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Gathering of Poets

The Romantics in Bristol

Bristol celebrated the Romantic Poets in 2015 with 23 new poetry commissions and a new series of lectures.

Bristol was central to the Romantic Movement. The poets William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge worked in the city; the first edition of Lyrical Ballads was produced here by a local publisher, Joseph Cottle, and it was in Bristol that Coleridge fostered critical debate with his celebrated series of lectures and the publication of his newspaper, The Watchman.

In the year when Bristol was European Green Capital, the city celebrated this great heritage with a new Lyrical Ballads written by Britain’s best poets and the launch of a new annual lecture series – the Coleridge Lectures. The project was directed by Bristol Cultural Development Partnership (BCDP – now Bristol Ideas) as part of Festival of Ideas and the Bristol2015 programme.

Andrew Kelly, director of Festival of Ideas, said at the launch of the season:

‘Coleridge and Wordsworth lived and worked at a time of revolution, youthful democratic politics and the wide debate of ideas. Their work looked at nature and the emotions, place and the environment. The present-day looming ecological crisis makes a renewed focus and debate essential. We hope our special series will create a new forum of ideas about the environment, society and the world.’

A New Lyrical Ballads

Supported by Arts Council England, 23 poets were commissioned to write new poetry for a new Lyrical Ballads:

Fleur Adcock, Patience Agbabi, Rachael Boast, John Burnside, Gillian Clarke, Paul Farley, Isabel Galleymore, Jen Hadfield, David Harsent, Kathleen Jamie, Nick Laird, Liz Lochhead, Jamie McKendrick, Ian McMillan, Andrew Motion, Sean O’Brien, Alice Oswald, Ruth Padel, Don Paterson, Jean Sprackland, Greta Stoddart, Michael Symmons Roberts and Adam Thorpe.

You can listen to the event in which most of the poems were performed at the link below or watch via our YouTube channel.

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said:

‘This is both an extraordinarily exciting celebration of one of the most important literary movements in our history and a unique opportunity to hear new work from some of our most gifted contemporary poets. Bristol2015 is placing arts and culture at the heart of its vision for future ways of living and we are delighted to be supporting their ambition with events and commissions that have genuine international impact.’

Review of the event written by Ivana Galapceva 

To celebrate Bristol’s status as the 2015 European Green Capital, Bristol Festival of Ideas ventured on a highly ambitious project of commissioning 23 leading poets to each write a new poem in the spirit of Romanticism.

Bristol is considered to be the birthplace of Romantic poetry; it is the city where William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge worked, as well as where the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads was published. In this context, the contemporary poets practically produced a new anthology, A New Lyrical Ballads, and paid their respects to the huge tradition and riches the Romantics left behind.

The commissioned poems were presented by the poets themselves on Friday 6 March at At-Bristolin the largest public gathering and reading of contemporary poetry in 2015.

George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, addressed the large audience by emphasising how treasuring the arts is vital for feeding one’s soul, and gave his special thanks to the organisers for celebrating Bristol’s past as well as reviving it. Arts Council England congratulated the Festival of Ideas and Bristol 2015 for facilitating the plan and making it happen.

In the next two hours, the audience was taken on a poetic journey of all kinds – from the depths of witnessing a rotting swan to contemporary urban settings – and yet all influenced by the Romantics, either reinterpreting one of the poems in the Lyrical Ballads or simply taking inspiration to come up with their own word-art.

With wine in hand, a perfectly lit atmosphere, and the voices of poets proliferating their power over expression, the evening passed in a dreamy fashion and is to be long remembered by everyone present as a unique experience.

The following poets took part:

Fleur Adcock, Patience Agbabi, Rachael Boast, John Burnside, Gillian Clarke, Paul Farley, Isabel Galleymore, Jen Hadfield, David Harsent, Kathleen Jamie, Nick Laird, Liz Lochhead, Jamie McKendrick, Ian McMillan, Andrew Motion, Sean O’Brien, Alice Oswald, Ruth Padel, Don Paterson, Jean Sprackland, Greta Stoddart, Michael Symmons Roberts, Adam Thorpe.

All appeared in person with the exception of Jen Hadfield and Kathleen Jamie, who provided filmed contributions. Ian McMillan was also hosting the readings and introduced each of the poets, entertaining the audience with his particular sense of humour, and thus providing breathing space in between poetic bites.

Coleridge Series

Inspired by Coleridge’s radical lectures in the 1790s in Bristol, a new annual Coleridge Series was launched to look at issues of concern around one theme. The 2015 theme was Radical Green. The sessions were:

  • Kathleen Jamie, writer and poet: Poetry, the Land and Nature
  • Anna Coote, New Economics Foundation: Green and Social Justice
  • George Monbiot, journalist, campaigner and writer: What a Green Government Could do if it Really Tried
  • Roger Scruton, philosopher: The Only True Conservationist is a Conservative
  • Richard Holmes, biographer: Coleridge, The Ancient Mariner, Bristol and Beyond
  • Andrew Kelly, writer and festival director: Animals ‘in the Fraternity of universal Nature’
  • Melissa Harrison, novelist and commentator: Reimagining the City

The complete playlist of audio recordings is on SoundCloud. You can watch all the lectures on our YouTube channel.

The Coleridge Series was run in association with the Cabot Institute, University of Bristol.

Rich Pancost, Director of the Cabot Institute, said:

‘The Cabot Institute explores the many ways in which people interact with their environment, and so we are particularly proud to co-sponsor these events. The Romantic Poets’ scholars and artists represent diverse and exciting new perspectives on our relationship with our planet, widening our appreciation of nature but also of one another.’

Nature Writing Day

On Saturday 7 March 2015, we presented a day that looked at how nature has inspired writers of poetry and prose, contributed to personal healing and provided a new approach for environmental campaigns.

11.30-13.00 Writers and the Natural World Why does nature continue to inspire and fascinate both readers and writers? John Burnside, Paul Farley, Ruth Padel and Jean Sprackland, all acclaimed writers and poets whose work draws on the natural world, discuss the enduring link between nature and the written word.

14.00-15.00 H is for Hawk: Helen Macdonald Winner of the 2014 Samuel Johnson prize, H is for Hawk is a visceral depiction of grief and depression following the death of Macdonald’s father, and her salvation through falconry. Part memoir, part biography of TH White and an account of the year-long training of her goshawk; this is nature writing at its very best.

15.30-16.30 What Nature Does for Britain: Tony Juniper Ecology meets economics head on as environmental campaigner Tony Juniper evaluates the UK’s natural capital. He argues that far from being worthless or an impediment to progress, nature provides much needed support systems and the damage we are causing to them make no economic sense.

You can listen to all three events by clicking on the links to the SoundCloud recordings embedded in the titles above.

Guided Walks

We also produced a pocket-sized Bristol and Romanticism walking guide by staff member Amy O’Beirne, which was available free of charge from the Tourist Information Centre and other sites. The guide is linked to the award-winning Bristol Legible City way-finding system, which includes a walking map that is free of charge and widely available across the city.

The walking guide provides directions for two tours: one from the top of Park Street to St Mary Redcliffe, the other around Clifton and Hotwells. You can download a PDF of it here.

HEADER IMAGE: Gathering of poets for the New Lyrical Ballads evening (jon Craig).

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