Here’s the University of Surrey’s poet in residence, Stephen Mooney, talking about the annual Surrey Poetry Festival which took place on Saturday. (Recognise him? He headlined our LGBT+ Arts Night last year!) The festival was held in the super historic Guild Hall on Guildford High Street this year, and included several book launches from Veer Books and Contraband, as well as an interactive installation, and readings and presentations from some really amazing contemporary poets.
The first performer we saw give a reading was David Ashford, who was launching his collection of poetry ‘Xaragmata’. In my opinion, Ashford is the best candidate to be Steven Moffat’s next Doctor. Holding his book for the first time, he jokes about object fetishism and we laugh – his stage presence is endearingly awkward. Ashford was one of my lecturers for the entirety of my university education so I don’t really feel entitled to critique his performance, but the truth is that there’s not much to critique. His unique brand of poetry, which draws inspiration from mathematics, science, mythology and history, is really engaging and almost hypnotic to hear spoken. One of the audience members told me that he entered a trance-like state, in which the boundary between abstract and visual, numbers and colours, lost all meaning. If that’s not impressive I don’t know what is.
Nat Raha‘s book ‘countersonnets’, out with Contraband, was the first thing to catch my eye when I entered the Guild Hall. With a cover photograph by Del LaGrace Volcano I knew that this poet was going to be pretty radical, and it turns out that we saw her read at the very first Poetry Festival a couple of years back and she was just as engaging then. Raha is a super cool queer girl and the way she rocks on her heels when she’s speaking, her sporadic breaths, tasty choice of words, and sparing use of the word “fuck” in her poetry are all totally captivating. I hope she comes back to Surrey for next year’s festival!
The last poet that we saw was Karen Mac Cormack, who was launching her book AGAINST WHITE with Veer Books – quite a hefty tome. I liked a lot of her poetry, especially the piece she chose to close the session with, which was a kind of experimental use of alliteration and wordplay. My favourite groupings of words were the most sibilant. I love that sharp “ss”.
We only bought tickets for one ‘session’ and I was sad to miss Sophie Robinson, as I really enjoyed her readings at the very first Poetry Festival. I was also disappointed to miss Stephen Mooney and the student showcase, both of which were happening right after we had to go — Sophie Goodman in particular looked like she’d be really exciting to hear.
I really love student poetry, because I think that there’s a tendency from academic poets to be really inaccessible and/or experimental and while that might be good on a page when you have time to absorb the language and syntax, I think something might be lost in performance. Student poets and amateurs are just a little bit more raw, a little bit more honest or truthful which I think is what poetry is supposed to be, ultimately.
Conversely, I’d love to see some people at a future event who do performance poetry as a thing, e.g. Emilie Zoey Baker, Jeanann Verlee , Kai Davis. I know none of these ladies are British — maybe England is too ‘English’ for slam poetry?
Anyway, check out our haul from the event:
I’m so gutted we forgot to get people to sign their stuff!
Incidentally, this free copy of Potlatch was put together by a bunch of my talented uni pals, and also featured David Ashford’s work (among others). You might be able to get a free copy by emailing the potentially-defunct address at the back of the booklet, but no promises. It was designed by Emma Thomson, whose collage skills are incredible — she also makes some adorable handmade mascots for her roller derby team now, which you can buy.
Back in the day, Potlach was co-edited by Christina Manning, who just got married (congrats you guys!!), and Sarah Tuckwell, who recently helped me out at a craft fair by selling incredible cake while I tried to unload my Gliterature products onto strapped-for-cash students. Sarah runs a blog for Contraband called Black Market Modernist, and she is also available for human trafficking.