We had a great day of poetry at Welney Wetland Centre last week. The day formed part of OuseFest 2016 and was sponsored by the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership through a grant from their Community Heritage Fund. It included an afternoon workshop, facilitated by me and my co-editor Mary Livingstone, and an evening performance with readings from Mary, Poppy Kleiser and Clare Best.
The workshop began with a guided walk around the reserve at Welney. We had a brilliant group of workshop participants who engaged wholeheartedly in exercises designed to stimulate responses to the landscape and wildlife. Writing from inside a bird hide made for a particularly atmospheric setting. We had poems about birds, and migration. Dragonflies also featured (thanks to Mary for spotting and retrieving a rather spectacular dead dragonfly on the walk), as did seeds, teazles and other small discoveries. The unique landscape provided inspiration for some wonderfully surprising pieces, which frequently journeyed to other times and places with their personal and political resonances.
The reading took place in the café area; with its massive windows looking out onto the fen, the evening light changing by the minute and an acoustic backdrop reminiscent of the rainforest (cattle and sheep excepted), it made for a remarkable stage.
Clare Best now lives in Sussex but is no stranger to the fens, having spent two years as poet in residence at Woodlands Organic Farm in Lincolnshire, and it was particularly special to have the farm’s owner, Andrew, in the audience. Poems from her pamphlet Treasure Ground took us right into the beating heart of the farm and all the science and mystery of its ecology. Clare also read newer poems exploring other landscapes - geographical, physical, political - with an acuteness and honesty that was breathtaking. Poppy Kleiser gave a passionate reading which would have been equally well placed in a festival tent and a history conference. Her poems about the chequered history of the fens and its socio-political climate had us riveted, unsettling and rousing in their relevance. Mary Livingstone gave us a reading worthy of the Fenland Poet Laureate epithet. Her poems spoke of the varied landscapes of communication and were by turns beautiful, moving, brutal and funny (alluding here to her growing repertoire of ‘predictive text poems’). We were also treated to impressively polished poems written earlier in the day by two of our workshop participants.
Thank you to the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership, to Emma Brand at Welney Wetland Centre for leading the walk and looking after everyone, and to all those who came and made it such a memorable day.