Hi Ben! You recently had a recce trip to Aldeburgh in advance of your residency. How’s it all looking there at the moment?
Before the recce trip I hadn’t visited Aldeburgh for many a year and then it was a swift visit at sundown to wolf fish and chips on the beach sitting near the South Lookout. On this trip, I had substantially more time and Aldeburgh looked brilliant in the Autumn sun, and with plenty of character and oddity. It was a perfect opportunity to learn a bit about Aldeburgh’s history at the town museum, pass all the blackboards selling fish and first-of-the-season samphire, see the controversial (within Aldeburgh) Scallop sculpture by Maggi Hambling, meet Snooks the dog by night, run into a surprising collection of sundials, and listen to many waves. It was inspiring to meet some of the team of volunteers who are running the festival on a non-existent budget, who I think are now in the countdown promotional phase. The festival literature looks stylish. All of the Aldeburgh venues look perfect, and they should host some great artwork as well as of course many fantastic poetry workshops and readings.
Have you got ideas for your own poems brewing?
There were many details from my visit to Aldeburgh that I found to be possible poem material, particularly while learning about its history, and from reading poems by various Suffolk writers. One of the volunteers Daphne Astor has kindly given me a copy of Parnassian Molehill, an anthology of Suffolk poetry, which provides a fascinating context to the area. At some point I am planning to visit Shingle Street and perhaps Sizewell B [nuclear power station] as I think the isolated atmosphere in those places may also be inspiring for a poem or two.
Are you a land-lubber or a salty sea-dog by nature?
I wouldn’t say I am a proven salty sea-dog in the sense that the longest sea crossing I’ve done is the nine-hour ferry journey from St Malo to Portsmouth. However, I do really like being near water, particularly the sea, rivers/ canals being next best. I wouldn’t like being in a country at all that was landlocked, and would feel somewhat hemmed in. The sea is endlessly fascinating, with its shifting personality and capacity to represent so many different ideas. It is striking how many of the poets, I would say the vast majority of them, who are reading at the festival have at some point written about the sea.
Have you taken part in any poetry residencies before? How does this one differ?
I haven’t done any poetry residencies previously, though I am certainly interested in trying some more. This one looked totally ideal to me, involving an intriguing coastal town, and a weekend’s festival. I think festivals can be amazing creations, full of inspirational thought, ideas and positivity, a kind of temporary utopia.
What are you most looking forward to during the festival?
The line-up for the festival looks stunning and, while I could name individual poets or readings, I’m most looking forward to the overall atmosphere and sense of community and celebration that should be running through the festival weekend. As a venue, with the sea just metres away, the South Lookout should be greatly atmospheric.
Part of the purpose of this Poetry School / Poetry in Aldeburgh residency is to provide and provoke ideas for the rest of the poetry-writing communities that we serve. Have you get a tip or a prompt to start us off?
I have many writing prompts lined up to provoke ideas, which will feature in the month leading up to the festival on the Poetry School site, so I’d encourage any poetry writers to have a look at those. As a general tip or principle though, and many of the writing prompts will follow this, I’d say to make yourself uncomfortable. I think if you’re knocked off-centre that’s a good road to go down. Allow yourself to not know entirely what you’re doing.