27th July 2017, The Swan Hotel, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire BA15 1LN
July's Words & Ears was a real treat, with memorable readings from Penelope Shuttle and John Greening, and a first-rate selection of open mic readings from a large and, as John put it, 'terrific' audience. Penny and John said later how much fun they'd had giving their joint reading from Heath, and that really showed. Their beautifully choreographed excerpts from the book (which was planned 'as a pamphlet, but just grew') took us from Heathrow's planes, those 'passing metal vagrants' skimming old man's beard and blackberries, to back when the area was a royal hunting ground, home of the last wolf in the south of England, to 'the snuff box of sneezy silver' stolen by highwaymen, and even to the Vikings' stake (literally) in the land. The pair's comments on their collaborative process was equally gripping, with lots of examples of how the phrases, form or content of one were explored or echoed by the other, and how their research - and their 'library angels' - shaped their portrait of the area. As John said, 'If you're not lucky enough to be born in the Lake District, you make do with what you have', and I think these two poets, who grew up on opposite sides of the heath, proved to us that with dedicated delving and a sharp ear to the ground, all places can be excavated for their history, ecology, myth and geography, to create a richly satisfying narrative.
There were also superb readings from John and Penny's latest books, and, among those delicious open mic contributions, a great 'double act', not to mention a little tasseomancy, from Lesley Saunders and Linda Saunders; a walk through Bristol's past and present from Deborah Harvey; more time travelling, this time through the woods, with Conor Whelan; and Allen Ginsberg and Wilfred Owen meeting up in the DIY store courtesy of Dominic Fisher.