Saturday 30th June 2012
BERT and Sue are sitting outside the café in Homend Mews: the day’s last listeners to my Emergency Poet on Call.
“Can we get you a cup of tea?”
It is a welcome respite to a ploughman’s ploddishness: calves hide-tight, shoulders lock-yoked, after metre after metre on lumbering poet’s feet.
“So, tell us about the Poetry Festival…”
This is the sixteenth year that Ledbury has hosted what laureates Andrew Motion and Carol Ann Duffy have respectively called ‘the best in the country’ and ‘a rare genuine joining of place, poetry and people’.
Glowing, I recall a pub evening offering advice to the local worthies who launched the venture in 1997; feeling a sense of belonging from the word go; gate-crashing, with Jean Binta Breeze and Thom the World Poet, a quiet reading in an upstairs room on National Poetry Day; the early town parties with loud bands and loud poets; a sell-out John Cooper Clarke gig at The Feathers hotel; debating Keats and Holub with Dannie Abse to a packed Burgage Hall; watching this unlikely enterprise grow large in reputation and following.
Refreshed by the tea, I wander into New Street, where, that first year, several of us sat on the pavement, mulling over the opening day’s events; then down past The Talbot, the pub where, the night before the ban came in, I chain-smoked cigars and quaffed ale with John Burns, the festival’s first director, a journeyman joiner.
I am staying, as always, with John and his wife Sheila. After tonight’s poetry slam at the Market Theatre, a small gathering of dear friends will sit in their garden, sharing a take-away curry, a bottle or three, and our annual, late-night symposium… even though I have another gig at 9.30 in the morning.
By the Co-op, I fall into conversation with an elderly gentleman who recognises me. He’ll be behind the bar for the slam.
“Retired here twenty years ago. This’ll do me.”
The sky is a race of blue-white balloons. An open-topped, vintage sports car chugs up the hill.
Once, there were seagulls here…