National Poet's tour diary: Abergavenny, Skenfrith
Tour of the troubadours! The phrase has a Medieval ring that gives me a little romantic kick, though my horse is a car and the old cart tracks are the A-roads and M4 that take me criss-crossing my country over the borders of language.
I'm leaving home a few days at a time, gigging with some of my favourite poets. I chose them because they're all fine poets, brilliant readers and communicators. Goodbye bad old days when I'd sneak a look at my watch as another poet took a sip of beer before losing his page then mumbling his latest epic, already well over his time announcing, 'Just one more.'
This tour, I determined, would be professional, choreographed. First event, the Abergavenny Food Festival, with Carol Ann Duffy at the Queen's Hotel. Would it go well? Would a food festival audience come for poetry? The Poet Laureate has long experience of reading in Wales, impressed by our deep-rooted poetry tradition. But I want more than tradition. I want to reach our potential audience with the best poets, excellent readings in full venues, and tonight to be the start of it.
Advance ticket sales are good. Crowds gather in the Queen's Hotel. The ballroom is dazzling. The chandeliers are upside-down ice-cream cones, melting. Abergavenny does us proud. A sell-out! Carol Ann reads from The World's Wife to a delighted crowd. I choose food-poems. The response is warm, the applause long. Afterwards the bookshop does a brisk trade as we sit signing and meeting the audience. Carol Ann takes it for granted - 'Typical Welsh gig,' she says.
Next, I sing for my supper and more at the Bell at Skenfrith. Pure delight! Our room looks across the bridge over the Monnow to England. The food is local, the chef passionate, the vegetables from their beautiful organic garden. I'm obliged to interrupt the lunch-guests in each dining area with a reading, but they seem to appreciate a food-poem between courses. 'Your poem made me cry,' someone said!
The next one will be at Betws-y-Coed with Ifor ap Glyn, who was wonderful with American audiences in Washington DC last year. This one's Welsh and English. Cross fingers for a good house. I want poetry to be a universal pleasure, the food of love and other human passions. I want it to surprise people as if they were children again, brought to laughter and tears by words.
National Poet of Wales
Gillian Clarke is blogging for the BBC during her seven-date poetry tour of Wales, which runs until 10 December 2010. For more information on the tour visit the Academi website.