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Tears in the Fence Festival: ‘Bewilderment / Bewildered / Be Wild’

2–4 September 2022

A tree without a soul watching, 

one adjacent prayer touching

Peter Larkin, Sounds between trees, 39

At Stourpaine Village Hall, an eco-friendly and sustainable building, the Tears in the Fence Poetry Festival displayed the diverse and multifaceted sides of poetry. It encompassed experimental and performative poetry, studies in etymology, translations, confessional poetry, poems about relationships, food and different types of encounters, and eco-poetry. The days were packed with sessions of engrossing readings that alternated readings by poets featured in the festival with essays, interviews, music, discussions and talks. The programme was varied and entertaining and included long intervals that gave the attendees plenty of time to connect, chat and update each other. The organisers, notably Janet Hancock, Joanna Nissel, Andrew Henon, Gerald Killingworth, Hamidah Saleem and Richard Foreman worked tirelessly to make the festival run splendidly. Lunch and dinner were available on the Saturday and refreshments were offered during each day. The atmosphere was enjoyable and friendly and the readings and talks were engaging, fresh and stimulating. The festival gave different voices a space that validated distinctive views and different ways of seeing and feeling. The theme, ‘Bewilderment, Bewildered, Be Wild’, was meant to reflect on our uncertain times but also to open up our senses to the enchantment of nature, to the connections between the world of humans and the world of non-humans. These realities are closely linked and are endangered by the effects of climate change, global warming and conflicts. Trees, insects, the landscape and the weather are all part of an ecosystem in which humankind thrives, sometimes in harmony but at other times clashing with and exploiting the natural world that should be at the centre of our concerns. Some poets investigate these issues in a perspective that proposes free expansion and rewilding. The approach might be considered prophetical, wild and unmapped; it is often experimental, revealing attempts to form a more authentic vision and a sustainable green future.

Writers and poets such as Mandy Pannett, Morag Kiziewicz, Jessica Mookherjee, Penny Hope, Harriet Tarlo, Carol Watts and Frances Presley delve into these arguments, expressing the damage caused by human intervention and exploring the contradictions of being immersed in nature. Wandering in the natural world and being overwhelmed by a sense of wonder imply being lost and therefore open to new possibilities that are uncertain but also inspiring and thought-provoking. The centre shifts, chaos seems to prevail and marginal views come to the fore, such as in the work of the Roma poet Karen Downs-Barton, acknowledging a human and non-human condition that traces unpredictable paths. It is a peripheral vision that becomes central in poetry.

The mystery of the natural world is partially unveiled in the spareness, vulnerability and humility of the quotidian in which contact with the environment becomes spontaneous. Therefore, conservation is attained in the delicate balance between respect for and consumption of the resources available, a rewilding that is both an attitude and a practice. Other authors, such as Ian Seed, David Caddy, Jennifer Dick and Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana face the wild in surreal encounters in which the ordinary is subverted or in double-sided relationships and in language, which needs to be rearticulated to voice the unheard.

Forthcoming and recently published collections were presented as well. Here is the list, which is certainly an interesting one: 

Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani, Knitting Drum Machines for Exiled Tongues (Tears in the Fence)

Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, Sing Me Down From The Dark (Salt Publishing)

Gerald Killingworth, Emptying Houses (Dempsey & Windle)

Frances Presley, Collected Poems Vols 1 and 2 (Shearsman)

Harriet Tarlo, Spillways (Hydro Spheres) 

Harriet Tarlo, Saltwort (Wild Pansy Press)

Sarah Watkinson, Photovoltaic

Joanna Nissel, Guerrilla Brightenings (Against the Grain)

Peter Larkin, Seven Leaf Sermons (Guillemot Press)

Peter Larkin, Sound Between Trees (Guillemot Press)

Tilla Brading and Frances Presley, ADADADADADADA (Odyssey Poets Press)

Carol Watts, Dockfield (Equipage)

Jessica Mookherjee, Notes From A Shipwreck (Nine Arches Press)

David Caddy, Interiors and Other Poems (Shearsman)

Carla Scarano D’Antonio, Workwear (The High Window)

The hilarious reading on the theme of games by Richard Foreman and the captivating wry sense of humour of Charles Wilkinson gave a twist to Saturday evening. A special mention is due to Morag Kiziewicz’s accurate festival address and Peter Larkin’s engrossing essay ‘Rewilding the Expressive: A Poetic Strategy’, which will be published in Tears in the Fence 77. I was particularly impressed by Frances Presley’s considerable work on sounds and syntax and her commitment to community projects, and by Joanna Nissel’s ‘Hove Lawns to Portslade – April’, a long poem about walking on the beach at sunrise during the first lockdown. Peter Larkin’s short poems about trees made me crave his latest collection, Sounds between Trees, which features 100 short poems evoking the many intersections we share with trees and meditations on our breathing with them. The festival ended with a walk to Hod Hill, a site of natural beauty with a breathtaking view from the top of the hill, which Carol Watts mentions in her poem: ‘On a clear day, from this place, you would see across channels to an island.’ The next poetry festival will be on 15–17 September 2023 at Stourpaine. Everything will be announced on the website: https://tearsinthefence.com/

The festival was a celebration of poetry and a promise of friendship in a conversation that gave a space and a voice to a wide range of poetic approaches and often imperceptible but crucial views.

Carla Scarano D’Antonio 13th September 2022

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