One of the best places to enjoy poetry by the sea
- Credit: Ian Burt
The Poetry-next-the-Sea Festival in Wells brings an eclectic mix of poets to the town
When it launched almost 20 years ago, the organisers of the Poetry-next-the-Sea Festival in Wells had two simple ambitions – to bring the best poets to the north Norfolk coast and to encourage younger people to embrace the wonders of the written word.
As the line-up is announced for this year’s festival, which is held at Alderman Peel High School, that original ethos remains at its core with an exciting mix of poetry and performance which is certain to engage audiences of all ages. Artistic director Fiona Fraser says she is passionate about widening the appeal of poetry and introducing it to new audiences.
“I developed a love of poetry at my mother’s knee. My family and I have always been involved with writers. What I have wanted the festival to do is to convey this broader picture of poetry, to break down preconceptions about it. Poetry infiltrates so many different people’s lives, including those who are not necessarily brought up on it nor are academics, it has the power to strike a deep resonance. People are often divided about poetry, whether they like or not, until they experience it live and see it performed. It is a very powerful and entertaining experience and I hope there will be lots of new converts by the end of the festival. We want the festival to have a real authenticity, but we also want to emphasise the talent that is available, especially the young poets and some of the exciting new names as well.”
This will be Fiona’s swansong as director and she is excited about the line-up, which includes Dame Gillian Beer, Kate Bingham, John Fuller, Roddy Lumsden and Ruth Padel.
“We have got a great mixture this year, which we hope will appeal to a very broad spectrum of people. I am so delighted to have got so many talented people in the line-up, particularly those I have wanted for a while, such as John Fuller and Kate Bingham.”
The programme also features award-winning Norwich-based poet Martin Figura, who will be presenting the inaugural performance of Dr Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine.
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Fiona is proud that the programme will include the Combat Veteran Players, an award-winning Shakespearean theatre company comprising ex-servicemen and women. Despite having suffered injury, illness or mental health issues, the members make professional level theatre which is performed nationwide and work with schools and other outreach projects. They will be reading a selection of their own poems, poems of the First World War and poems that have influenced their recovery.
“It will be an exceptional piece of performance, incredibly powerful and I believe quite sensational; I cannot recommend it highly enough,” says Fiona.
For the third time, the festival will also host a selection of the New Faber Poets – four of the best new poets as selected by publishers Faber and Faber. These are Elaine Beckett, Crispin Best, Sam Buchan-Watts and Rachel Curzon.
“The talent is breathtaking and really quite remarkable. What really stands out is their skill in performing their work, it is spellbinding to listen to and watch. They really know how to convey their poetry with such depth,” says Fiona. “Often they go on to great things and personally, I love to see how their careers develop.”
The event brings hundreds of people to the seaside town for the weekend - many of whom travel from all over the country - and the festival is keen to involve the local community and businesses. As well as performances and readings, the team works closely with school children and always hosts a series of workshops featuring many of the appearing poets.
“They always book up very quickly and are a great opportunity for aspiring poets to learn new skills and get inspiration from some of our best known writers. We get everyone from teenagers to octagenarians.”