Leading poets grace Norwich and Norfolk festival

Steve DownesTwo leading poets from opposite sides of the globe were united in their praise for Norwich and Norfolk at a unique festival event.Steve Downes

Two leading poets from opposite sides of the globe were united in their praise for Norwich and Norfolk at a unique festival event.

Former poet laureate Andrew Motion joined forces with Australian poet Les Murray at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival two-man show at The Playhouse last night.

The renowned wordsmiths came together to celebrate the 25th birthday of Norwich-based poetry magazine The Rialto.

Bringing together the Aussie holder of the Queen's gold medal for poetry and the former University of East Anglia (UEA) professor was something of a coup for Writers' Centre Norwich and the festival's organisers.

Before the show, the two poets told the Evening News of their admiration for the city and its festival.

Mr Motion, who was poet laureate until last year, when he handed the title over to Carol Ann Duffy, said: 'Festivals are exceptional because they enable people to find out things they did not know. They create an excitement, buzz and atmosphere that begets curiosity. Something both structured and loosely arranged, like the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, seems to be ideal.'

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Mr Murray, 71, said: 'It's a lovely city, very compact. It has such a great mixture of architecture.'

He said the festival was important because 'you can't live just on business and football. People love a festival. It enables people to be introduced to things they are not used to.

'Maybe that's the way to get people interested in poetry - to not make it compulsory and ordinary in schools, but making it something special at festivals.'

Mr Murray said school was a 'curse' to poetry, because it was presented as something easy to digest. 'It makes my heart bleed to see people doing exams in poetry.'

Mr Motion said schools often fell into the trap of 'squeezing the poetry out of poetry' by presenting it as a 'tick-box exercise', encouraging children to spot certain figures of speech.

He said if he was the new education secretary, he would ask: 'How can we find ways to record the individual responses to poetry, rather than making it seem formal?'

Mr Motion said he hoped that last night's show would make people 'laugh and cry - in the right context'.

Mr Murray said he loved poetry 'more than ever', while Mr Motion admitted that time had made him yearn for a 'more simple language' in his work.

Mr Motion said he often headed to Blakeney with his binoculars to indulge his passion for birdwatching. He added that he and his wife often talked about retiring to Norfolk 'when I am no longer employable'. He said: 'I like its strange and well-preserved sense of isolation.'

A monthly poetry club showcasing the county's top talent alongside high-calibre visiting artists featured two performers going head to head with Murray and Motion last night.

The Norwich Poetry Club was set up in February by six nationally renowned poets based in the city, alongside Norwich's bid for UNESCO city of literature status.

The club runs every month at the Bicycle Shop, a small venue holding around 50 people, which the organisers say is the perfect size for a spoken word club.

Organiser and poet Luke Wright said: 'When we set up the club we wanted it to be very stripped back, very classic, and you can see that in every part of what we do.

'Every month we have two poets, one local and one visiting artist, who each do a half hour set - that leaves plenty of time for drinking and chatting and socialising.

'We decided to aim for quality over quantity. We wanted nationally-renowned poetry that people would really enjoy, and I think it's a testament to the quality of Norwich's poetry scene that every month so far we have been able to have a prominent poet from the city to perform.

'We don't seek to develop new talent in the city - there are plenty of other places to do that - but we support and showcase excellence, and we're hoping to become a regular stop for poets on the national tour circuit.

'And we offer a slightly edgier, underdog alternative for big events like Murray and Motion.'

Last night's event featured punk poet and literary magazine editor Tim Wells with Beccles performer Yanny Mac as part of the Norwich Fringe Festival.

Helen Stoneley, Bo Nanafana founder and Festival Spiegeltent programmer, shares her thoughts for the day.

The Festival runs for 16 days and 16 nights - and we've already reached day 13. This year's Norfolk & Norwich Festival has been more engaging, more exhausting and more exciting than ever before.

This evening we will host the second Bo Nanafana of the Festival - an event that sold out in record time. This one is totally Vegas, baby. Loud, brash, glitzy and very 1950s.

Our crew have been working solidly for the past two weeks at Bally Studios creating a cacophony of colour with fake flowers and foliage ready to mark the return of the hugely popular Fat 45, the first ever band to be invited back for a second Bo Nanafana Social Club.

Since the beginning of the Festival I have been at the Spiegeltent as front of house manager and programmer for the Spiegel Lates slots.

For us it's like coming home - it was the Famous Spiegeltent in Brighton that first inspired us to create Bo Nanafana here in Norwich.

From the moment you walk in the door, our hosts and hostesses greet you in character and welcome you into a unique world of music, dancing, dressing up and flights of fancy, setting the mood for the evening.

Once I've recovered from what promises to be our best Bo Nanafana night yet, I shall be dusting off my vintage frock for another outing as Neil Innes (of Monty Python, the Ruttles and Bonzo Dog Dooda Band fame) comes for the penultimate Spiegel Late of the Festival tomorrow night.

But first it's off to see hair stylist Flamingo Amy at Flint to create a truly stunning 50s Vegas style for this evening's frivolities.

For more information about the Festival or to book tickets call 01603 766400 or visit www.nnf10.org.uk.

To find out about your next Bo Nanafana Social Club evening, visit www.bonanafana.com.