Saturday, 5 October 2013

Two Poets: Jo Shapcott and Stevie Ronnie (A Steward's View)

Today was my first day as a festival steward at Ilkley Literature Festival. In fact it was my first day as a festival steward full stop and so I was thankful to have company. Although working at different events, my friend L was also a first-time steward and, as we drove over to Ilkley, we shared our excitement and apprehension. Once parked and lunched, we wandered about to get our bearings. L's shift started much earlier than mine so, once she'd gone, I killed some time in the library and a café before making my way to St. Margaret's Hall.
As I arrived at the venue I bumped into a friendly steward who was on her way out. She told me this was the first time she had stewarded, but had really enjoyed the experience. Feeling encouraged, I climbed the stairs to find the organisers in the process of constructing the stage, deciding upon the seating arrangements etc. As instructed, I helped myself to a drink and met the crew. Everyone was friendly, helpful and keen to get things done to a high standard. I hope they'll forgive me for not remembering their names!
From the moment she arrived, Rosy, the Front of House, was helpful, informative and put me at my ease. Once I had my sash I was asked to help lay out chairs, making sure we met health and safety regulations. Then I familiarised myself with the fire exits, fire assembly point and how the lift worked, should anyone need it. I also checked where the first aid kit was and which of us was a first aider (because I wasn't!)
As the audience arrived I tore off ticket stubs, pointed out the tea bar and tried to encourage people to sit at the far side of the venue, so any latecomers could sit down quickly without disturbing the audience. I also chatted to my fellow steward who had come all the way from Enfield, North London. Like me, it was her first time as a festival steward and, like me, she had taken 'time out' from the day job and being a mum. And, like me, she was a writer, although unlike me her specialism was writing poetry and plays. I hope she'll forgive me for not remembering her name, although I never forget a face and hope to bump into her again.

The event began and I sat down to enjoy 'Two Poets: Jo Shapcott and Stevie Ronnie'. First up was this year's Poet in Residence Stevie Ronnie. He told us what a warm welcome he'd had since arriving in Ilkley two days ago and how, when he'd caught the bus into town from Ben Rhydding, the driver hadn't even charged him! Stevie, who's being mentored by Jo Shapcott, went on to share poems from his collection entitled Manifestations. I enjoyed his reading style and his accent, especially as my mum is from Newcastle and I have a lot of family from there. Much of his inspiration appeared to be drawn from nature, memories from his childhood and his young family. I found the poems highly evocative with some beautifully vivid descriptions of trees. An open door (accidentally?) enhanced the experience, allowing us to hear the sound of trees blowing in the wind.
We were then treated to readings from the multi-award winning poet Jo Shapcott, who shared extracts from her latest collection (being a steward I had no pen and paper to note down the title but I remember it was inspired by bee keeping) and from her collection Of Mutability. The bee-inspired poems began with a woman whose partner had deserted her, leaving her with a hive of bees. Full of emotional resonance, the poems really captured the essence of the woman's situation whilst allowing for some clever word play. The poems from Of Mutability explored the human condition, including pain and mortality, giving a sense of wonder to the smallest things.
At the end the poets signed copies of their books (both poets' collections were on sale at the venue) and I returned to the door to hand out feedback questionnaires and lists of events with tickets still available. The event over, I checked with the organisers that it was fine to leave, returned my sash and dashed out to join L who was waiting outside, ready to zoom us to the next event.

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