Monday 7 November 2011

Aldeburgh: floating your boat

I could have made a rash and silly promise: have said, for example, that if Nancy Gaffield won the Aldeburgh 2011 First Collection Prize I’d go there and swim in the sea (the North Sea, in November). I didn’t. But her book Tokaido Road did win the prize. And I did swim in the sea. Congratulations to Nancy. And a thank you to Anna Selby, despite her telling me – a bare-faced lie – that the water was warmer than it looked.

The word is, for when you come out of the sea, ‘invigorated’. But sometimes you don’t need to go into the sea to feel that.

On Friday evening in Aldeburgh Fergus Allen, now aged 90, gave a short talk on a poem by Auden (that’s Fergus doing exactly that, above; photo courtesy the Poetry Trust). By the time I arrived, about 10 minutes before the start of this talk by a little-known poet on a little-known poem, all seats were taken, so it was standing-room only. On Saturday evening Fergus Allen read his own poems (mostly from his recent CBe book, Before Troy), alongside Amjad Nasser and Kay Ryan; none of these are household names, but the reading was sold out in advance. As one-off events in London, these would have attracted a fraction of those audiences. But Aldeburgh is accumulative. Each year its several official parts include readings, talks, workshops, interview/conversations, panel discussions, Q-&-As; add in the sea, fish and chips, Adnams beer, random encounters not just with poets read but never met before but also with unread poets, and unmet readers, and the place becomes more than the sum of its parts. And it’s accumulative year-upon-year too, which is why it feels important that the Arts Council’s withdrawal of secure funding for this festival must somehow be remedied.

In Fergus Allen’s third appearance at the festival he talked with Peter Blegvad, part of a series of conversations titled Floating Boat. Which is the excuse for this post’s title, and for the photos, all taken in Aldeburgh at the weekend.

Two last random comments. As Katy Evans-Bush points out in her own post on the festival, and despite the sprinkling of free events, there aren’t many poetry-world folk who, once they’ve got there, can afford tickets to all the events they’d like to go to. Some kind of 3-for-2 might be offered? And it’s a devil of a place to get to (and from). A minibus service from London? A boat from London? (There seem to be plenty around, in need of refloating.) (And another from Scotland, from where this year a large number of people made the long trek down.)


Fiona Moore said...

Your blog photos are all far better than mine. I can only claim W G Sebald in defence, but the way he does it is somehow Art. Also maybe that mine reflect how the weather felt! I am full of admiration for your swim. Took bathing things but was too busy to go, until after the waves had got higher. (Couldn't on Sunday morning because had the Masterclass.)
No need for a minibus from London, one from Saxmundham railway station will do. And a coach home on Sunday, if they are doing works on the line again. Do put this on your festival feedback questionnaire, I've done so in the past and will this time too. Maybe they'll listen if enough do! Ditto for 3-for-2 tickets etc.
Like your argument about accumulation.

Naomi Jaffa said...

We've been listening to the travel woes and contemplating possible solutions, especially for the Sunday evening. Even though not everyone comes from London (amazing though that must seem!). Only about 12-15% of the audience in fact... And hiring coaches is VERY expensive unless you can be sure to fill them. As for the 3 for 2 ticket offer - we used to do day-passes and weekend passes when everything took place in the Jubilee Hall and events weren't sold out. But now, with events across four venues (capacity 234, 100, 90 and 40) and so many selling out in advance, together with giving poets free tickets for Jubilee Hall events (as part of the Festival's 'creative development' offer) we just can't afford to. We need bigger venues/more capacity - then we'd just love to introduce ticket 'deals' for the audience... Naomi