Book Festival: Owen Sheers

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Owen Sheers, Alan Little
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This event with young Welsh poet Owen Sheers was most entertaining and enlightening.  His new book is based on the recent BBC 4 TV series “A Poet’s Guide to Britain” in which he followed in the footsteps of six British regional poets around the country to explore landscape and sense of place through the literary description of a selected poem.

The presenter was BBC’s world news reporter Alan Little, who chaired the discussion and Q&A with directorial flair and enthusiasm. Their lively conversation began with a question about the fact that the subject of poetry rarely works well on television.

“A Poet’s Guide to Britain” was, however, groundbreaking in the use of stunning photography, relevant music, with both the poem recited and complemented by the words scattered stylishly on screen.  To prove the point, an extract from the programme on George Mackay Brown was shown, featuring the voice of the poet himself, the wild seascapes and cobbled streets of Orkney, a recitation of Hamnavoe, the story of Brown’s life and work, with music by island composer Peter Maxwell Davies.

Owen explained that his teachers at school encouraged the children to write poetry on day trips and other experiences. This fascinated him as a child, when he realised that less is more, to encapsulate a place or emotion in a few words. There were readings of poems set in London and Wales, and questions from the audience. Many people said they had loved the poetry programmes and asked if a second series would be broadcast. In particular one gentleman asked if Owen could please present a programme in tribute to the late Edwin Morgan.

“I shall suggest this to the BBC tomorrow,” he agreed with a smile.

This was a heartwarming, inspiring, truly poetic hour which gave everyone a smile on their face as they left the Peppers tent, out into the garden sunshine.