I was recently invited to take part in an Indigo Dreams Publishing showcase event at Cheltenham Poetry Festival. Never having attended a poetry festival before I didn’t know what to expect, and knowing it would be in a pub I thought it might be quite low key.
Cheltenham is an easy drive for me from Portishead (about 50 minutes, even at rush hour) and after dropping the car off at the Brewery NCP I found the Frog & Fiddle on Cheltenham’s High Street with ease. Seated together inside were IDP’s leading lights, Ronnie Goodyer and his partner Dawn Bauling, and fellow IDP poet Deborah Harvey with her partner Colin Brown (who runs the West Country’s poetry development agency, Poetry Can). It was lovely to finally meet Ronnie and Dawn having worked with them so closely on making Communing happen, and we all chatted happily while waiting for kick-off.
It wasn’t long before Chrys Salt arrived with her entourage (her husband and two visitors from Canada). Chrys has published two collections with IDP and with a background in the dramatic arts I was looking forward to hearing her read later. She’s also a lot of fun and has a wicked sense of humour!
Anna Saunders, who runs the festival and who was also reading at the event (having just published her collection, Burne Jones and the Fox, with IDP) showed us into the performance space, which is usually where the pub hosts live bands of an evening.
I was really impressed with the size of it and the fact that there was a stage, PA and atmospheric lighting, which you don’t often get at a poetry reading. But perhaps more thrilling was the fact that the room was already packed with audience members and more chairs were being carried in to cope with the numbers!
Ronnie was introduced by compère Jennie Farley (another poet from the IDP stable) and he spoke about the history of the company and mentioned its recent string of nominations for the Saboteur Awards. Particularly impressive is the fact that IDP receives no funding whatsoever – it survives thanks to its army of loyal supporters who get behind the company’s three magazines (Reach, Sarasvati and Dawntreader) as well as its pamphlets, collections and anthologies. Ronnie and Dawn don’t run the business because they have to – they do it for the love of poetry and have given many hundreds, if not thousands of poets their first shot at publication.
First up to read was Deborah Harvey, who performed some haunting poems from her newly released third collection, Breadcrumbs. You could’ve heard a pin drop while Deb was reading, and I can’t wait to dip into my copy to experience this story of ‘a relationship which never was’.
I went up next and read ten poems from Communing, which I hoped would give the audience a good overall feel for the book. This was the first time I’d read more than one poem at an event, and it felt really good to relax into the performance. As I reached the end and thanked the audience for listening I was delighted to receive an enthusiastic round of applause – what a feeling!
Anna went next and showed why her new collection, Burne Jones and the Fox, already has quite buzz around it – the fox of the title pops up throughout in a variety of guises, and Ronnie’s gorgeous design for the cover make it especially eye-catching.
Finally, Chrys gave a master class of a reading, choosing poems from both of her IDP collections (Grass and Dancing on a Rock) which explore contrasting experiences of war and peace. Chrys’ background in the dramatic arts is plain to see and she had the audience in the palm of her hand with an emotional and heartfelt performance.
Afterwards I enjoyed chatting to some of the audience members and was very pleased to sell a few books. I left the reading on a high and roared back down the motorway with a CD playing at full blast and a big soppy grin on my face.
I can thoroughly recommend Cheltenham Poetry Festival and will definitely be returning for many years to come!
In other news, Deborah Harvey and I have organised a joint launch for our books at Spike Island in Bristol on Friday June 10th, 7pm-9.30pm – there’s a flyer below, which you’re more than welcome to print out and leave in phone boxes and coffee shops across the South West. I hope to see you there!