Poetry At The Parsonage
Lorna Faye Dunsire - photo Simon Warner
The tent behind Haworth Parsonage flapped in the gale as I tried to concentrate on my writing. "It's very wuthering, isn't it?" Char March said cheerily, as she mopped the rain from our writing table with loo roll.
Poetry at the Parsonage got under way on Saturday 2nd July with a 10am start and Char's writing workshop about place and the effect of the environment on a writer's work. This involved imagining we were time-travelling into the parsonage in the 1800s, then leaving the comfort of our tent to walk up a big hill and scream. All in a day's work for a poet, naturally.
Elsewhere around the Brontės' former home performers were doing their best at the outdoor performance and picnic area. I didn't see much of this, and I suspect there wasn't much to see: it was just too cold and the rain showers probably stopped play.
Organisers Matthew Withey, Joanna Sedgwick and Mark Connors were undeterred. It takes more than freezing gales to keep Yorkshire folk indoors. Having said that, most of them were in the Old Schoolroom where publishers and open mic groups from across the county were taking the stage.
Acts too numerous to mention ranged from individual performers like Lorna Faye Dunsire, through publishers like Stairwell Books and Otley Word Feast Press to open mic groups like Poetry Prose and Pints and Otley Poets. There were book stalls and a bar staffed by volunteers from the Brontė Society.
On the fringe stage at the Baptist Centre, Sheffield Poetry Society brought the best of young contemporary spoken word, while special mention goes to Gill Lambert, a truly authentic working class talent, rare in these days of expensive reading agencies and MA courses which run the risk of making writing an elitist pastime.
Sunday brought better weather and fresh compčres, including Stairwell Books' Alan Gillott and Rose Drew. "She reads her poetry to me in bed," Gillott remarked. "Well, something's got to happen there," Drew responded. Always the sparky performer, she delivered a blistering set on the Saturday and went on to take third prize in the slam that began the rounding up of the whole show on the Sunday.
While the slam was being judged, James Nash and Matthew Hedley Stoppard read from their Valley Press collection Cinema Stories.
John Hepworth took first prize in the slam with his poem on rogue apostrophes. Siobhan Mac Mahon took second, and third and fourth places went to Rose Drew and Jo Williams (of Haiku Hole fame) respectively.
The day closed with Kate Fox delivering her usual blend of Northern grit and chirpy wit. Young men who shouted at her as she trained for the Great North run, Mick Jagger and Michael Gove all got a mention as she blistered her way through our laughing muscles.
Then it was over. Connors got up to thank the staff and volunteers from the Parsonage who had run the show, staffed the bookstalls and poured the drinks and we got up to give him the standing ovation he deserved for the hard work he does in support of his fellow poets.
I hope the Brontė Society will develop this event again next year. There are few outlets for the arts outside of the cities and some of us live a way away from major urban centres. If they do run it again though, I'd put in a plea for the workshops to run in the Parsonage itself in order to involve us in the museum's collections. It's not so I can keep warm, honest, but if they do repeat this event, make sure you come in your wellies.