Poetry Peace Camp in Britain – until July 22

I usually write my own stuff, but this project has so much to write about that I knew I’d be better off letting the Peace Camp website and Fiona Shaw’s video introduction speak for themselves. I’ve added my own comments at the bottom of this post.

Something extraordinary is happening this year as part of the London 2012 Festival. Inspired by the Olympic Truce, whose roots date back to Ancient Greece, renowned director Deborah Warner has been commissioned to create a coastal installation encircling the UK in collaboration with actor Fiona Shaw.

Eight murmuring, glowing encampments will appear simultaneously at some of our most beautiful and remote coastal locations, from County Antrim to the tip of Cornwall, from the Isle of Lewis to the Sussex cliffs. Designed to be visited between dusk and dawn, Peace Camp is a poignant exploration of love poetry and a celebration of the extraordinary variety and beauty of our (British) coastline.

Alongside the live installations, the project will also paint an audible portrait of the nation with the creation of a virtual Peace Camp online. The people of the UK are invited to nominate and record their favourite love poems and submit their own messages, creating an online anthology that celebrates our languages, dialects and accents as well as our rich poetic tradition.

GC: Back to me: This project is funded by Artichoke, an amazing organisation in itself; it creates public space arts projects all over Britain. And this Poetry Peace Camp is an extraordinary concept, partly because it encourages everyone to participate. You can upload a poem of your own, record yourself reading a favourite love poem, suggest a poem or volunteer. The idea is eventually to create an online anthology of love poetry – and what could be better than that? I do urge you to visit the site and find out more about it. If you do, let me know what your favorite love poem is – and did you add it?

How I wish I could visit one of these encampments (see photo above)  overlooking the British coast and listen to the quiet murmur of love poetry, but maybe they’ll do it again next year.

Literary Festivals – they’re all in Britain

I love literary festivals. That’s to say, I love the idea of them. I love the thought of rubbing shoulders with my favorite writers, mixing with other bibliophiles and generally indulging my taste for reading and writing for a glorious few days without interruption. Actually, though,  I’ve never been to one, which considering what an author groupie I am, is surprising. Maybe the reason is that I live in the US and most of the English language literary festivals take place in the British Isles. (British Isles – how quaint! That’s because I’m including Ireland). You can find a comprehensive list of these festivals here and there are still plenty left to visit this year.

At least it seems that they’re all in Britain. I Googled literary festivals USA and got a couple of individual ones, but no comprehensive list. If you know of such a list, do let me know and I’ll be sure to add it to this post. There are plenty of book fairs, but I don’t think they’re the same thing, and most of them aren’t open to the public.

Britain has approximately 135 of them a year, a staggering number for such a small country. The grand-daddy of them all, the Hay Festival,  is celebrating 25 years this week, and the authors that have been lined up for it include Martin Amis, Ian Rankin, Michael Morpurgo and Hilary Mantel, among many others. The Festival is sponsored by the Daily Telegraph, and you can follow it on their live blog 

Hay-on-Wye is normally a small Welsh town of fewer than 1500 people, once famed for having 39 bookstores, mainly selling second-hand and antiquarian books. (That’s one bookshop for every 36 residents, in case you care…) The bookstores are still there, of course, doing a brisk trade all year with collectors all round the world, but when the festival is on, 80,000 people visit the town. Heaven knows where they stay…

Other British Newspapers sponsor literary festivals too. The Times supports the Cheltenham Literature Festival (October), The Sunday Times does the Oxford festival in March,

But British festivals don’t end there. There are specialized festivals: ones that feature particular writers – Graham Greene (Berkhamsted in September), Dylan Thomas (October, Swansea), Daphne du Maurier (Fowey, Cornwall, May), T.S. Eliot (Little Gidding in July). There’s one just for travel writing: Immrama – the  Lismore Festival of Travel Writing (June 7-10, Waterford Ireland) and another in Manchester just for children’s books (June/July). It goes without saying that some of these are poetry festivals.

My question is: why? Why so many? I know that more books are sold in the US, (over 3 bn! versus 230m in the UK), although almost as many are published (just under 250,000 in the UK and just over in the US). So you’d expect that there would be more festivals like this in the US to cater to those readers. Maybe it’s the distances that put people off. After all, in Britain you’re never more than about 3-4 hours away from anywhere, so these things are accessible. But that can’t be the whole story. Maybe they bring up the Brits to be writer groupies. Maybe knowing our favorite writers live just around the corner (metaphorically speaking) makes people think of them as personal friends, whom they want to visit periodically. I don’t know. But I’m thinking I might visit a festival next year. After all, so long as I don’t visit in December, there’s always a literary festival going on somewhere.