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Agenda Poetry Festival a huge success!

Published Monday 26th of October 2015 01:26:06 PM

Mayfield School buzzed with poetry as it hosted internationally acclaimed poets Patience Agbabi, Robin Robertson, Daljit Nagra and Grace Nichols at the Agenda Poetry Festival last weekend. Agenda is one of Britain’s most prestigious poetry publications and has built a reputation for recognising and publishing significant poetic talent since its instigation in 1959 by Ezra Pound and William Cookson. It is edited and published in Mayfield and has strong links with the English Department at the school, so we were delighted to host this festival and promote contemporary poetry of the highest standard. As William Cookson said, and we endorse, ‘Poetry ought to be the most subtle and living forms of language. That it really matters, and is somehow vital to human communication and to our perception of the universe, needs to be remembered’. The weekend was launched by Patience Agbabi, ex Poet Laureate of Canterbury, and this year’s winner of the Cholmondeley Prize for Poetry, who regaled an audience of students with her version of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath (who came from Lagos and had a distinctly modern Nigerian sales patter). In the evening, the Twentieth Century Russian poet Anna Akhmatova was brought to life through a staged reading of Patricia McCarthy’s new collection Letters to Akhmatova. Mayfield students, Jessica Butcher, Dulcie Loveland, Amanda McHugh, Hermione Richards, Chelsea Henshaw and Maria Mishina read and Yue Xu, Olivia Larsson and Maple Ng played music by Debussy, Shostakovich and Stravinsky to accompany the poetry. Saturday morning started with the final of the Year 7 and 8 Poetry Eisteddfod in which students had chosen their own poems to learn by heart and recite. This was won by Eleanor Bazard-Ferns in Year 7 and Sophie Cantwell-Kelly in Year 8 who chose to learn Yeats’ ‘The Fairy Child’. The competition was judged by poet Timothy Ades, who also read from his collection Storysongs/Chantefables and spoke about the nature of translation and rhyme. Five Year 9 Mayfield students: Amelia Hardy, Emily Blunt, Alice Reynolds, Annalise Dodson and Lottie Brushfield worked with the poet Marek Urbanowicz to help deliver a lecture titled ‘How to Read Poetry Aloud’. Marek praised the students and said, The girls were a joy to work with and responded well to my suggestions.’ The following session saw poets from all over the UK coming to read poems for the launch of the ‘Family Histories’ issue of Agenda. Editor, Patricia McCarthy, winner of the Poetry Society’s Poem of the Year competition in 2013, introduced the session. The early evening witnessed an interesting interlude of wine-tasting (courtesy of Fine Wines of Mayfield) and sampling Sussex cheeses made in and around Mayfield. To close the weekend, poets Grace Nichols, Daljit Nagra and Robin Robertson travelled to Mayfield to perform to a large and appreciative audience. Daljit Nagra, who was recently named as Poet-in-Residence for BBC Radio 4, started the evening with an animated performance of parts of his retelling of the Indian epic poem Ramayana. He was succeeded by Grace Nichols, who left her native Guyana in the 1970s and now lives in Lewes. Grace read from a variety of her poetry collections, ending – topically – on a poem that featured the Lewes bonfire. After an introduction by Sam Milne, Robin Robertson took to the podium and moved and entertained in equal measure with his terse, dark and moving poems. Many of the audience were touched by the poetry of the evening, not least Mayfield student Mady Ambort who, as Robin Robertson's collected poems, Sailing the Forest, had sold out, was off to the internet to purchase her own copy and read some more of his work. Organisers Natasha Evans, Head of English at Mayfield, and Jane Leslie, English teacher, were delighted with the success of the festival in fulfilling the aims of Agenda’s founders and its current editor Patricia McCarthy by promoting the best of current poetry existing in Britain.
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