No rumour of the universal ecstasy of all things: Poetry Swindon Festival 2015

all photos by Jennifer Berry

Each festival inspires the next. In October 2014 Poetry Swindon was fortunate to welcome such poets as Don Share, Jacqueline Pope, Robert Peake, Kathryn Maris, and festival friend Carrie Etter ... the list was brilliant and beautiful and I was left feeling inspired and creative. I knew, at that point, why we went through all the hard work: it was a buzz to see how much poetry can be enjoyed and I wanted it to happen all over again. I wanted more of it, I wanted it to be bigger, and longer, and always better, because there is so much to learn. We added an extra day and invited Jo Bell last November. It felt like a long time to wait, but it was worth it. Jo brings community and a lot of love for poetry and Swindon, she's a positive force for good.

Tania Hershman, Jo Bell, and Jonathan Davidson

Jo also brought with her a question on prose poetry, 'Is there really such a thing?', and this led to us having a fantastic discussion on Day 1 with Luke Kennard and Tania Hershman, on a couch, in an old cow shed at Lower Shaw Farm. It doesn't exist, said Jo (I Think). Interesting paragraphs, said someone (who said that?). Our audience asked questions: is it a matter of class? and all became clear (perhaps). Who cares? The prose poem doesn't care, said Tania Hershman, to me once upon a time. There is no rumour of the universal ecstasy of all things, wrote Charles Baudelaire, in a prose poem that happened long before we did. I argue that prose poetry started in Swindon, with Richard Jefferies ('Prose Poet' stamped on his gravestone). It all starts in Swindon

One of the loveliest events I've read at - such a warm and responsive audience and a buzzing, intellectual atmosphere. Luke Kennard

This year we had five days of poetry. We started in the Central Library on Thursday 1st October with Poems Aloud and ended at Lower Shaw Farm on Monday 5th October listening to Jo Bell read her very first prose poem (see what I mean about Swindon). She also read from Kith, and her new work. We admired Dog on the table, ate my dad's eggs, ate croissants and enjoyed good company. We took poetry to Savernake Community Social Hall, ninety people joined us to enjoy Andy Jackson's Double Bill poets and the incredible Kei Miller. We had tea and cakes at Savernake with our own Maurice Spillane who didn't quite rhyme enough for some, and George Moorehead who gave away poetry stuff and our postcards at Free Shop. We took poetry to the Swindon Cricklade Railway where we celebrated our heritage with Early Train writer Jonathan Davidson and our Jo Bell. We took poetry on the Wiltshire and Bershire Canal with Jo, Canal Laureate, and met Mrs and Mrs Swindon plus a heron on the fabulous Dragonfly narrowboat. There were workshops, Jo Bell, Tania Hershman, Robert Vas Dias and Jacqueline Saphra, all fully subscribed to and perhaps over-subcribed at times. Lots of new poetry was written, or is about to be written.

A space opened up for a genuine exchange of ideas, and with it a kind of heady freedom. I honestly thought when I woke up this morning that if we could encourage more people to read and write poetry the world really would be different. Jacqueline Saphra

Jacqueline Saphra

The long-awaited Battered Moons Poetry Competition winners were heard and celebrated with Pascale Petit and Cristina Newton and the event sold out!

Battered Moons winner Sean Martin

We had poetry and Minecraft with Paul and Simon at the Museum of Computing and now the Magic Roundabout is on fire, we will rebuild it. We had Nine White Horses with Jacqui and Robert plus crew, quite something!

Nine White Horses

What did I learn? 

I learnt that I need to pace myself (and others) 
That I can not be in three venues at once. 
That we don't need chocolate bars, but we do need peanut butter.
That lists are not always poetic, or useful. But I must respect them.
That I should meet our team each festival morning so we are all on the same page.
That we have suddenly grown up and people like us.
That poetry can be brilliantly enjoyable in so many ways.
That there is a lot more to do.
That I really do love Swindon and all it has to offer up to the world culturally.
That I love being with the people who have the generosity to join us in our unfashionable town.
That there is a fourth wall and it can be broken by great people of poetry.
That poetry and community can do great things together (thank you Eastcott Community Group and Central Library).

Next year? I'm thinking 10 days. I'm thinking the beautiful landscape of Coate Water at the Richard Jefferies Museum, I'm thinking more Community events (Today I booked an afternoon of poetry in Kings Court Residential Home and we are now Dementia Friends).

We mustn't forget our first home, Lower Shaw Farm, it has been a delight and a privilege to have time there for poetry, hospitality, and pleasure. Thank you Matt and Andrea! It has been wonderful to grow up there, like so many children have and still do, thanks to this great place in Swindon, but grow we have.  

Thank you Mike Pringle, who with little thanks did a lot of things: Put up and dismantled our Poetry Postcards exhibition and then transferred it to the Beehive. He also gave us a great poetry programme, and solved our PA problem on day 2.

The enthusiasm of tea with Mike Pringle

Thank you Jennifer Berry for such brilliant photography and for bringing the lovely you to our events.

Thank you Cristina Newton: there are no words to say enough about the spirit and hard work you give Poetry Swindon and Battered Moons. You are amazing.

Cristina Newton

Thank you Festival Chronicler and marketing wonder Louisa Davison for being a steady force of brilliance and helping us develop.

Louisa Davison - Man for a Day Film

Thank you Maurice Spillane for being every where all at once and for being light on your toes, supportive and welcoming to all. Thank you for the PA system provided by Appligenics.

Maurice Spillane with Tania Hershman

Thank you Louise Crossley for brilliant organisation and for coping with great swathes of people and helpers up at the farm.

Louise Crossley entertaining the new-comers

Thank you Anna-May Laugher for fabric in the colours of Dog, for Flowers, and for food and friendship. You are an amazing Poetry Swindon friend who goes beyond the beyond to help us all. Thank you for Ganderflanking with me!

Anna-May on National Poetry Day

Thank you George Moorehead for sudden children's workshops, for good spirits and company along the way. Also, for the best Kei Miller poetry introduction ever. I am still imagining the poem on the back of your cupboard door and that is a lovely thing.

George Moorehead

Thank you Sam Loveless, MC and hardworker, for all you do. A huge part of the Poetry Swindon success is the way you are and what you bring.

Tania Hershman with Sam Loveless

Thank you Sophie Boyce, your good will and brilliant mind are a joy to be with and I hope you come back from Wales next year. It won't be the same without you.

Sophie Boyce and Sam Loveless

Thank you Hannah Linden, our long-distance lover, our friend and supporter. It was great to have you on the team.

Hannah Linden with Jonathan Davidson

And thanks to so many people who helped us this year. We were very fortunate to have such an amazing team, and amazing audiences too.

Thank you, Arts Council England for supporting us with funding and advice.

Thank you to our partners, Swindon Artswords, Eastcott Community Group, Central Library, and Richard Jefferies Museum Trust.

Eastcott Community Group supporting poetry in our locality

Read all about Poetry Swindon Festival on the Festival Chronicle or see the photographs by Jennifer Berry HERE

Thank you to everyone who took part, join us again next year: September 29th to October 9th (Big Poetry Weekend 6th to 9th October)


We had great and appreciative audiences who were good enough to say lovely and genuine things about us.

Steven Daniels:

Next is the (I don’t have enough words to describe just how incredible this experience was) Swindon festival of Poetry. 5 days of back to back poetry events, workshops and readings. The entire event is up there as one of the best experiences of my life, the people, the poetry and the sheer energy was unforgettable. It’s tough to nail it down to a few things, but the highlights for me were:

Kei Miller reading from his first two collections – it has changed the way I look at my poetry and was truly inspirational.

Jo Bell – as the resident poet she had a lot to live up to – I think the key to making this work was to make every visitor feel special and Jo did this in so many ways, from the readings of her work, to holding great workshops, helping out the organiser’s in their hour of need and putting up with all our ridiculous questions about living on a longboat! Jo really was the star of the show and it wouldn’t have been the same experience, had she not so willingly thrown herself into the event.

Brilliant readings and workshops from  Jacqueline Saphra and Robert Vas Dias – other stand-out readings were (and there are a lot), Jo Bell and Jonathan Davidson in a train carriage keeping us all entertained, Tania Hershman and her wonderful blend of flash fiction and poetry, Luke Kennard delivered some wonderfully varied poetry and has definitely gained me as a new follower! There was an incredibly powerful reading from Isabel Palmer, I can’t wait until I have some time to dive into her new pamphlet. Then there was the exuberant performance of Sophie Herxheimer – she had us all entertained and surprised with the many giant sized poems she provided. It’s tough to recap everything, but there really were so many highlights (some of which haven’t even been covered here) – it will be the must attend event of 2016!


From Jacqueline Saphra

This morning I’m thinking of Hilda Sheehan at The Swindon Poetry Festival, dashing about in her little car, checking the poets are collected and delivered at the station, making their beds, opening and locking doors, running events, dispensing hugs, selling glasses of wine, smiling at everyone, saying thank you all the time and meaning it; all of this on practically no sleep. And this is aside from the poetry itself, the process of organising the events, arranging for the poets to come, getting the funding, finding the volunteers and buying their donuts, thinking about catering, accommodation, ticketing. Above all, there is the creative input, the process that happen before the festival: coming up with the ideas for different events – so many different events! And then making them happen. Not forgetting that Hilda must earn a living, find time to write her own (extraordinary) poetry and (I do hope) have a life beyond poetry too. The volunteers are also doing it for love: the ones who look after the poets, wash the teacups, answer the questions, introduce the poets, do the photocopying …
See more on Jacqueline's blog:

Ganderflanking on National Poetry Day


Hear ye, hear ye
you young of Wiltshire.
Lay down your porridge spoons,
your tools, your books.

Swindon, the rightful place
for ganderflanking,
so says the Bishop.

A farmer's rant
blaring Moonraker feathers-
bumpkin magic
on The Crammer.

Make it kaleidoscopic,
colour your lardy cakes,
your gramfypigs
with mysterious sprinkles.

Fill all the little holes
with a small white something,
eat spiritual grockles
to give you the strength

By Hilda Sheehan and Anna-May Laugher

Produced together for BBC Wiltshire on National Poetry Day using the words of listeners in 40 minutes.