Wednesday, 25 November 2009


The Derwent Poetry Festival was fantastic: relaxed and friendly and there were lots and lots of women poets reading, which made a refreshing change from many literary festivals.

Friday night kicked off in Masson Mills with the presentations to the four 2009 Templar Poetry pamphlet winners (of which I’m one) and a reading from Pat Winslow.

Masson Mills is an enormous textile mill which has has been converted into a shopping area and conference suites. It lies just outside the Victorian spa resort of Matlock Bath which is situated more or less in a gorge. The whole place is stunning: stone-cut houses, the impressive gorge over the river, sweet little souvenir shops, Victorian bandstands and foot-bridges. It is a gorgeous place to hold a poetry festival. And in nearby Cromford, there is a fabulous, quirky bookshop called Scarthin Books that has a café with veggie food and vegan cake. Vegan cake! It was made for us...

As a former actress, Pat Winslow read beautifully and I enjoyed her poetry which featured, among many things, salt, flits to France and some work based on her experience of working in prisons. Sample here.

With baby in tow, I didn’t get to every reading but I got to as much as I could. My own reading was on the Saturday afternoon with fellow pamphlet winner, Omagh native Dawn Wood. Dawn is a very engaging and warm reader. She is a scientist by profession (in a Dundee university) and she read beautiful science-inspired poetry about everything from hummingbird names to taxidermy.

Poets Dawn Wood, Paul Maddern, me, Katrina Naomi

I read exclusively from my pamphlet Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car, which was unusual and fun, as many of the poems are quite recent. I will be giving away copies here next week, so stay tuned!

Belfast resident, Bermuda born Paul Maddern – another pamphlet winner – read later on in the day; I thoroughly enjoyed his poetry which was full of rich, unusual language; some of the poems were very moving and they were packed with the colour and vibrancy of the landscape in Bermuda.

The Irish feature strongly on Templar Poetry’s list, and Saturday night saw two more Irish poets take the floor: Maggie O’Dwyer from Dublin and Enniskillen man Nigel McLoughlin. Both read wonderfully well – I laughed out loud at some of the wry and often hilarious moments in both of their work. Maggie was launching her first full collection and she stated that ‘First collections are about the past’, which I am inclined to agree with. Like her pamphlet, which won last year’s competition, her collection Laughter Heard from the Road, is full of slant humour, colour, pear trees and wafts of cigarette smoke. My only complaint about Maggie’s reading was that it was too short – I could’ve listened to her for ages.

Nigel started his reading by saying it was great to read to an audience that loves poetry but also scary. ‘What if they don’t like the work?’ he worried. He needn’t have fretted – we loved the work. He read many beautiful, crafted poems featuring his family, including the stunning poem ‘Topography’ where he and his sons’ and wife’s bodies make mountains in ‘the Ireland of the bed’. Nigel’s language is sparky and fresh and his poems are incredibly well made.

The last full reading I attended was the last reading of the festival, featuring Scottish poet Angela Cleland and Katrina Naomi from London. Angela leans towards performance poetry and she has a confident, conversational style. She talked about how at readings everything you say and do can be taken away and used by the other poets, and then read a poem about a striking woman at a lit event, whom she had ‘stolen’ for a poem.

Katrina Naomi

Katrina Naomi’s poetry is very much my cup of tea: it is dark, concise, blackly humorous and zinging with life. Katrina’s personal style is genteel rockabilly and she looked fabulous in a purple 1940’s dress which was gifted to her by a member of last year’s Derwent Festival audience! Don’t you just love the nice things that happen via poetry?! Katrina is currently writer-in-res at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters. She read from her new collection The Girl with the Cactus Handshake and a stand-out poem for me was ‘Tunnel of Love’ which is set in Dreamland, her local childhood amusement park in Margate. It’s a sharp poem about male vanity and teenage love/lust-angst. I loved all of her work and her reading was a great ending to what was a fantastic, warm-hearted festival. All credit to Templar Poetry’s main man, Alex Mc Millen.

Alex McMillen - publisher, Templar Poetry

Two things to note:
1) Templar publish the literary magazine Iota and there is still time to enter their first poetry competition here.

2) Next year’s pamphlet and collection competition will be judged by Pat Winslow. I will advertise it here as soon as details become available.

Portrait of the Artist with a Red...Vehicle?!

Thanks, once again, to Culture Ireland for funding!



Sounds just lovely, Nuala. You and these red cars, eh? Very best for the launch today. I have a 'My Talented Friends' spot on the blog and I'll put you and NUDE there next week

Elisabeth said...

How I love events like this, people bound by a common task and love of writing, some new, some old, all ready and enthusiastic, however nervous they might be. I wish I had been there.


Aw, thanks Jaki - that's sweet of you!


Hi Elisabeth
Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. It was a joy to be there.

Liz said...

Sounds fantastic, Nuala...loved your rundown on the poets, will keep my eyes and ears peeled for must have been lovely being part of all that...three cheers for poetry!

Rachel Fenton said...

That was lovely reading. Very homesick I am now. Super groovy red motor - just what every poet needs to get to readings!

Una said...

Lovely run down of the the events & things to see, sounds like you had a lovely time, sure why wouldn't ya vegan cakes and cool characters galore! Thanks a mill for my copy of Portrait of the Artist with a red car, I love it. Spluttered laughing at a line in the last poem about your Da giving you "fertile girth" I think it was, brilliant!!


Úna - ah yes, the fertile girth!!