Rachel Phipps announces the big names at The Woodstock Poetry Festival this weekend

I had a father who loved poetry and used to quote it at length, on walks, around the house, everywhere. He managed to convey a passion for it in spite of the worst school could do, where they tore each poem apart as though it was an acrostic crossword, to discover its ‘meaning’. I would like to hand on something of that.

Woodstock Poetry Festival is now in its seventh year, and run from The Woodstock Bookshop.

We have kept the festival small, so people can attend every reading if they like and no two events are scheduled for the same time. We have no external funding and we pay everyone, so we depend on ticket sales and selling books to break even. We try to charge as little as possible but even poets need to eat so we serve tea and cakes between afternoon events. It means the audience has the chance to get to know each other and talk to the poets and there is a very friendly atmosphere, the poets often remark on that.

This year’s poetry festival is opened by the witty, compassionate and irreverent Wendy Cope, one of the nation’s favourite poets.

‘What’s the use of poetry?

You ask. Well, here’s a start:

It’s anecdotal evidence

About the human heart.’ – Wendy Cope

Her poems are about childhood, friends, love and growing older are all delivered with Wendy’s humour and attention to detail. She will be reading at St Mary Magdalene Church in Woodstock on November 10 at 7pm.

The rest of the festival takes place upstairs in Woodstock Town Hall with a wide range of poetry for different ages and tastes and a number of Oxfordshire-based poets.

Saturday opens with Niall Munro, director of Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre, introducing three of the poets published by ignitionpress, established by the centre two years ago.

Pamphlets are often a springboard for young poets and this is certainly true for Mary Jean Chan, whose A Hurry of English was the Poetry Book Society’s Summer Pamphlet Choice – her first collection will be published by Faber next year and she is now Lecturer in Creative Writing at Brookes. Natalie Whittaker and Belinda Zhawi are also reading from their pamphlets.

We have a family event this year, when Christopher Reid will share Old Toffer’s Book of Consequential Dogs, the companion volume to T.S. Eliot’s book of Practical Cats, celebrating a variety of dogs in similar spirit:

‘The Naming of Dogs is no difficult matter;

They’re not choosy like cats, they aren’t fussy at all.

Simply give them a name, as you’d hand them a platter

Of scraps from the table or toss them a ball.’

James Harpur and John F Deane are coming over from Ireland and will read from their recent collections, both concerned with spiritual pathways and pilgrimage.

One of the themes this year is ‘the republic of motherhood’ as Liz Berry called it in her Forward Prize-winning poem. She is reading with Esther Morgan on Saturday November 10. Esther Morgan’s Wound Register also looks at the family reverberations of losing her great-grandfather at the Somme.

Two book launches during the festival include Treelines, the fourth anthology compiled by Janie Hextall (who works in the bookshop part time) and her friend Barbara McNaught, on Saturday evening; Gilgamesh Retold, Jenny Lewis’s re-telling of the world’s oldest poem, composed in Mesopotamia four millenia ago, will be read by her before the very popular open mic which she will compere. The open mic is now well established at the festival – it is a friendly and very supportive event and everyone is welcome to read there provided they book in advance.