Sunday, April 3, 2016

Newcastle Writers Festival day 2: poetry and the wisdom of crowds

The second day of the NWF16 was a little more laid back for me than the first. I didn’t arrive until midday so had a bit of time to look around the packed and very tasty bookstore set up by Macleans Booksellers.  The weather continued its beautiful streak, even though it was raining back home, and it was nice just to walk around past the cafe setup outside of the Civic theatre and City Hall and feel the buzz of literary excitement as people walked around holding books, talking about books, and generally waving and smiling at one another.  I felt like I knew everyone I saw even if I didn’t know them.  It was that kind of atmosphere.

Then it was time for the Home Grown session where I had the great pleasure of reading poetry with Ivy Ireland and Keri Glastonbury.  Keri’s poetry was fresh and exciting, enriched with current affairs and chance operations from Facebook and other social media influences, and Ivy’s was like my own in ways, blending science, spirituality and skepticism, humour and domesticity.  Jenny Blackford was the perfect host, fielding some pretty heady (and sometimes unanswerable) questions and keeping us all to time.

After that I joined Cassandra Page, Jan Dean, Leonie Rogers, Tallulah Cunningham, and Janeen Webb for a reading at the launch of Novascapes Volume 2, a speculative fiction anthology.  As with the Sproutlings launch, I got a strong sense that this was a community of supportive writers who were looking after one another.  For me, that sense of connection and support was the overall theme of the weekend.  Apparently there were 6,500 attendees for over 65 sessions, exploring a very wide range of genres, issues, themes and ideas, but the whole thing felt intimate and inclusive.  Of course I got plenty of inspiration for my own writing and my fingers are itching to get back to it, but it also felt like there was a real sense that this year's festival was about the power of the collective: that the answers to the big questions are all around connecting (in the EM Forster sense):  coming together, supporting one another, and talking/writing openly, even about difficult, painful subjects and seemingly intractable issues. I heard this refrain again and again through nearly every session I attended.  The dates for NWF17 are 7 to 9 April, 2017 and I’ve already got it in my diary.  Huge kudos once again to the amazing volunteers who kept everything running smoothly and to the festival director Rosemarie Milsom, who did a superb job with the program.

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