Humphrey Astley looks forward to a festival offering a host of poetry

Oxfordshire’s poetry lovers will be treated to a truly exceptional event this weekend in the form of the Woodstock Poetry Festival.

It boasts some of the biggest names on the UK scene, as well as some of its most promising. Tony Harrison, Tom Paulin and Elaine Feinstein will head up the literary giants category, while the less well-known but just as distinguished include Choman Hardi, daughter of Kurdish literary icon Ahmad Hardi, and Jonathan Edwards, winner of the 2014 Costa Poetry Prize.

“I am so delighted that all these poets are reading,” says Woodstock Bookshop owner Rachel Phipps, who runs the festival.

She added: “Some have been before – Liz Berry and Katrina Porteous both read last year and were outstanding.

“And this year we have an emphasis on poetry in performance – Katrina will be performing her poem Horse, commissioned by Radio 3 and accompanied by electronic music from the legendary Peter Zinovieff.”

This performative aspect will culminate in an evening of traditional Irish music from singer Mick Henry and guitarist Nick Hooper, who will join legendary Irish poets Tom Paulin and Bernard O’Donoghue to form an unusual and unmissable cross-genre band.

Poetry purists and scholars need not worry, however, as the festival also offers plenty for them to get their teeth into.

“We have a fascinating discussion between Patrick McGuinness and Rian Evans about Rian’s father, the Welsh poet John Ormond, who was a friend and contemporary of Dylan Thomas.”

Meanwhile, two of the UK’s premier poetic intellects, Kei Miller and Don Paterson, will be sharing a stage in what promises to be one of the festival’s highlights. “Don has read here before,” says Rachel, “but never with Kei – that should be a fascinating combination, as both are very interested in form.”

Indeed, a decidedly formal collection like Paterson’s XX Sonnets (his latest) should make for an interesting contrast and complement to Miller’s work, such as the prizewinning The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, which is more experimental. Their conversation is likely to touch on Scotland, where Paterson lives and Kingston-born Miller spent many years as a student and academic.

Coincidentally, Miller is one of the judges for this year’s T. S. Eliot Prize, for which Paterson is shortlisted, as is another festival act, Sarah Howe, whose Loop of Jade appears to be that rare thing – a debut collection about which the hype is justified.

There will also be a reading by acclaimed Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie and a collaborative performance by Alan Buckley and Helen Mort, while Oxford poet Jenny Lewis will host an open mic for local poets on Sunday. Rachel says: “They should contact us first so we can book them in.”

Many of the talks and performances – each of which is an individually-ticketed event – are selling fast. “Tony Harrison’s reading is on Sunday has proved so popular that we’ve moved it to St Mary’s Church,” explains Rachel. “And we are expecting it to be packed!”

Where and when
For tickets and details for the Woodstock Poetry Festival see