GILL HARRIS looks ahead to an evening of improvised music and poetry

TAKE one of our most talented musicians. Take one of America’s most lauded poets. Put them in a room together and see what they come up with. Want to be there? You can.

Squandermania, the flagship event of this year’s Swindon Festival of Poetry, sees American poet Don Share, editor of Poetry Magazine and the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, join former XTC keyboardist and Shriekback frontman Barry Andrews for an improvised evening of poetry and music.

Joining them at the Phoenix Theatre at New College at 8pm tomorrow will be musicians Jon Buckett, Brendan Hamley and Catherine Shrubshall.

The event is the brainchild of poetry festival organiser Hilda Sheehan, who suggested the idea to Don, having been a follower of his poetry podcasts and seeing on social media that he was a huge fan of XTC.

“The way he talks about poetry is human,” she said. “He’s intellectual but in a way that connects people to poetry that I really love.

“He writes really beautiful poetry that people will understand and enjoy. And who wouldn’t want to see Barry Andrews? He doesn’t often perform and we’re honoured to have him. This is really exciting for Swindon.”

Don said he was very much looking forward to his visit.

“I’ve been to the UK many times over the years, but in truth the one place I’ve always wanted to visit is Swindon,” he said. “All my life I’ve been interested in such things as canals and railways, living as I do in America’s industrial Midwest, as well as the Domesday Book, which so famously refers to ‘Suindune’. “And as everyone who knows me will attest, I’ve adored the music of Swindon’s own XTC and Barry Andrews’ Shriekback since I was old enough to go dancing. Dare I mention that I actually have dreams about the Uffington White Horse? Music, history, poetry – what more does one need?”

Barry, who hasn’t played live since 2007, appeared at the poetry festival two years ago.

“I was invited to perform some of my own spoken-word rants onboard a 1950s bus hammering around Penhill. I was emoting loudly over the engine noise and swaying about trying to keep my balance. Very much like an actual nutter on a bus, come to think of it.

“Don’s stuff, by contrast, is the real deal. His poems are vivid and dramatic and made for live performance. Hearing him recite, for me, conjours up Ginsberg and the Beats and that whole very American tradition of the uninhibited wordstream.”

Barry said it was the improvisational element that inspired him to take part.

He said: “Musically, since I did the Monstrance improv album with Andy Partridge and Martyn Barker, I’ve been open to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach. After that, I worked with Brendan Hamley, our percussionist, in a pure improv ‘urban blues’ group with Stuart Rowe and Pete Cousins, the mighty Trip Dress. So there’s previous here, is what I’m saying. I also like improvising because there are no chords to learn. Well only one, usually – in this case, F.”

A couple of email exchanges aside, Squandermania will be the first time Don and Barry have met.

“It seems like we have an opportunity to make something literally unique happen – intertwined around/inspired by Don’s poetry,” said Barry.

“He gets off the plane, steps on stage and then what happens, happens. And it will never exist in that way again. It’s impossible to know what to expect. I have a suspicion it might be amazing though. There’s only one way to find out.”

The poetry festival, now in its third year, is part of a burgeoning poetry scene in Swindon. This year, visitors are expected from London, Bristol, Bath and Scotland.

“We want to be the quirkiest festival in the world – push the boundaries and do unusual things,” said Hilda.

And with something from everyone, from Hindi poetry, to live readings to events for children, dance, film, and drag king poetry, no less, it’s certainly measuring up. Just type ‘poetry capital of the world’ into Google and see what you come up with.

The four-day festival, which numbers a staggering 28 events, also sees a number of other big names from the poetry world coming to town, including Maurice Riordan, TS Eliot expert and current editor of Poetry Review, Jacquelyn Pope, Robert Peake, David Morley, Martin Malone and many more.

The Festival of Poetry runs from today until Sunday, October 5 at venues around the town.

Tickets for Squandermania are £8 (students go free). A range of passes are available from £35 to £80, or pay individually for events. For full details and to book tickets, visit swindonfestivalof