Experiences of an Anglophile Dutchwoman at Ledbury Poetry Festival
by ANOUK ABELS
The story of how an anglophile, poetry loving and amateur anthropologist Dutchwoman came to work as an intern in Ledbury during a Poetry Festival.
My experience of working as an intern for the Ledbury Poetry Festival 2011 has been quite unique. I was there for the full ten days, during which I attended a staggering total of 28 poetry events. In addition, I wrote a daily festival newsletter called The Cider Press, introduced an event and also managed my own little project – I made lots of tiny poetry books, which I hid in shops, pubs and venues throughout Ledbury, for people to stumble upon, fall in love with and take home. Finally, there is the fact that I am not from Britain. Even though the festival is fairly well known, many people were surprised to find out I was part of it. After all, how does a student from the Netherlands end up as an intern for a British festival devoted to poetry?
To answer this question, I have to take you back three years ago, when I was studying Dutch literature. At this time, the closest thing I felt to the appreciation of poetry was my love for song lyrics – I saw poetry as an ungraspable and slightly overdramatic way of self expression. This changed when one of my teachers put the Dutch poet Henk Marsman’s epic poem Tempel en Kruis (Temple and Cross) on our study programme. Instead of merely talking about Marsman’s words, each person in the class had to memorise a stanza of the poem, in order to recite the entire work together. As I recited the words started to come to life; all of a sudden, I felt the rhythm and meaning of the verse as clear as I do with the songs I love. This class recital was the first poetry performance I attended and it planted a poetry seed in me. During my studies, I mainly focused on prose and plays , but my appreciation for spoken word poetry never went away.
At the same time, another seed was planted: I slowly developed a love for British culture. The bands, the television shows and the books I loved and enjoyed were all related to Britain and thanks to my sister, who lived in Britain for three years, I had the chance to visit the country on several occasions. I became a true anglophile. Eventually, I did a Minor in English and then decided to go one step further. I wanted to live in Great Britain. I was able to fit in an internship abroad in my MA in Literary Studies – and after some searching; I found Midland Creative Projects Ltd. who were happy to offer me a placement for five months. And one of the projects they asked me to work on was the Ledbury Poetry Festival.
So, how was my festival experience? Needless to say, there was poetry – a lot of it. I had been to a couple of poetry readings before, but it was only during the festival that I discovered poetry can be performed in innumerable ways. I saw classic readings, performance poetry, theatrical poetry, poetry slams and even a poetic murder mystery. I heard poets from all over Britain, but also from Zimbabwe, India, Tunisia, Syria, Hungary and the Netherlands. The performances were moving, shocking, musical, political and whimsical. Each poet moved the words from the paper to our ears; and for me it became clear once more how much I love poetry to be spoken out loud. My inner poetry lover was cheering.
The Poetry Festival also provided an interesting place for my inner anthropologist. During my first four months in Britain, I worked on several events to do with literature, gaining experience in PR work, festival organisation and all kinds of writing. In my spare time, I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of British culture. From the position of a foreigner, I marvelled at the differences and similarities between this strange country and my own. For example, the British reserved nature couldn’t be more different from the directness of the Dutch, but our senses of humour (including appreciation for self deprecation and sarcasm) are very much alike. During the festival in Ledbury, there was an entirely new community for me to learn about – a community composed of workers, volunteers, poets and visitors. Every night, after the performances, I would end up in the local pub with a group of people, and each of them would have an amazing story to tell. I talked to poets from all over the world, but also to festival volunteers that had lived in Ledbury their entire lives. Ledbury is not only a place where poetry is performed, but also a place for all kinds of people from all over the world to meet each other.
Ledbury was my home and my workplace for ten days, and I have had an unforgettable time there. Thanks to all the poetry. And all the people.
Anouk Abels is a Dutch student and aspiring anthropologist.