Poems that Walk: Performance Poetry in Natural Spaces

The ability of nature to inspire great works of writing is something that has powered poets for thousands of years.

Poetry has the ability to walk us through difficult terrain, to defamiliarise the known environment, to evoke powerful emotion by forging a new relationship to a space we know, or don't.

Homer interweaved nature with bloody descriptions of the battlefield in the Iliad; the Romantics treated the outdoors with a deep and abiding reverence; and the natural world continues to inspire today, as is evident in the work of many poets in this year's festival.

 Rydal Water, Lake District

Rydal Water, Lake District

Poetry that Walks

One of the most famous of the Romantic poets, William Wordsworth, treated nature as his primary muse. He drew his inspiration directly from the outdoors, crafting his poems on long walks around the countryside, speaking the verses aloud to himself as they came into his mind.

In the Lake District the ‘Wordsworth Walk’ takes you around the sites that inspired his writing, starting in the churchyard he’s buried in and around the Rydal Water lake. His poetry is deeply rooted in these places that served to incite his creativity.

 The Cheesewring 

The Cheesewring 

Similarly, Cornish landscapes have often served as inspiration for writers; Virginia Woolf’s The Waves was heavily based on her childhood spent in St Ives, while Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn is set in the Bodmin Moor pub of the same name.

The stunning coastal landscapes make for great bases off of which writing can be developed. Though as well as the writing, these striking views can make for an excellent stage for the performance of poetry as well as its creation.

Performance in Nature: The Cheesewring

Performance poetry as an art form can be linked back to the form’s history as an oral art originally read aloud for the benefit of the largely-illiterate listeners. Hearing poetry being read rather than just experiencing it on paper alone can lead to an even greater appreciation of the writing.

This is especially true when hearing it be performed in nature. Listening to nature poetry being read in the setting in which it is based can only serve to enhance the experience. It’s a sensory immersion, the combination of which can lead to a greater appreciation for both writing and landscape.

As such, at this year’s festival we are hosting our own outdoor poetry walk where you can enjoy a poetry reading in the great outdoors. It will be set around the Cheesewring, a granite rock formation in Bodmin, named for its resemblance to an instrument that used to be used to make cheese.

Described by writer Wilkie Collins as ‘if a man dreams of a great pile of stones in a nightmare’, local legend says that the Cheesewring was formed as a result of a competition between a man and a giant. The giant Uther challenged a recently-landed saint to a rock throwing competition, where they threw their stones that piled one-atop-the-other. The saint ended up winning the competition with the help of an angel, who piled on the last stone on what is now known as the Cheesewring.

This impressive natural creation filled with myth is the perfect backdrop for a walk filled with poetry, and will undoubtedly be a great experience for all involved.

by Seren Livie