Creating the Antidote: An Interview with David Woolley & Ann Gray

 

With May quickly approaching, I got the chance to interview the founders, Ann Gray and David Woolley, about the upcoming Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival. I wanted to find out what made this festival special and what people can expect from this unique and exciting poetry gathering.

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Ann Gray is author of a number of collections including Painting Skin (Fatchance Press, 1995) and The Man I Was Promised (Headland, 2004), Ann was commended for the National Poetry Competition 2010 and won the Ballymaloe Poetry Prize in 2014.

David Woolley

David Woolley has published four collections of poetry. He established and ran ‘Westwords’ poetry magazine and press for several years, and has worked in Literature Development for 25 years. He ran the Dylan Thomas Festival for 11 years, He now runs BMPF with Ann, and also helps her to run Coombe House.

 

We wanted to bring the ‘big names’ to Cornwall, but we also wanted to give a platform to more local poets and presses.

KW: There is a romantic history with Cornwall and literature & poetry. What drew you and Ann to the idea of Cornwall or Bodmin as a backdrop for a poetry festival?

DW & AG: We have both lived in the area, on and off for many years. While Cornwall has a rich literary history, there has been relatively little happening regularly on the poetry front in recent times.  As with say popular music, where one has to travel probably as far as Bristol to see the really big names, it’s been the same with poetry. The Exeter Poetry Festival has established itself well in the last decade, and you have ‘uncut poets’ there on a regular basis (something incidentally that Ann started many years back) but you have had to travel at least that far to see the stars of the poetry world before we started BMPF. Added to that, when Sterts started as a venue 30 years back, it had a much more varied programme, including poetry events, and we wanted to bring that back to the venue.

KW: What do you think this festival is bringing to the current poetry scene? 

DW & AG: Literary festivals abound now, and although pure poetry fests make up a small percentage of them, it’s growing steadily. As we’ve said above, we wanted to bring the ‘big names’ to Cornwall, but we also wanted to give a platform to more local poets and presses, and to help develop a culture in the community that nurtures poetry and encourages young people to get involved.

KW: Why should people be interested in the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival? Is there something particular you want people to take away with them? A new perspective or appreciation of poetry? Fun?

We wanted to create the antidote if you like to the Hay type of festival. We wanted ours to be small, friendly, intimate.

DW & AG: That’s a good question! Yes--very definitely.  We wanted to create the antidote if you like to the Hay type of festival. We wanted ours to be small, friendly, intimate.  Of course, we want lots of people to come, but we have resisted the temptation to expand the festival beyond the Friday/Sat/Sun format or having more than one event at a time. Bigger is very seldom better in our view. We want the audience to be able to mingle with the poets, the poets with the audience and with each other.  And yes--we very much want it to be fun.  What we are saying is there are many different types of poetry, and none are necessarily superior to any other. We want to offer a rich and varied menu.  Our only criteria is that what’s on the menu is good to eat!

There are many different types of poetry, and none are necessarily superior to any other. We want to offer a rich and varied menu.

KW: There's a mix of art forms in the festival, such as dance, poetry and illustration. Why have you chosen to combine these different forms with poetry? Is this perhaps to make poetry more accessible and current to a generation that has moved away from it?

DW & AG: One of the many great things about poetry is its flexibility – the fact that it can combine with pretty much any of the other art forms.  It’s exciting to work with poetry in this way, and it offers different perspectives on poems and poets, and different opportunities for artists in other media to be inspired by poems and poets. Specifically, this year, we’ve been able to bring a long, complex poem to life by combining it with dance, and we’ve been able to focus on the work of Guillemot Press in their creation of poetry books as exquisite works of art in their own right. The advent of social media and things like Kindles were supposed to be the death knell for the book, but the demand from many readers for real, beautiful books shows how wrong that was!

Poetry will always be there .... It will always be there as long as there’s a cave wall and a bit of rock.

We don’t really agree that any specific generation moves away from poetry.  I think it’s more that poetry moves in and out of people’s lives, and in and out of the popular consciousness at different times.  It’s like the double-helix, or Heraclitean theories of flux--poetry is always with us, whether we always know it or not. It’s there in advertising--you’ve only got to watch TV for an hour or two and you’ll get poetry being used in an advert--or in music, with Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. You’ve opened a can of rhymes there, and we could go on, but we’ll just finish by saying that the age of poets at the festival will range from 7 to 70+ and that’s the way it should be. Poetry will always be there, and it will always be current, whether or not it’s universally acknowledged as such. It will always be there as long as there’s a cave wall and a bit of rock, so we’d urge everyone just to come along and see for themselves.

by Kev Woodley