I was lucky enough to have a poem shortlisted for the 2009 Mere Literary Festival, so went down on the Friday to read my poem at the 'Poetry in the Grove' event and stayed through to the prize giving on the Sunday - it was a great weekend.

The Saturday after the poetry reading was a day out of time, stuffed to the gunnels with images and memories. I set out in the morning to explore, beneath a staggeringly blue October sky; the sun burnishing the turning leaves, gilding the old stone buildings and sparkling off the weathervane atop the church spire.

In the church I traced the oak leaves and curlicues of the rood screen feeling, in the time blackened wood, the faint essence of the man who carved them, the echo of hammer tap, the smell of freshly chiselled oak. I noticed that the hinges on the huge, weather-warped doors had been made by two different smiths, three by one and the last by another, sensed the heat of iron, cherry red from the forge, the ring of the strike and the skim of sweat across his back. And lit a candle for the smiths, the carpenters, the masons and for those of my own who would have appreciated the craftsmanship had they still been here.

In the greengrocers I put a ten pound note in the poppy tin in remembrance of those lost before their time. And I bought a cyclamen whose flowers went from deep cerise at the heart to pure white at the edges; the unopened buds just like furled parasols. I browsed in the antique shop, drank hot chocolate in the little café, explored the library, wandered up the hill to photograph a spectacular rowan and discovered the memorial to the Third Armoured Division.

At lunchtime in The Butt of Sherry, when I ordered ham and chips, I met an Australian who turned out to have gone to school in my home town, back during the war, who, having heard that I was a poet demanded I recite a poem and who, the landlady warned, would swipe my chips if I ate them at the bar. Cheerfully insulting everyone, white haired, white bearded, I knew he and my father would get on like a house on fire being of similar persuasions. When I said I thought many of the other shortlisted poets were better than I, he offered to knobble the judge ? yes he and Dad would like each other. When I'd finished my lunch he joined me in my corner behind the fireplace and we talked of poetry, the art of painting tigers, on canvas and on sand, water wheels, forgery and the French Foreign Legion. He was impressed that I'd come this far for the event "That's dedication", and when he went back, proceeded to answer the bar-proppers questions about me.

I spent the rest of the afternoon writing and drawing in my corner, whilst unashamedly listening to the squeak of saggy settle springs and the familiar banter and friendly arguments between the regulars; Smooth, full accents holding partisan discussions of football or religion. For much of the time my only companion the quiet bloke in the other corner of the snug with his pint of Guinness, his battered Penguin Classic and his slightly needy bearded collie.

And on that day, in that place, in that company of strangers, I felt utterly at home.

http://www.merelitfest.co.uk/

 

  

 

 

 

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