'Poetry has helped' - Imtiaz Dharker's Shore To Shore tour diary

27 June 2016

As the Shore To Shore tour reaches the half-way point, we catch up with Imtiaz Dharker about how the travelling celebration of poetry and community is going so far. 

I wake in the same bed, expelled to another country overnight. The television is still on, shark faces swimming up to the screen to eye the shipwreck.

Yesterday, in the Crickhowell square, a man I did not know recited to me, by heart, the whole of William Schwenck-Gilbert's 'The Yarn of the Nancy Bell', and the lines come back now out of a nightmare, 'And I'll eat my hand if I understand' how the captain-cook-mate-bo'sun could have so casually eaten the crew of his own marooned ship. 

Even those of us who never eat breakfast come down to huddle together and feed on each other's fury and sorrow. Our children send us disbelieving text messages. Clouds slump on the horizon and as we leave Wales the rain begins. On the bus today there are no games, no playing with language. No-one is singing. 

When we cross into Shropshire, Gillian tells us that until the last Ice Age the Severn flowed north into the sea off north Wales, its path south blocked by a frozen lake. But then the lake thawed, and the  Severn thrust through, changing its course at the place which is now Ironbridge. We think of Kafka: 'A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us'. 

Past Wenlock Edge ('the wood's in trouble') to Much Wenlock, the 'Much' added to distinguish it from Little Wenlock. We have all looked forward to being back in this small town with its great independent bookshop run by Anna Dreda, who also started the poetry festival here six years ago. But the sombre mood of the day has followed us here and at the hotel a stuffed raven gives us a baleful reception.

We will read at The Theatre on the Steps, a beautiful old place kept alive, like many of the country's best treasures, by dedicated volunteers. The green room has one of the best views in the world, out over the River Severn with its woodlands and light-filled meads. 

With us this evening is Liz Lefroy whose beautiful sons have come to support her. The audience give their local poet a warm welcome and enthusiastic applause when she says she comes from a family of Huguenot asylum-seekers and chooses to be European. She reads her poem 'Michelangelo's David' ('love can be translated into time in any language'). 

All of us shift our readings slightly. Gillian reads 'Lament', Jackie 'In my country', Carol Ann 'Weasel Words', all poems written years ago but relevant today.

There are no overt political statements but the choices are fierce and the people who come to speak to us at the signing tell us that the poetry has helped. Their response takes the beak from out of our hearts, for a while. But back at the hotel, the raven's glassy stare follows us to bed and echoing through our dreams is its raucous 'Nevermore'. 

For full tour dates and tickets for Shore To Shore visit www.carolannduffyandfriends.com

 Imtiaz Dharker is an award-winning poet, artist and documentary film-maker. Find out more about her work at www.imtiazdharker.com

 

Watch Jackie Kay reading 'Extinction' live on the Shore To Shore tour

 

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