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An Ode to the Nottingham Poetry Festival

3 May 17 words: Claire Louise

Bringing poetry to the masses, one week at a time...

illustration: Alix Verity

A city where, if only for a week, the poets and artistically-inclined lovers of the spoken word are the most in-demand cats in town, is doing something right.

Nottingham Poetry Festival 2017 was a veritable smorgasbord of stunning literary events; more than you could ever hope to attend. Never before have I heard so many arty types half-heartedly lamenting lack of sleep and lost meals from trying to squeeze in as many of the offerings as humanly possible.     

This wasn’t just about the bohemians and beatniks of Broad Street. Throughout the county, people gathered together in libraries and pubs, community centres and cafes. Stars of the national scene mingling with local legends, united by an appreciation of the spoken word. The ancient tradition of playing with words and the art of sharing our stories, experiences and attempts at enlightenment through delivering beautiful verses as a performative, oral form of art.

This ain’t the poncey, inaccessibly pretentious poetry we were taught to analyse to death at school, or the reserve of the few learned enough to truly appreciate it’s genius.  

This was a festival of poetry which resonates rather than alienates. All the tortured souls spilling their hearts out, the hapless romantics telling tales of lost love and longing, punks spitting venom with lyrical flair, the hippies who flow in time with the rhythms of nature, the hip hop MC’s and rap battle heroes: together in one writhing, cultural melting pot.

Poets, as a race, have a reputation for being, well, mad, bad and dangerous to know, or otherwise strange, solitary creatures so wrapped up in introspection they don’t have a place in the ‘real world’. While I believe Leonard Cohen had it right when he said it’s ones who’ve cracked that the light shines through, I’d like to take this opportunity to call bullshit on this once and for all.

Anyone can write a poem or a song or a rap or whatever you want to call it. All you’re doing is re-writing something that’s been said a thousand times or more, in your own words. Poets are mighty because they stand on the shoulders of giants: Shakespeare, Lennon and McCartney, Keates, Noel Coward, The Bronte’s, David Bowie, Dylan Thomas, Christini Rossetti, Joe Strummer, Wordsworth, William Blake, Lord Byron and Ian Dury.  

The first established poet I ever got the opportunity to swoon over, up close and personal, was Atilla the Stockbroker. Back in 2009 when I was living in Leeds, dabbling around in documentary making and taking timid steps toward performing the shitty little ditties I’d been penning as long as I could remember. He said something which has stuck with me always. It might not be the most original quote about poetry, but it just may be the most pertinent:

“Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.”

Pilfered from pacifist-activist poet and playwright Adrian Mitchell's preface to his first major collection, Poems, published over half a century ago in 1964, Nottingham, I think that after the week I’ve just had, we proved beyond doubt that’s no longer the case.

During an interview I can barely stand to watch back with Dr John Cooper Clarke, I boldly declared (imposter syndrome manifesting and masquerading as arrogance), that Nottingham is the home of poetry. Well, for one week at least, we were. On reflection, though we undoubtedly do it well, – Nottingham has the most thriving, diverse and supportive poetry community of any city I’ve known – the true home of poetry is not a place, it is in the hearts of the people it touches. The home of poetry is humanity itself, unbiased by divisions of race, gender, creed or class.   

From the bottom of my heart, the most sincere of thanks to everyone who was involved in any way with this amazing festival. Organisers, performers, promoters, sponsors and attendees alike, you restored my faith in all that is good and pure in this absurd existence.  

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