Doing the Bookshop Hop at Nottingham Poetry Festival

Words: Aly Stoneman
Friday 27 April 2018
reading time: min, words

A dazzling evening of new connections and resonant readings at two of Nottingham’s thriving bookshops, Blackwell’s and Five Leaves…


One of the many benefits of Nottingham being awarded UNESCO City of Literature status is the forging of new links with writers from other cities – nationally and internationally – who have also received the award, as we discovered on Tuesday, when Blackwell’s Bookshop and Notts UNESCO City of Lit Director, Sandeep Mahal, welcomed poets Ron Butlin from Edinburgh, Alice Kinsella from Dublin, and John Osbourne from Norwich to the festival, alongside Georgina Wilding, Nottingham’s own Young Poet Laureate.

Between the regular ‘dings’ of trams traversing Goldsmith Street, we heard the wise and humorous words of Ron Butlin, Edinburgh’s former poet laureate, poems from Alice Kinsella’s Flower Press, a narrative collection incorporating Irish myth, Catholic guilt and the processing of personal loss, and John Osbourne’s witty confrontations with over-officiousness – ‘Excuse me, that is not an official literary festival sandwich’. Georgina Wilding dashed in from a rush-hour traffic jam to share poems vibrant with Notts dialect and the poet’s immersion in the home city she clearly loves, including a new commission celebrating Hockley, before heading off to Arnold Library to join TV writer Henry Normal for Poetry Hour.  She’ll be taking over Andrew ‘Mulletproof Poet’ Graves’s tagline of ‘Nottingham’s hardest working poet’ at this rate!

At 7pm, I hopped over to Five Leaves Bookshop, which was packed-out for Carcanet’s New Poetries VII Tour event. Carcanet is a highly respected literary independent publisher, so it’s a big deal for Nottingham Trent’s Becky Cullen to feature in their latest anthology in the series, which ‘showcases some of the most engaging and inventive new poets writing in English from around the world.’ Becky read alongside fellow Carcanet poets Isabel Galleymore and Rachel Mann, sharing their poems from the anthology and other work. Isabel’s recent residency in a rainforest, time in Cornwall and self-confessed love of animals informed her poems, which are filled with the natural imagery of squirrels, sea creatures, and the strangeness and minutiae of the more-than-human world, including the astonishing fact that barnacles have the biggest penises in the animal kingdom. Anglican Priest and poet Rachel Mann, wearing her dog collar, mostly allowed her poems to speak for themselves, although when she did offer some context, statements such as ‘I’m obsessed with mythology, that’s why I’m a vicar’ pointed to the breadth of knowledge and leavening sense of humour that underpins the exploration of faith in her writing, where the narrative ‘I’ is ‘her and definitively not her’.

Becky’s poems are rich with empathy, playfulness and a touch of the uncanny, exploring time and temporality, and responding to disparate experiences including a visit to Ted Hughes’ former home Lumb Bank, her recent writing residency at Newstead Abbey, and the feeling she has encountered some of her friends in previous lives. She says she deliberately avoids writing about her own children, but ends up writing about other peoples’ instead, as in her poem ‘Crossing from Marazion’ where a child with gigantism who is “too unsettling to be in the community” is sent away to a monastery.

After the event we headed to the pub, although with five days still to go, I really should pace myself for the long haul! Another fantastic day of poetry and so much still to come!

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