The Ludlow Festival is a well established affair. This year a fringe has been established which included a poetry day on the Saturday boasting a day long range of events from readings and workshops, through to the highlight, Poetry and Pints, at the Globe public house in the evening. A large open sided gazebo had been erected to keep the anticipated mid- summer sun off the backs of poets, some who had travelled some considerable distance to attend a combination of open mic, and the debut performance of The Olympians by Bridgnorth Writers. The big travelling contingent of poets bore testimony to Deborah Alma’s poetic pulling power. Local author Mike Sergeant kept proceedings on the move as MC, Anita Bigsby, Festival organiser watched anxiously as her fledgling coming together unfolded.
Ludlow is a beautiful, historic market town, the Globe pub, old and oozing character, a fitting setting for poetry. Staging poetry on a Saturday night has rewards and risks. The reward is that it gives the event prominence and a large casual crowd. The risk is that if you do not engage with the casuals , a boozy Saturday crowd can be difficult to tame. Fortunately, Wolverhampton based poet Jane James, who opened proceedings, is a seasoned accomplished performer who delivered an accessible, crowd pleasing sequence, which set the tone, and standard for the evening.
Much Wenlock is only twenty two miles away and is the ideological birthplace of the modern Olympics. In this year of the London Olympics it was fitting that the local Bridgnorth Writers should compose a piece to celebrate the coming together of the past and present. Dave Bingham, Paul and Linda Francis entitled it The Olympians and traced the history of the modern Olympic movement from its local roots in poetry and prose. Well written, and well presented, it contained many memorable vignettes of fact and incident. However they may well have been better advised to have split the lengthy performance in two, in order that the interest of the casuals could have been better retained.
Performing open mic at an occasion like this is no easy task. The performer has no idea in advance of the size, age and social profile of the audience ,or the physical format of the seating arrangements. Here the audience was split. Under the gazebo, the predominantly older ,poetic cognoscenti gathered. In the rest of the beer garden the, predominantly younger, casuals gathered. The deal is simple. If you engage the casuals, they settle and listen, if you don’t, they chatter and drink beer, loudly. Most poets succeeded in the former.
Jack Edwards charmed with his youthful effervescence, Sam Hunt landed two knock-out blows, then retired, Adrian Perks espoused the joys of women’s clothes ,whilst Janet Smith demonstrated that it is possible to perform fine, serious poetry to a mixed crowd, and carry them, if you keep it tight and direct, and always have one eye on audience response.
Three performers deserve special mention. Deborah Alma had not intended to read, but with the event due to start , and several performers still en route, found herself reading anyway. Absurdly self –deprecating in manner, she was a delight. At the evening’s end, Gareth Owen bravely closed the show as the rain beat down (of which more shortly). A very good poet, he eschewed vanity and performed a short pithy set in a triumph of professionalism and common sense. I look forwards to hearing him again in less pressing circumstances. Those pressing circumstances? The penultimate poet was Liz Lefroy a local poetic luminary, and someone who is always worth listening to. However this time she performed accompanied. Accompanied by driving rain. At first the patter of rain on canvas has a hypnotic seductive quality. However when rivulets of water periodically cascade onto lighting cables, sockets and amplification equipment, the concept of an electrifying performance transforms from the metaphorical ,to the potential for actual! Somehow Liz carried on wonderfully with defiant insouciance to the risk of blackout and explosion. She is definitely someone to have around in a crisis. Her opening poem? Pretending the Weather.
Not that the wet and risk of electrocution in any way spoiled the event. The rain did not dampen spirits, and a spot of danger is essential to good poetry. All concerned are to be congratulated on a successful and well attended occasion which hopefully will provide the basis for future poetry at the Fringe Festival.
Photographs by Deborah Alma
Gary Longden 24/6/12