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A Guide to the Adelburgh Poetry Festival

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By Hilary Robinson

How to have the best time ever:

1. First and foremost, find four like-minded poets to hang around with.

2. Persuade two who are a couple to rent a 4-bedroomed house just off Aldeburgh High Street for a week. Patiently wait while they realise how much fun it would be to invite the rest of you to stay for the weekend (the weekend of the festival, naturally).

3. Subscribe to The Poetry Trust, then when the programme arrives, spend ages deciding which events you want to attend.

4. Meet up with your like-minded friends to synchronise your events wish-lists.

5. Book tickets online. Do a happy dance when they arrive.

6. Make your way to Aldeburgh, calling at the supermarket to buy breakfast, wine and chocolate.

7. Cram yourselves into one car and set off for Snape Maltings, where most events are held.

My highlights of Aldeburgh 2014 – my first visit:

* That time Brian Patten signed my yellowed copy of ‘The Mersey Sound’ and said, “My God! How long have you had this?”.

* Paula Bohince’s beautifully measured delivery.

* Karen McCarthy Woolf’s harrowing account of her son’s stillbirth. Her reading was a masterclass in how to perform.

* Kathleen Jamie’s animated reading and her interaction with the audience.

* Michael Laskey’s whistle-stop workshop.

* Selima Hill – It was a rare public appearance for her, and I loved the way she turned her book to show us what the poem looked like on the page (even though we were all too far away to see). She also picked out occasional words from her poems – “Succulence; don’t you love that word? Succulence!” I managed to speak to her afterwards and she was so grateful that I had bought her collection. To chat with her was such a treat – she was witty and told me just how nervous she had been.

* Adélia Prado, the Brazilian poet and her translator, Ellen Doré Watson (who is an accomplished poet in her own right).

* My absolute stand-out memory of the weekend was the South African poet, Finuala Dowling, reading from her collection, ‘Notes From the Dementia Ward’ which deal with her mother’s dementia in a way that is both heartbreaking and humorous.

And finally…

Buy your lunchtime sandwiches in Aldeburgh before you go to Snape. You’ll have greater choice and they will be cheaper.

Make sure you leave yourself time to eat and rest when booking events. Be aware that, bizarrely, the café at Snape stops serving hot food at 2p.m. until 6p.m. which is inconvenient to say the least. Especially considering that some events do go on till 9pm.

If you stay in Aldeburgh I can recommend the chip shop on the High Street (yes, the medium-sized cod and chips will be plenty) and also The Lighthouse restaurant but it is advisable to book here in advance. The service and food are both excellent.

If you have as good a time as we did, then you will have three extremely happy and laughter-filled days.

Hilary Robinson retired from primary school teaching in 2012. Following a serious illness in 2006, Hilary began writing short stories about her childhood to share with her three grandchildren who live in France. She soon transferred her writing affection to poetry and is now a member of three writing groups and also Jo Bell’s legendary online 52 group. In September 2014 she began her MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) at MMU which she is thoroughly enjoying. 

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