‘Until recently, we had convinced ourselves that there was nothing in the future but more of the same’. This has been, for a long time, our definition of ‘courage’ and ‘risk-taking’. But the notion of ‘inevitable future’ described by T. Snyder is now more nuanced; if we summarise the past twelve months of socio-economic and political headlines. And to add to this, the cultural space has not taken a step sideways either. I am just considering the #MeToo movement, the mediatic tsunami which followed, plus the implications it had on the Nobel Prize for Literature. There are so many other examples I could think of. And they all lead to an evident sense of empowerment and courage coming from the overlooked, the marginalised socio-cultural voices.
But when I think of courage in culture, at a practical level, I go back nearly a year ago. In 2017, I was invited to read at Tears in the Fence Festival, Stourpaine, Dorset. The Festival focused then on the theme ‘Politics of Engagement’ at a moment when the idea of Brexit started to become a slow torturous reality. Being part of the Festival, listening, reading, connecting with brilliant voices and writers, left me impressed to tears; for I had discovered a powerful and intelligent event, edgy and European, with great openness and with the potential to change our cultural trajectory. It felt avant-garde. Georges Braque would have liked it and so would Beckett.
This year, I will be privileged to be joining Tears in the Fence Festival, between 14th-16th September, and it will be, no doubt, another inspirational experience, with even more exciting poetry readings, books, talks and discussions, responding to the theme ‘Hidden Connections’.
In a recent conversation with David Caddy, the Festival director, I wanted to understand what the difference between the festival and other literary events across the country was.
David Caddy: Firstly, through the range of poetic approaches on display and the international flavour with poets from different cultures and languages. There will some language centred poets, some prose poets, New York School, Australian, South African and a number of European voices.
MS: And this would be…?
DC: The Festival has a long prehistory going back to 1995. From 1995 to 2001 we had an international festival which eventually ran for five days. From 2003-2005 we had three weekend festivals, in London. We resurrected the festival on a smaller scale in 2014. This is thus the 14th edition.
MS: How is the festival funded? Through self-funding? And when I say this I have in mind the degree of autonomy and independence which come with the freedom to choose a focus, as well as your participants, rather than respond to popular literary demand.
DC: Yes, the festival is entirely self-funded. We rely upon tickets sales and donations to cover the costs. This gives us a high degree of independence in terms of whom we can invite to participate. We are not subject to any prescribed official list of funded poets. We can take more risks and have more alternative or experimental poets, whether they are spiritual, political or language centred. Poets that wish to read know that they will be able to take more risks and be themselves as there will be a well-read audience. It’s also a coming together and celebration.
MS: Taking risks is a complex concept within the literary space. Each literary festival likes to take risks, but it needs to sell tickets too and sometimes the market is dictated by over-promoted writers, with big publishers and literary agencies behind.
DC: Exactly true. There needs to be a space for the less marketed and more independent poetry voices. We give space to the outsider voices and poets; our earlier festivals had themes such ‘Difference and the Other’, ‘Visionaries and Outsiders’ and ‘Commitment’ to illustrate the point that dissident voices need to be heard.
MS: Your risk-taking does not shy away from experimental nor from critical analysis. You have chosen ‘Hidden Connections’ as this year’s theme. At a time of socio-economic and political turmoil, coming from North America, the Middle East and the EU, how does the Festival intend to respond having chosen this topic?
DC: Such themes generate good discussion and conversation. Poems will generate sparks and illuminate less well considered areas within these wider issues and perhaps debate, as the audience grapples with new implications and contexts. By bringing a range of strong and independent voices together there will be poems and sub-themes emerging, that shed light on darkened areas. Poets respond to one another’s poems and impulses. They will talk and think anew as a result of new insights. This is a complex and unpredictable phenomena, also very exciting and stimulating. New friendships are made, and books bought.
MS: And..as a preview, what events should the readers and the audience look forward to?
DC: There are a number of special events. Lou Rowan, the poet, novelist and editor from Seattle, will be reading. He is noted for his great clarity and humour. To hear him will be a treat. Elisabeth Bletsoe is a spell binding performer who recently hasn’t performed much. She will be a joy to hear. Martin Stannard has returned from China after a decade and his witty poetry will be as hard-hitting as ever. Perhaps with Chinese translations. Louise Buchler’s feminist poetry from a South African perspective will be different. Carrie Etter, an accomplished American poet and prose poet, has another distinct voice. Laurie Duggan is giving his last UK reading before returning to Australia. He is a poet with a big heart and internationalist perspective. There will also be a celebration of late Lee Harwood, whose multi perspective poetic approach offers a way to uncover hidden connections.
Tears in the Fence Festival will take place 14th-16th September, Stourpaine Village Hall, Dorset.
Further updates and information about tickets, events, accommodation, books can be accessed at http://tearsinthefence.com/festival or here.
Maria Stadnicka, July 2018