The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde

Normal service is resumed…

Oh yea, oh yea... you can sit down now

….with my blog going live on Sunday once more, as it should. This week should have been less hectic – but it didn’t quite turn out like that, hence the mammoth blog. Indulge me.

Ledbury Poetry Festival (left) was particularly stellar this year thanks to great programming by director Chloe Garner. The last event was billed as ‘Laugh Till it Hurts’ – which put a bit of pressure on Byron Vincent, me, Kate Fox and A F Harrold – but we certainly made them chortle. It was a full house and a friendly finale. Next year I’ll be much more hands-on, for reasons which will become clear. And that, I thought as I drove north via, was the end of dashing about since mid-June.

Then, a phone call: “can you perform at the O2 arena tomorrow night?” Hmmm. It meant missing the installation of my lovely Companion Stone, the climax to a project which has meant a great deal to me. But fellow poet Ann Atkinson would be there: she promised to put a bright new 2010 penny under my stone as it was set in place. So then, to London.

The strangely asymmetrical Lembit Opik and me

This was a big affair: the Brit Writers Awards for unpublished writers. The black-tie audience included publishers,

Backstage with Don Shahada

agents, media types and writers. Terry Pratchett, Feargal Sharkey and….er… Lembit Opik were there to give prizes. The grand opening of this grand ceremony was to be a ten-minute poetry performance incorporating music, graffiti art/poetry from Mohammed ‘AerosolArabic’ Ali, and bullet-fast poetry from David J, Don Shahada and Zena Edwards. But poor Zena was speechless with a sore throat, so I was standing in.

Mohammed Ali (not that one)

‘Hello everyone, pleased to meet you…. WHAT? You’ve been rehearsing for four days and I have six hours to choose and learn a new piece? Bloody hell. Alright then.’ I spent the afternoon playing and replaying the poem through headphones. Every time I tried it, I fluffed it. We rehearsed a complicated handover from David J to me, and from me into the musicians on stage. I kept fluffing it. But when the spotlight shone on me in the audience and the moment came – I stood up and got it word perfect. Phew.

Me and my invisible shoes

At 3.30 in the morning I crashed at Charlie Jordan’s in Birmingham – she being the kindly soul who had suggested me for the gig. Then, on a train and back to Ledbury, to interview people for the post of Festival Manager. By unanimous decision we got an absolutely fantastic candidate, a person I can imagine working closely with and having a good giggle with, as well as a good professional relationship.

On Friday night, it caught up with me a bit. I felt a little overwhelmed by weeks of travel, late nights and early mornings, forsaken weekends. But on Saturday I had to head west again to Ellesmere Port for a day-long rehearsal of my little play, now called First Person, at Action Transport Theatre. And there, after weeks of technical conversations – how can we stage it, who should we cast, how can we make this chair into a mountain? – at last the play began to come together. As the young actors spoke my lines I felt the hairs actually stand up on the back of my neck; they began to get the rhythm and sense of the words, the director Kevin Dyer began to see a way around technical problems; and magic happened.

It will all make sense, honest

What I do for a living is ridiculous, precarious, possibly self-indulgent and certainly time-consuming. But my week was full of moments like these, where you realise you’ve created something that can entertain or move or startle. It’s a pleasure and a real privilege to be able to do this, when so many people don’t get the chance to do work they choose. It was so nice to come home to my boat, a bottle of wine, and to spend the evening nearly buying retro caravans on eBay. Gold dust innit?

But we'd all be bloody poets

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2 comments on “Normal service is resumed…

  1. Jonnie
    July 22, 2010

    Are you going to be the next cheeky girl?

    • Jo Bell
      July 23, 2010

      Oh, I do hope not….

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This entry was posted on July 18, 2010 by in Writing exercises.
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