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Alice Oswald, in her long 2002 poem Dart, writes (quoting Theodore Schwenke, founder of the amazingly named Institute of Flow): “whenever currents of water meet the confluence is always the place / where rhythmical and spiralling movements may arise, / spiralling surfaces which glide past one another in manifold winding and curving forms”.

Oswald, one of the luminaries present at NPF2017, writes within the setting of Devon’s river Dart, following its path and adopting the voices of its people; its workers, residents, lost-souls, its children, its faeries, and demons.

Poetics linking a river to its people in this melding and multiple way are already part of our vernacular here in Newcastle – from the lovelorn Keelman in George Ridley’s song Cushie Butterfield (“Aal doon the river sailin, an_sing “Aam afloat,”) to Lindisfarne famously claiming ownership over the fog on the Tyne – the ‘confluence’ metaphor is already wors.

It functions well again to describe this year’s Poetry Festival. The nearly-week-long event brings voices from as far as the USA (Jericho Brown, Carolyn Forché and Patricia Smith), Sudan (Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi) and Turkey (Bejan Matur) to Tyneside for a near-overwhelmingly rich programme of readings, performances, and workshops spread across Newcastle University, Northern Stage, and The Gateshead Sage.

Alongside these guys vying for the ‘furthest travelled’ award are big names from closer to home, including bona-fide poetry-scene heavyweights like David Harsent, Jo Shapcott, and Carcanet founder-editor Michael Schmidt. Also, perhaps most excitingly, recent TS Eliot Prize-winners and all-things-considered-really-quite-breathtakingly-good-poets, Oswald herself, and Northumberland’s own Jacob Polley.

Let’s run with, and possibly stretch too far, the confluence-image to talk about the Music and Poetry Programme and some of the workshops running over the weekend. These allow the various channels of thought and creation available through poetry to run-into the “manifold winding and curving forms” of other arts, from film to folk to choral song to painting. Carolyn Forché will workshop the re-born idea of Documentary Poetics, whilst Sinéad Morrissey holds a discussion on the ever-and-forever present link between poetry and visual art in a group talk on Ekphrasis (both Thursday 11th May).

The Sage’s Music and Poetry evening looks really fascinating, maybe particularly the collaboration between Jacob Polley and composer/sound-designer John Alder, and Hugh Brunt/Rowan Pierce’s responses to Jo Shapcott’s responses to Rilke (both Thursday 11th, also).

The festival closes on Saturday 13th May at Northern Stage with Ahren Warner announcing the Basil Bunting Poetry Award, before Debbie Taylor tells you how to win it next year, following which is a busy and pretty-near-unmissable day of readings.

This year’s theme is ‘IN TIME’, and you’ll really be pushed for it (time). There’s really loads to see and get involved with. Alice Oswald, as usual, maybe provides the best words: the Festival’s like “water’s soliloquy, // all names, all voices, Slip-shape”. Catch as much of it as you can.


Newcastle Poetry Festival runs across various stages from Tuesday 9th to Saturday 13th May.

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