“Poets were singers long before they were writers.” - Roger Garfitt
One of the beautiful things about poetry is how it compliments so many other creative mediums and activities. From art and illustration to dance and theatre. Even yoga and walking can be enhanced by a poetry reading along the way, especially if the poems were written about the rolling hills and rocks that you’re clambering over.
We love pairing poetry at BMPF and this year we’re excited to be hosting the poet Roger Garfitt and guitarist Gareth Rees-Roberts, who will be performing Roger’s Border Songs and From the Ridge.
“Roger Garfitt is a man of letters of the old school – a meticulous craftsman, knowledgeable, widely read, broadly travelled, deeply lived. His poetry is sculpted, informed, felt, formal but open, rooted in place and personality. Always open to new ways, new collaborations, his work with musicians is as carefully weighed as his words, choosing to work with fellow craftspeople at the top of their game.
“That means in this case with Gareth Rees-Roberts, a Royal Academy graduate and winner of the Julian Bream Prize. Coincidentally too, a great long-time supporter of the Poetry Festival, and it’s great to see him back as a performer. We can’t wait.”
– David Woolley, Co-Founder of BMPF
To open the show on Sunday the duo will be performing Roger’s Border Songs, a collection of poems he wrote for the Shropshire County Archive in 1994, during its construction. The poems were engraved on glass, each inspired by the rich history of the area and the many voices of the past that were to be stored in the archive.
Roger explained that, “Shropshire is a border county and Shrewsbury, where the archive is housed, may have been the site of the Hall of Cynddylan, Prince of Powys, hauntingly remembered in a Welsh lament from the ninth century. The town itself was built as a burh, a stronghold against Vikings when they began to raid up the River Severn.
“At a time when images from Bosnia were appearing on the television news, it seemed important not to write an English tribal song but to honour all the different strands to be found in the history of the Marches.”
Wilfred Owen, the great protest poet of the First World War, is the final focus of Border Songs. Roger told us, “with the centenary of that War fresh in our minds, it seems a good moment to reflect on the challenge of Border Songs and to hear again all the voices that have been woven into it.” It’s a perfect fit for BMPF’s theme, too.
Gareth will accompany the poems with Scottish, Irish and Welsh tunes, including two galliards by Dowland and his Fantasia, which as Roger describes, “was so advanced for its time that it’s a revelation of just how inventive a composer Dowland was”.
From the Ridge
Originally commissioned by the Poetry Society under their Poetry Places scheme, Roger’s From the Ridge draws inspiration from the songs of Atahualpa Yupanqui (1908-1992), the great Argentinian singer and activist. Roger was inspired by how Yupanqui “learned in exile to turn loss into a landscape and make his way across it”.
While collaborating on a programme of poetry and music for a tour in East Anglia, Roger introduced Gareth to Yupanqui’s compositions. He was instantly hooked.
Gareth told us, “I began extensively researching his repertoire, with the help and encouragement of Argentine guitarists Analia Rego and Arturo Zeballos, who has been transcribing Yupanqui’s recordings for the Atahualpa Foundation in Pergamino Province, Argentina.
“Although still greatly revered throughout Latin America and much of Europe, remembered affectionately as Don Ata, he has remained relatively unknown in the UK. He died in Nimes, France, at the age of 84 in 1992.”
Gareth will be playing five pieces of Yupanqui’s, sent over from Beunos Aires especially for this performance.
He said, “The music has proved challenging because although Yupanqui was initially classically trained, he chose to find his inspiration in the folkloric music of the poor rural communities far from the sophistication of urban Beunos Aires. His style of composing and playing the guitar was as radical as his poetry and his politics.”
We can’t wait to hear how Yupanqui’s songs sound alongside Roger’s From the Ridge. It’s going to be a delightful end to our weekend of festivities, setting us up perfectly for our closing reading by Rachael Allen and Andrew McMillan.
If you’d like to join us, you can book tickets here.