How the beauty of Bridlington provided a poetic shot in the arm

Jonathan Race as Rupert Brooke
Jonathan Race as Rupert Brooke

miles-on-monday-headshot

Miles On Monday


I’ve just come back from a fantastic four days at Bridlington Poetry Festival, which is establishing itself as a great arts festival in East Yorkshire.

Over the last few years, the festival has hosted some great events with many of the leading poets currently active in the UK: Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Jackie Kay and many more.

The setting of Sewerby Hall and its gorgeous grands is wonderfully English.

A small zoo is in the grounds and cricketers play on a wide lawn between the hall and the cliff top. A café in the grounds dishes out tea and coffee over the weekend.

Thursday night opened with a one man play about Rupert Brooke, brilliantly performed by Jonathan Race and directed by York Theatre Royal’s always busy Juliet Forster.

The play is half based on the letters of Brooke, and follows the poet through his life, including numerous travels and his involvement in the First World War before his untimely death in 1915.

Intense, funny, moving, this was a terrific story and performance, with moments of gorgeous language and a very poignant ending.

Andrew Motion’s reading in the second half underscored the emotion of the evening, reading recent poems that focus on army veterans from the recent conflict in Afghanistan.

Friday saw the first of three sessions of the poetry school, led by highly regarded writers Don Paterson and Jean Sprackland.

It was a fun, educational, creative three days peppered with exercises and food for thought.

North Bridlington Library played host to a reading session featuring Tara Bergin, one of several Irish poets to feature during the weekend.

Saturday afternoon included a very popular reading by Wendy Cope followed by cake. Cope’s dry, faintly mildly humour was on display.

The poem My Funeral marked out firm instructions for her departure: “If you are asked to talk about me for five minutes, please do not go on for eight / There is a strict timetable at the crematorium and nobody wants to be late”.

This is advice some poets should dwell on!

One of things that I like about this event is the way it showcases young, up-and-coming poets, and a highlight was the reading by Andrew McMillan and his friend Rebecca Perry.

McMillan’s writing simmers with sexuality and questions about masculinity. Perry’s poem about a one-sided conversation with her father left a lump in the throat. Both have full collections out in 2015.

Blake Morrison reflected on the impact of the banking crisis after Simon Currie brought a few laughs with double entendres.

By 11pm on Saturday evening, some of us were in the pub. The England match was just getting started, but I was busy chatting to Matthew Sweeney about his encounters with some of Ireland’s most famous sons.

Sweeney, a sharp and humorous Irishman, was once asked by Van Morrison’s management for a poem to become one of the singer’s songs, but due to an administrative hiccup, it never happened.

He was also there for a small moment of rock history: when Phil Lynott was trying out guitarists in 1974, auditioning Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, Sweeney was in the room.

Sunday was over too soon, and I was back to York for family duties, missing more readings, but elated by this artistic shot in the arm.

Like-minded friends from around Yorkshire were there, and the festival brings in revenue for the council and the local economy.

Poetry may reach a finite audience (Don Paterson, who edits the Picador list, told me he’s happy if a book hits 1,000 sales), but the weekend amply proved its capacity to intersect with real life, in all its strangeness and peculiar beauty.

I hope I get back to Bridington next year. It’s priceless.