This April, I’m dying with excitement to see Kate Tempest in conversation at Cambridge Literary Festival. She releases her debut multigenerational novel, The Bricks that Built the Houses this year, featuring characters that appear in her Mercury Prize-nominated album, Everybody Down. You can hear her with writer Jackie Kay on 9 April.
Things have changed a lot in the world of poetry – thank God. Rewind back to when I were I lass (um, not that long ago, aka the 1990s), the go-to contemporary female poets studied in class were generally dead or depressed. The tragic stories of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton left us a legacy that made the literary canon feel not just male-dominated, but very, very dangerous, for women speaking out. Not just in poetry, but music, too – walking into a record shop alone as a girl felt a bit like shoplifting, illicit and outlawed by too much testosterone.
Fast forward 20 years and we have a very different landscape, trail-blazed by the likes of Kate Tempest and Hollie McNish, a new generation of female poets – revolutionary in their own healthy aliveness, rewriting the canon. I’ll always love that so many of the girls I’ve worked with (supported by charity Romsey Mill) would say how much they enjoyed Hollie McNish, because she is ‘real’ (watch out for her new book Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood – available from blackfriarsbooks.com).
Other highlights at the festival include Resurgence of the Left? – with Owen Jones and Ken Livingstone on the 10 April. I loved Jones’ book, Chavs, which he will discuss at the event, alongside Livingstone’s new book Being Red: A Politics for the Future. With my in-laws being a working class family that remembers only too well the brutal decimation of the mining villages up in Yorkshire in the 1980s, plus having grown up in council housing myself as a girl, I do point-blank challenge ‘chav baiting’ – the demonisation of working class culture that so many seem to adore (even some middle class left-wingers – not helpful!). But does the left have an answer? Go and find out.
There’s plenty for families at the festival, too, with a programme of fabulous events – from the chance for children to meet Peter Rabbit at a show celebrating 150 years of Beatrix Potter (all ages, 10 April), to an opportunity to meet award-winning Syrian children’s book author Nadine Kaadan (also 10 April, for children 6+). She’ll be serving up an interactive reading of her children’s book set in Damascus, The Jasmine Sneeze; a special story about a cat with a message for children in the West about Syrian heritage. For full programme, visit www.cambridgeliteraryfestival.com.
For those wanting to support Syria, mark the date for a huge fundraiser at Cambridge Guildhall on 15 April, Cam4Refugees. Highlights include From Syria With Love, an exhibition of art by children in refugee camps, plus an auction of wishes, music from the likes of acclaimed singer-songwriter Alice Walker and delicious food from the World Cuisine Café and the Vivacious Vegans. The plan is to raise £10K to support the humanitarian crisis – to help make that happen, search the event on Eventbrite to buy tickets.
Also watch out for charity art show Running With Brushes, in aid of Care for Casualties at The Plough in Shepreth this month. There’ll be a ‘Night of 100 Paintings’ on 14 and 21 April – tickets are £20 and include a glass of wine and a postcard-sized artwork from Cambridge artists such as Vandy Massey and Tess Recordon. The exhibition runs until 8 May. Art plays a vital part in cultural understanding and nowhere is this clearer than in events like these.
Also, don’t miss Cultural Connections 6 at Babylon Gallery (6-24 April), featuring the work of respected Iranian artist Mohammed Djazmi, alongside John Lyons and Deanna Tyson (6-24 April). Widely known in Cambridge and a well-loved artist, sadly Mohammed Djazmi passed away shortly after this column went in to production. Take this opportunity to see his work, which is accomplished and beautifully crafted.
This Image: With His Successor by Mohammed Djazmi
You can expect powerful imagery from Mohammed, who ‘wanted to explore the social suffering [he] was encountering’, not voiced elsewhere. Visitors are also invited to leave comments on his work at the exhibition, making this show a timely celebration of one of the city’s most highly regarded artists and gifted art teachers.
Finally, poetry lovers take part in National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) this April with a fantastic new book, Poetry Non-stop from once Cambridge-based, award-winning writer Patrick Widdess a ‘premier poetic polymath’. You may have seen Patrick writing beautiful poetry at festivals and events in the city. Poetry Non-stop includes daily prompts to help you unlock your muse and get you writing your own verse. Search Patrick Widdess on Facebook for more info. Have a creative April, all!