Friday, October 26, 2012

Chester Literature Festival 2012: Simon Armitage, Catherine Clarke, Pat Barker and Zoe Lambert

I feel it has been a particularly good Chester Literature Festival so far this year.  In fact, I have been so busy going to events, I have barely had time to write about them, so I thought I'd do a little resume here.

Last Friday, for me, was Simon Armitage day.  Simon Armitage has long been a favourite poet of mine so when I heard he was giving a workshop as well as a talk about translating medieval poetry I booked a place immediately.   The workshop was fun (writing as quickly as possible; with the left hand; drawing pictures; remembering photos; choosing words) and I actually produced the makings of a poem (something I haven't done for some time).

The talk in the evening concerned Simon Armitage's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Death of King Arthur from medieval English and contained lots of entertaining anecdotes.  My favourite was Simon Armitage's definition of a poem.  'It is poetry because I say it is.' was the gist.   His reasoning was that since  he is a poet published by Faber if he says what he has written  is a poem then it is!  Excellent stuff.  

The medieval them continued the next day in what used to be the cathedral in Chester, St John's church.  It was a suitable setting for a talk and then a workshop on mapping medieval Chester from texts - a cold and acoustically-challenging place.  I suppose it gave us a taste of what the medieval writers were going through.  

Professor Catherine Clarke is from Southampton University and she is involved in a multi-centred project to map medieval Chester from a series of contemporary texts in three different languages: Welsh, English and Latin.  This gave a picture of the city from different viewpoints - the Welsh outsider  writing anti-English poetry, the monk wanting to show the spiritual aspects of the city and the clergyman fighting for the church against secular influences.   In the workshop we were given different texts and shown how much could be deduced from them.  The whole project is on-line here, and her book, Mapping the Medieval City, will be coming out in paperback soon.  I am looking forward to reading this as soon as it does!

To finish off a busy Saturday, I went along to the Pat Barker talk in the evening at the university and was treated to a reading from her new book  Toby's Room  (part of a trilogy based in the first world war) and then an interview.  The book sounds excellent and concerns a topic I have never heard of being referred to before: reconstructive surgery.

Yesterday I went to my tenth event: Zoë Lambert in the Magistrate's Court of the Town Hall.  She read a couple of stories from her collection, The War Tour (reviewed here), one of which featured the conclusion of a magistrate for a man trying to obtain asylum in this country which was an apt choice for this setting.  Zoë then told us about how she came to write the collection (shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize last year) which was based, in part, on her experiences in helping a refugee.  


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