Friday, July 13, 2018

Busy week in Fromesville

Interim report from Frome festival: 200 events in ten days, and sun blistering the sky from before 5a.m, rising tirelessly to high 20°s, simmering us like poached apricots till long after dusk.
I'll begin at the beginning for me, which was the Small Publishers Day on Saturday, joining the Hobnob stall with copies of Frome Unzipped - from Prehistory to Post-punk which had arrived like the cavalry in the nick of time. First copy went to writer Nikki Copelstone (who took this picture of me all excited with publisher John Chandler) and second to Barry Cunningham, MD of Chicken House. Sales started well, and Hunting Raven has already re-ordered so I'm hopeful.
Early evening saw a lot of happy football fans at the traditional Food Feast in the market yard, gloriously entertained by the Street Bandits and exotic dancers, with further free music inside the Cheese & Grain as dusk descended - here's awesome Raggedy Men reliving their teenage kicks.
Open Studios this year has 21 venues presenting the art of 65 artists: I only managed to scamper round a few of these on Sunday before heading for the Children's Festival in Victoria Park, where my 'First Cut' colleague Annabelle Macfadyen was enchanting an audience of little ones in The Quest for the Red Herring with Simon Blakeman. Here she is looking menacing but not as scary as the extraordinary creations of Ik'sentric and Mutartis at Freakshow Boogaloo (venue 8). The long hot day ended at the Cornerhouse, dancing not-really-tango at the 'Music of the Soul' jazz session from Keith Harrison-Broninski trio with Karen Street.

Monday now, and a sultry night for the Festival Poetry Cafe with Rob Barratt guesting and a monster Open Mic as 15 poets offered their words on the theme of Frankenstein, which is the theme of this year's festival. Interpretations ranged from Rosie Jackson's superb & visceral glimpse of an aged Mary Shelley reflecting 'This is how it is when the world has no mother' - to Liv Torc's heartfelt & funny insight into mothering two hot tiny tots, ' a tiny prison riot in a nappy'. Rob had the tough job of picking out just one of these wonderfully varied poems as most apt and chose Shauna Robertson's powerful poem about monsters made by misjudged political policies. Rob's own 'pithy poems, satirical songs, and provocative prose' were immensely entertaining, with a particularly empathetic response to his rant against The God of Data who in five days created levels & targets, jargon, league tables, the omnipresent Angel OFSTED, and sent Gehova who said 'Suffer the little children' and the little children did suffer... Thanks to all who came and contributed, as audience and readers, and to Garden Cafe's Ellen and Suzy who transformed our space into an open-air theatre and organised everything, and to Bill Aven who came from Frome Wessex Camera Club and sent the picture of Shauna receiving her Frome Festival 2018 Poet Laureate certificate and bubbly donated by Jon Evans. Dave Denyer, I hope you don't mind that I stole this pic from your page to give a glimpse of the busy garden.

A change of mood on Tuesday for The Meddling of Mrs Harris, a performed reading by Peter Clark of Mark Twain's satirical monologue King Leopold's Soliloquy at Rook Lane Chapel.  I came across this online while researching for Frome Unzipped, because the meddlesome missionary's wife who took the photographs - used by the Congo Reform Society to oust Leopold from his murderous regime - came from Frome. Alice Seeley-Harris' great-granddaughter Rebecca was in the audience and joined our post-show Q&A, adding further fascinating detail and very pleased that Alice's work is now more well-known in her home town. This event was supported by Nevertheless Productions with direction from Rosie Finnegan - not one of our usual shows but aiming to present a historical document in a provocative and memorable way. Thanks Mike Grenville for the discussion photo .
Wednesday's big event for me was Homeliness Exile and Longing, a celebration of the poems of Mahmoud Darwish on the tenth anniversary of his death. This was organised by Frome Friends of Palestine in Trinity Hall with a Middle Eastern banquet first and atmospheric music from Chai for Three alongside poems chosen by Mick Randall and read in translation by James Laurenson and me, and in Arabic by Hazem Al Asaad. Peter Clark, now shorn of his Mark Twain moustache and long locks, introduced this with a short account of Mahmoud's exiled life, and the readings concluded with a wall projection of the poet himself, reading his defiant poem 'I am an Arab'. A moving experience for readers & audience alike - thanks Ali Morgan for the photo.

More poetry on Thursday, with the HIP YAK Poetry Shack at the Archangel, compered by fabulous Liv Torc with Chris Redmond and Johnny Fluffypunk delivering strong words strongly spoken. Main feature of the event was of course the Slam, with eight brave poets competing for a place in the Womad Poetry tent - a massive prize and big responsibility for the four audience members who accepted the dreaded judging cards to hold aloft after each poem. Slammers need a tough hide I reckon. The standard was awesomely high and everyone had favourites, but Josie Alford was agreed a worthy winner.

I'm taking a day off now but there's the final days of festival to come, and this excessively self-centric post has barely scratched the surface. This feels a good time to be offering the world my version of the story of Frome, with creativity all around, and another Guardian article affirming the impact of our local government.  I'm deeply appreciative of poet Rosie Jackson for posting this really lovely tribute: ‘Frome’s kind of a funny place, really, it reminds me of a Brueghel painting...’ M.Boswell.  No one could be better placed than living-in-the-heart-of-it Crysse Morrison to take the radical pulse of Frome, town of dissent, creativity, independence, and trace it from being part of Selwood Forest to being a reluctant annexe to Babington House in its recent gentrification and media hype. Crysse unzips it all brilliantly in this fabulous book, published today from Hobnob Press.'

And a final thought from Kahil Gibran, because it's been on my mind.
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself,
You may house their bodies but not their souls, for they dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you may not enter.  Not even in your dreams.
This is why we write books and poems and plays and create artefacts and songs. They are the children who will never leave, they stay in our nest in a spinning world.

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