'Things Being Various' is an interview format with a bit of a difference. It's based on five 'things' the poet brings with them to Winchester, each of which represents a stage in their personal and poetic development.
The idea came about over a drink in the summer of 2014 at the Three Stags pub in Kennington, London with my friend and colleague on Magma poetry magazine, Julia Bird. Magma had been invited to be an official partner of the first Winchester Poetry Festival and we were looking to create an event that would bring a rich visual and concrete dimension to the festival programme.
Our idea was a kind of 'Room 101' in reverse. Instead of nominating loathed objects and concepts to be consigned to oblivion, we would ask our poet to bring in loved objects that had particular significance for them, objects they treasured. The title, of course, is taken from Louis Macneice's iconic poem 'Snow'.
Our first subject, at that first festival, was Christopher Reid. Thanks to Christopher's open heartedness, it proved to be a moving and memorable hour. Among the things Christopher produced on the day were a ceramic laughing Buddha, a clip from the Goon Show, a Punch annual dating back to his childhood, and most touchingly of all, a large, colourful patchwork quilt that had been made for him by his late wife Lucinda out of gentlemen's silk ties. This, Christopher unfurled as his final object, rather improbably from a Gladstone bag. We held it up to the audience. And then Christopher shared with us one or two poems from A Scattering, his elegiac collection in memory of Lucinda, including the poignant 'Afterlife' in which he described his feelings on walking past the research hospital to which Lucinda had willed her body:
"My wife is in there, somewhere, doing practical work: her organs and tissues are educating young doctors
or helping researchers outwit the disease that outwitted her. So it’s a hallowed patch of London for me now.
But it’s not a graveyard, to dawdle and remember and mope in, and I had work to do, too, in a different part of town."
Poems had punctuated the whole session, occurring naturally and organically, referred to and read out ad hoc from a pile of books on the coffee table between us as they illustrated a point in our conversation or added a new dimension to the object.
We were delighted to be invited back to create another edition of 'Things Being Various' in 2016, this time with Christopher's fellow Faber poet, Jo Shapcott. Her latest collection, Of Mutability, had, like Christopher's A Scattering, won the Costa Book of the Year award. Jo proved to be an equally candid guest. Her objects included a piece of the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, where she had once served as an Education Officer, an Italian phrase book, a carved wooden dragon, and some beautiful, artist-designed scarves studded with sea shells, small stones and other found objects, which she had wrapped around her head when she lost her hair during cancer treatment. Jo movingly read us some poems relating to that time of illness and recovery, including 'Procedure', which at its simplest is a poem about gratitude for a cup of tea:
"It seems, honestly, a trifle now that steam and scent and strength and steep and infusion say thank you thank you thank you for the then, and now."
I'm delighted to say that our guest for Things Being Various this year will be the wonderful poet and painter, Annie Freud. Annie won a New Writer's Award for her first pamphlet and her second collection, The Mirabelles, was shortlisted for the 2010 TS Eliot prize.
I can't tell you too much here about Annie's five objects, of course. That's classified information only to be revealed in front of the audience at Winchester on Sunday 7th October. But I can give you a hint that there will be a stunning array of visual work, not only in relation to painting but also to Annie's days as a tapestry artist and embroiderer, when she undertook commissions from people such as Anthony D'Offay, Jon Snow and Graham Norton.
There will also be some uniquely personal insights into members of the Freud family dynasty, including Annie's father, Lucian, her grandfather Ernst, and his father, Sigmund Freud.
Annie has been described as a poet who writes with "real gusto". A Guardian review talks about the "obvious delight' she takes in language, describing her first collection, The Best Man That Ever Was, as a "magpie-like collection of odd and beautiful words and phrases". So, this year's 'Things Being Various' promises to be a treat for the ear as well as the eye.
'Things Being Various' is never filmed or recorded. It's a uniquely intimate event that exists only for the hour in which it unfolds and for those present in the room. But we very much hope it will linger in your memory and we very much hope to see you there.
Things Being Various: Annie Freud Sunday 7 October at 11:30am