A new poetry festival will bring an international line up of acclaimed poets to Newcastle in March – including two T.S. Eliot prize winners.
The inaugural Newcastle Poetry Festival gets underway on Friday, March 19 with the launch of The Beautiful Librarians, the eagerly awaited new collection from Sean O’Brien.
O’Brien, who won the prestigious prize in 2007 for The Drowned Book, has looked to the unsung heroes of our culture for the focus of his newest collection.
The Beautiful Librarians celebrates a diverse group of characters - from infantrymen and wrestlers to old lushes in the hotel bar. But none are more heroic, O’Brien suggests, than the librarians of the title, those guardians of literature and knowledge who, he reminds us, also have lives of their own too.
The three day festival has been organised by Newcastle University’s Centre for the Literary Arts (NCLA) and marks the culmination of an 18-month project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) cataloguing, creating digital access to, and creatively exploring the extensive archives of Bloodaxe Books, acquired two years ago by Newcastle University.
Bloodaxe Books was set up almost 40 years ago by former Newcastle University student Neil Astley and went on to become one of the most important contemporary poetry houses in the world.
It has published many leading writers, including Simon Armitage, Anne Stevenson, Fleur Adcock, John Agard, Tony Harrison, and Benjamin Zephaniah, as well as Newcastle’s own Jackie Kay, W.N.Herbert – and O’Brien.
As Professor Linda Anderson, NCLA Director, explains: “One of Bloodaxe’s greatest achievements has been to launch the careers of many new poets, so I’m delighted that we will have readings from some of exciting young Bloodaxe writers, including Rebecca Perry, Niall Campbell and Vidyan Ravinithiran.”
Not all the poets taking part are from Bloodaxe Books though. The festival boasts a line-up of acclaimed poets from as far afield as the USA, Canada, Jamaica, France and Italy. Among them, George Szirtes, also a T. S. Eliot prize winner, as well as Kei Miller, recent winner of the Forward prize, and the multi-award winning poet Michael Longley.
“We wanted to celebrate contemporary poetry by gathering together some of the finest poets from UK and elsewhere,” says Prof Anderson. “Bloodaxe has also brought many poets not previously translated to British audiences, so we are thrilled to have Valerie Rouzeau and Antonella Anedda with us, with their translators, and Susan Wicks and Jamie McKendrick - both poets in their own right.”
In addition to readings, there will also be a roundtable discussion with Neil Astley, and Richard Price, poet and Head of Modern Collections at the British library. On the Saturday, the winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Poetry award will be announced. The award was set up in 2009 in memory of Bunting, one of the most significant British Modernist poets who was a Northern Arts Literary Fellow and who spent some of his working life as journalist on the Evening Chronicle.
Throughout the festival, exhibitions of work generated through the AHRC ‘Poetics of the Archive’ project and which respond to the archive, will be open to view in the Ex Libris Gallery, Hatton Gallery and Stage 3 Northern Stage.
It will include work by Irene Brown and Alan Turnbull, both members of the Fine Arts Department at Newcastle University, film-maker Kate Sweeney, photographer Phyllis Christopher and digital artist, Tom Schofield.
All events take place at Northern Stage and are free but ticketed. Day passes can be booked on the Newcastle University webstore at www.webstore.ncl.ac.uk
More information about the festival is available at www.newcastlepoetryfestival.co.uk