This weekend Woodstock will be a who’s who of the poetry world, with people travelling from far and wide to come and hear the Uk’s most famous poets speak, recite, answer questions and debut new work.
There is also an open mic night where over 30 budding local poets will read their poems to an avid audience.
Organised by Rachel Phipps of Woodstock Bookshop and her team, the festival, now in its eighth year, aims to be accessible, fun and relevant.
It boasts the newest, trendiest, most award-winning smattering of names alongside some more established recognisable offerings.
Take Raymond Antrobus, who is deaf, and making huge headlines. His new book, The Perseverance, won the Ted Hughes Award, the Rathbones Folio Prize and was the Poetry Book of the Year for the Guardian, Sunday Times and Poetry School among its many other accolades.
The British-Jamaican poet’s work ranges across history and continents, operating as much in the spaces in between the words, whose haunting lyrics create new, hybrid territories. The Perseverance is a book of loss, contested language and praise, and it’s a massive coup for the festival’s organisers for him to be attending.
“He is a hugely charismatic and persuasive performer,” says Jenny Lewis. Having taught poetry at Oxford University, and a brilliant poet in her own right, she is hosting the open mic night.
“The Woodstock Poetry Festival is renowned in the UK, mainly because of the extreme care Rachel and her team put into choosing and inviting the most inspiring and cutting edge poets writing in the UK today,” she says.
“Rachel also assesses the performance aspects of poetry which ensures that Woodstock Poetry Festival events are always full of energy and life, with poets who create a great rapport with the audience.
“I have read at several major festivals, here and abroad, and I can honestly say that the Woodstock Poetry Festival is every bit as good and often even more impressive because of its careful, imaginative and knowledgeable selection process.”
Her own event on Sunday will feature the wonderful Faith Lawrence, Producer of BBC 3’s The Verb, who is launching her debut pamphlet, Sleeping Through, chosen by the previous Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.
Faith’s reading will be followed by the open mic session for local Oxfordshire poets, buzzing with interest and enjoyment of language, ideas and community participation.
Other poets to look out for (out of a whole weekend of incredible poets) is Julia Copus who is reading with Jane Clarke on Saturday from her latest collection, Girlhood which has had rave reviews in the media, rare for books of poetry. Jane Clarke is also an exceptional poet (When the Tree Falls, Bloodaxe, 2019).
The weekend begins on Friday with readings by Hugo Williams and Kei Miller in St Mary Magdalene Church, Woodstock. Hugo Williams is a poet, journalist and travel writer, whose first poetry collection came out over 50 years ago. He is a past winner of the T S Eliot Prize and was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry in 2004. As Fiona Sampson put it, his ‘wryly candid reports from the front lines of sex and family life are a perennial delight’ – this latest collection, Lines Off, written following transplant surgery, is no exception.
Kei Miller, who grew up in Jamaica and is currently professor of creative writing at Exeter university. He will be reading from his latest book, In Nearby Bushes. Kei came to Woodstock a few years ago with Don Paterson and the organisers are delighted to welcome him back – he is a hugely charismatic and engaging reader.
Saturday afternoon opens with a reading from two poets shortlisted for this year’s Forward Prize – Niall Campbell and Vidyan Ravinthiran. Again, both are very different – Niall comes from the Outer Hebrides, Vidyan teaches at Birmingham University, but their collections are linked through being rooted in domestic detail – fatherhood and marriage.
The next event is a discussion about translating poetry between Oxford-based poet Patrick McGuinness and his italian translator Giorgia Sensi in what promises to be a fascinating session.
Two Oxford poets, Hannah Sullivan (winner of this year’s T S Eliot prize) and Mary Jean Chan, read next – both from their first collections.
“We finish, by popular request, with music and poetry – music provided first by Henderson: Hooper, musicians from Stonesfield playing fiddle and guitar, and then by folk legend Peggy Seeger. The poets are Bernard O’Donoghue and Tom Paulin and the session takes place in Woodstock Social Club, where the atmosphere is convivial,” Rachel adds.
The Woodstock Poetry Festival November 15-17.