The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde

We shall write them on the beaches

Yes, I’ve been to Skye. But we’re not going to talk about that. Pay attention: I have said it before, and I have said it again, and I will say it

West Port: Peggy and Kay in their element

once more. Get off your bottom and seek out the poetry of William Letford. His work is spare, masculine, funny and thoughtful work and he reads it with a glint in his eye. If you can’t see him in person, buy the excellent Carcanet anthology in which he appears.

Mr Letford springs to mind because I saw him again at the West Port Book Festival. Edinburgh’s pocket-sized lit fest, run on a budget of 50p and an infinite supply of cake, is friendly and professional and a delight to take part in. The venues are the old book shops of the city, stacked to the rafters with dust and tweed and curiosity. Scattered between them are strip clubs, so if you get bored with the books you can always go and look at naked women; but surely, dear reader, for a person of your calibre it would be the other way round. My workshop in a book-bindery proved to

That'll be me then

be one of those where creative chemistry starts bubbling and great work is produced. There were quirky events, a tea dance and occasional forays to the pub. It was cockle-warming also to read with Rob A Mackenzie, Helen Addy and Lynsey May from our eavesdropping anthology Bugged. David Calcutt and I are cooking up a sort of ‘Son of Bugged’ – a new project which will be different, but just as enjoyable.

Aldeburgh. Too many boat pictures? Nonsense

The boat is now on her winter mooring at the Macclesfield Home for the Unusual, but I’m still on the move. I had three lovely solitary days in Skye, and two weeks later was at the other end of the country, for the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. If West Port is the new kid on the block with a cheeky sense of humour, then Aldeburgh is the grande dame of poetry festivals; the longest-established, with an immaculate pedigree. I do like to be beside the seaside, though for me the programme was just a little staid, and expensive too at £14 for the main events. I know how costly big names are, but this price forces festival-goers to cut their cloth. Frankly, I could have used a tea dance. Still, there were fine readings from US laureate Kay Ryan, nonagenarian Fergus Allen and my sometime co-conspirator Jonathan Davidson. The streets were heaving with literary types. You couldn’t eat a chip

Novelist Simon Thirsk

without a famous poet lurching up behind you to steal one.

Back in the lovely lumpen landscape of my native Peaks, Templar Press held their Derwent Poetry Festival. I’m in their new anthology Bliss and it was a pleasure to hear so many of the poets in it reading in the old Masson Mills complex – with an MC who, startlingly, seemed to have actually read our work. Plus, my mum was there and I made her cry.

Looking at my diary, it’s clear that I said to everyone who wanted something done ‘Oh, I’ll do that in November after National Poetry Day.’ Busy times, these – December looks like a distant oasis in a vast expanse of work; but, as always, the work is full of joys. This week I’m in London first, then in Manchester for readings with the unfeasibly beautiful Max Wallis on Thursday (City Library, 6pm, free, see him naked here by the way) and at Shangri La on Friday; then off to Birmingham to speak at The Writers’ Toolkit, and to Worcester to lead a workshop for Apples & Snakes. All this and more thrilling detail on my What’s On page…

Model poet: Max Wallis

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This entry was posted on November 13, 2011 by in Writing exercises.
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