The first ever Ted Hughes Poetry Festival took place across the weekend of Friday 3rd – Sunday 5th July at Mexborough Business Centre.
Steve Ely opened the festival with a talk based on his forthcoming book, Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire. Ian Parks and headliner David Morley gave readings and Mick Jenkinson performed his acclaimed arrangements of the ballads and folksongs Ted Hughes would sing in his Cambridge undergraduate days.
Saturday opened with a range of workshops on Birthday Letters (Andy Armitage), Ted Hughes and Gnosticism (Ian Parks) and Ted Hughes’s Animal Poems (Ed Reiss). Dominic Somers led a team of local writers and volunteers in town centre activities, including the distribution of the Don & Dearne poetry pamphlet (edited by Ryan Madin) containing work from members of the Write on Mexborough creative writing group and other local poets. Lesley Merrin and Dominic Somers facilitated an art exhibition showcasing Hughes-inspired work from Mexborough and Swinton Art groups and artist Rosie Meredith exhibited her strangely Hughesian animal sculptures.
Poets Cathy Galvin, Andrew Oldham and Lyndsey Holland were followed by ‘Ted Hughes’s Schooldays’, a discussion of Ted at Mexborough Grammar School by his friends and contemporaries Dorothy Andrews, Geoffrey Griffiths and Alan and Margaret Johnson, chaired by Steve Ely.
The evening session included readings by Gaia Holmes, Rory Waterman, Rachel Horne and headliner Ian Duhig and was concluded by an open mic led by Gav Roberts, the organiser of the Rotherham-based spoken word group ROMP.
Sunday opened with the Performance Trail ‘Ted Hughes’s Paper Round’, led by Steve Ely and Dominic Somers, before a return to the Business Centre for readings from the winners of the Young People’s Poetry competition, hosted by judges John Beal, Steve Ely and Ian Parks. This was followed by a celebration of Mexborough writing, showcasing the work of Write on Mexborough.
The evening session — and the festival — was concluded by readings from Kim Moore, Zaffar Kunial and headliner Helen Mort, with Ray Hearne and Matthew Clegg performing songs and poems from their collaboration ‘A Navigation’.
Enabled with the hard work, enthusiasm and commitment of a large team of local volunteers and sponsors (take a bow RUOS, DVLP, Mexborough Business Centre, the Concertina Club and others), and supported by hundreds of participants over the weekend, the festival was acclaimed as a great success. It should be noted that many of the performers gave their services free or greatly reduced their fees — without this generous support, the festival would not have been possible. A particular strength of the festival was the easy interaction of performers, audience and community volunteers — and the spontaneous conversion of performers into volunteers and, via the community creative writing sessions, volunteers into performers. David Morley stayed for the weekend and generally mucked in, as did poet and publisher Gerry Cambridge, and Helen Mort’s set sparked off and interacted with an earlier reading by volunteer and writer Mick Pettinger.