Review: Lyric Festival 2012

A celebration of both the written and the spoken word and its animated presence in our culture, music and poetry, Lyric Festival 2012 was undeniably a resounding success.

Organised by the University of Sheffield’s very own Professor of Poetry Simon Armitage and Dr. Joanna Gavins, the festival spread over three consecutive evenings, hosting some massive names in poetry in two of the University’s most iconic buildings. For a festival still in its relative infancy, it provided without a doubt a buzzing atmosphere in both Firth Court and St George’s lecture theatre this week.

On Wednesday 9th May, the festivities began with a climatic foray into the intriguing and disturbing life of Peter Redgrove, acclaimed British poet and writer of the 20th and 21st Centuries. As we were guided through his life by biographer Neil Roberts, it was both shocking and fascinating to hear how the effects of institutionalisation and experimental psychological treatments not only had a profound effect on his writing, but also the course of his life and career. However, it was equally an opportunity to see the woman behind the poet, as his second wife and former partner Penelope Shuttle spoke of her husband, and read some of her own magnificent work.

From one modern poet troubled with the foreboding menace of asylums, we visited another, who will undoubtedly be familiar to all those that have ever studied secondary school English. Ivor Gurney, known to most as a war poet, was reborn through his work performed in Firth Court in both music and poetry. With renditions from musicians of the University’s own Department of Music, mixed in with a guest lecture from Dr. Kate Kennedy, the evening shed new light for many on an indelible genius.

The highlight of the second and penultimate evening of the festival was by far the combined yet contrasting poetry of Jackie Kay and John Agard. The former, a vibrant and comic character, performed some of her dialect-based and comedic poetry and had the crowd in stitches with her Maw Broon’s vagina monologue. The latter kept the audience gripped with his dramatic personification of the deadly sin Sloth and his expert knowledge of the varieties of palm trees. A combination of vivacity, tenacity and hilarity, it was a hugely successful evening.

From bee-keepers and anti-bubbles, to poignant political poetics, the last evening of the event was by no means the least. It began at 7pm with poetry from Jo Shappcott and John Burnside, intricately exploring the potential of English verse. However, finishing at 10pm with a legend among poets, and a man whose dress sense was as loud as his poetic voice, St Georges was without question the place to be that evening. Although all three of the poets are renowned in their field, the last, Linton Kwesi Johnson, is the esteemed creator of reggae poetry, and the right choice to close such a fantastic three days of lyric.

Overall, the festival was a true spectacle. For those that didn’t get the opportunity to see any of it this year, I strongly advise that you sample what it has to offer in the years to come. You won’t be disappointed.



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