As the bunting comes out for another Frome Festival, I sometimes wonder if I edge into sycophantic hyperbole when enthusing about my adopted home-town, with its 2 theatres, independent cinema, bookshop, music store, radio station, acoustic nights, band nights, and café & party culture – a place so small you could hoover the entire town centre from one powerpoint given a reasonable length extension flex, yet there’s more creative clubs, circles, & happenings here than flying eggs at a BNP protest rally. And then I read The Furball, and I know I’m not exaggerating. In what other free town mag can you find, as well as local listings, music & arts reviews, parkour promotion and poetry, a reasoned argument against school prayers: “You wouldn’t want teachers telling your children Thor exists..." Artsy, energetic, and a little bit anarchic: like the editors say,It’s a Frome thing.
Not that I'm averse the charms of bourgeois Bath & bustling Bristol too. On Thursday, when the sun realised abruptly that it should be flattering the mountain-tops with sovereign eye, kissing with golden face the meadows green and gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy since it's damn-near midsummer, I spent a lovely day in Bath, having lunch and talking poetry with Esme Ellis amid her garden lupins, then meeting Diana Cambridge for a delicious sunset session at the Spa discussing her new project: a Travel Writing Taster week in Crete.
Over in Bristol, Writers' Room Coordinator Sharon Clark is busy making the Old Vic the hub of southwest theatreland with an awesome programme of projects including on Friday a scratch night for performers. 10x3, introduced bouncily by Howard Coggins as 'a bold new experiment, a cauldron, a smorgasbord...' Sharon's concept is that 3 minutes is long enough to create a character, and actors can use this as a chance to take a risk. Niamh and I went with our own drama project in mind so what interested me most was the self-written pieces: David Bailey's menacing Security Man, poems by Gillie Harris and Shagufta K Iqbal. Possibly the actors would have liked more specific audience feedback, but the general response was positive: these disparate pieces combined successfully and "The Old Vic is now a place to try things out."
Back in Bath again on Saturday, for Acumen in the Georgian elegance of the Bath Poetry Cafe's new home in Queen Square, with editor Patricia Oxley talking about how she whittles down the 5000 poems submitted each month to the 50 published, and poet William Oxley reading some of his work. In his pre-poetic life, William confides, he was an accountant, which is why he likes the line "no accounting for Paradise."
There are other readers too, among them Frome poet Rose Flint, and the shortlisted entrants from the Acumen Poetry Competition. I entered this, and was extremely chuffed to be among the 7 shortlisted poets & thus find myself reading at short notice my poem Charity Shop Shuffle, so here I am looking chuffed with Rose. Winner was sonneteer Judith Young, with Yu Yan Chen runner-up.
We all met up again for brunch organised by Poetry Cafe choreographer Sue Boyle on Sunday, lingering in her sunny garden and then strolling nearby Alexandra Park to watch the city sunning itself under a Simpsons sky.