poets without the #DWCDPP and the funding from FASS. Should the opportunity ever present itself again I’d be dashing (or hobbling joints depending) to put my name down!
For more pictures and the text of the opening speech – including the ideas behind the event – please see Polly Atkin’s blogpost here.