To celebrate Bristol’s status as the 2015 European Green Capital, Bristol Festival of Ideas ventured on a highly ambitious project of commissioning 23 leading poets to each write a new poem in the spirit of Romanticism.
Bristol is considered to be the birthplace of Romantic poetry; it is the city where William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge worked, as well as where the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads was published. In this context, the contemporary poets practically produced a new anthology, A New Lyrical Ballads, and paid their respects to the huge tradition and riches the Romantics left behind.
The commissioned poems were presented by the poets themselves on Friday 6 March at At-Bristol, in the largest public gathering and reading of contemporary poetry in 2015.
George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, addressed the large audience by emphasising how treasuring the arts is vital for feeding one’s soul, and gave his special thanks to the organisers for celebrating Bristol’s past as well as reviving it. Arts Council England congratulated the Festival of Ideas and Bristol 2015 for facilitating the plan and making it happen.
In the next two hours, the audience was taken on a poetic journey of all kinds – from the depths of witnessing a rotting swan to contemporary urban settings – and yet all influenced by the Romantics, either reinterpreting one of the poems in the Lyrical Ballads or simply taking inspiration to come up with their own word-art.
With wine in hand, a perfectly lit atmosphere, and the voices of poets proliferating their power over expression, the evening passed in a dreamy fashion and is to be long remembered by everyone present as a unique experience.
Image: Ivana Galapceva
The following poets took part:
Fleur Adcock, Patience Agbabi, Rachael Boast, John Burnside, Gillian Clarke, Paul Farley, Isabel Galleymore, Jen Hadfield, David Harsent, Kathleen Jamie, Nick Laird, Liz Lochhead, Jamie McKendrick, Ian McMillan, Andrew Motion, Sean O’Brien, Alice Oswald, Ruth Padel, Don Paterson, Jean Sprackland, Greta Stoddart, Michael Symmons Roberts, Adam Thorpe.
All appeared in person with the exception of Jen Hadfield and Kathleen Jamie, who provided filmed contributions. Ian McMillan was also hosting the readings and introduced each of the poets, entertaining the audience with his particular sense of humour, and thus providing breathing space in between poetic bites.
Image: Ivana Galapceva
Festival of Ideas produced the New Lyrical Ballads event as part of a series of activities dedicated to the Romantics: the Coleridge lectures, and the much talked about guided walk around Bristol, which follows the footsteps of those who made Bristol a remarkable and always-to-be-remembered place of a historical movement in the arts.
The new Lyrical Ballads project was recorded by BBC Radio 4 and two half-hour documentary programmes will be broadcast later in the spring of 2015. A book of the new poems, together with the original Lyrical Ballads, will also be produced.