The Ted Hughes Poetry Festival

The Ted Hughes Festival (South Yorkshire)

Words: The Ted Hughes festival

Photography: The Ted Hughes festival

The Ted Hughes Festival (South Yorkshire) welcomes its fourth and most diverse festival to date this September. Bridging the gap between hip-hop culture and poetry by incorporating the raw message from the mean streets of Philadelphia, and ‘blowing it up’ on the mean streets of Mexborough. A former mining and market town surrounded by ex-mining villages.

Taking place at a local Business Centre, the old Grammar School where poet Ted Hughes studied, the overarching project aims to celebrate the fact that Mexborough was Hughes’ home from 1938-1951, his formative years as a poet in the town.

Commemorating Hughes’ time in the town, the project also seeks to develop art and creativity in his name.

Each year the project produces the annual Ted Hughes Poetry Festival (this year 7th – 9th of September) programming high quality poets and performers with both established and rising reputations. The festival program also includes visual arts, children’s activities and a distinctive strand of poetry walks.

Festival Creative Director Michele Beck states:

“Mexborough is in the lowest 10% of deprivation nationally and suffers from unemployment, low-wages, a high crime rate, anti-social behaviour, substance misuse issues, limited cultural opportunities and a culture of low aspiration. The festival’s ethos is to develop a more positive sense of identity arising from the town’s connection with a figure of the stature of Ted Hughes and opportunities for active involvement as audience members, participants,
or artists. No one else is telling this story or capitalising on Hughess’ links to Mexborough. In this context, it is important that the festival continues to grow in quality, scale and range”.

In the recent Brexit vote (Mexborough was heavily Pro-Brexit) a polarisation has subsequently developed within the community. The festival organisers are seeking to diversify the festival, to contribute to wider community cohesion and to challenge parochialism.

In partnership with a local organisation ‘Breaking Beats’ who work extensively with young people in Doncaster, teaching spray painting, music production and beatboxing, the organisers are fusing Hughes’ heritage with urban art forms. Some of the young adults engaged with the project have a lack of self-confidence and have had little or no engagement with the literature world.

The festival aims to support grassroots creative talent including a 16 year old rap artist, Fionn McCloskey from Sheffield and Hive Young Writers, who are all under 25 and from across the region.

This year the festival’s line-up includes impressive headliners whose moral fabric and work align with the projects aims. Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother) is an internationally touring musician, poet, visual artist, and workshop facilitator from Philadelphia. She’s performed at numerous festivals, colleges, galleries, and museums. Her debut album, Fetish Bones, was named one of the top experimental albums of the year by Pitchfork as well as one of the best albums of the year by The Wire magazine.

Other headlining poets include Manchester based Mike Garry who has won admiration far and wide and his collaboration with New Order in New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2014, which received five-star reviews. His poetry is regularly heard on BBC Radio 5 Live, Radio 4, BBC Breakfast, Match of the Day, Sky TV and his work with Manchester United & Nike has elevated Mike’s poetry to an international audience. He has read his poems in prisons, young offenders institutions, mental health hospitals, children’s homes, youth clubs and local pubs. He’s passionate about taking live poetry to the places it wouldn’t normally reach and to people who wouldn’t normally listen to it. His performances are passionate swirling rhythms of thoughts and emotions converted into monologues of quick fire words.

Supporting Mike Garry is Kate Fox, a stand-up poet. Her second comedy series was broadcast on Radio 4 last June. She has been Poet in Residence for the Great North Run, Glastonbury Festival and Saturday Live on Radio 4. She has been commissioned by the Yorkshire Festival, Hull 2017
and several literature festivals. She recently successfully completed her PhD on class, gender and Northern English regional identity in stand-up performance, having held a full-time studentship in the Performance and Cultural Industries School at the University of Leeds.

Michele Beck sums up the importance of this year’s festival contributors:

“This poetry is real, it’s raw – it harbours from the soul of people who have known hardship and struggle – who have a social conscious and who wish to express themselves for the benefit of others. We are at a crucial and exciting time in poetry, the traditional elitist poetry can’t reach these people. This is a movement and it’s an important one”.

The Ted Hughes Festival (South Yorkshire) runs from the 7th to the9th of September, 2018 with a range of exciting and diverse events taking place in and around Mexborough. For full details please visit:

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