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Latitude Reading Fiesta

Written by The Reader, 30th July 2010

By Eleanor McCann and Jon Davis, Get Into Reading project workers (and The Make-Shift TRO Festival Team)

It’s back down to earth after a fantastic trip to Suffolk for this year’s Latitude Festival. A tidy team of two, we travelled down to the site two weeks ago, armed with a box of short stories and poems and a truck-load of back issues.  Both of us book and music-lovers, we were up for the challenge of setting up ‘spontaneous’ reading groups amongst the stages and generally taking The Reader on down to the Sunrise Coast.

After careful positioning of The Reader banner (warning: do not use in winds exceeding 1mph!) on the first day, we set up base. We had come prepared with a blanket, some cushions and, the ultimate clincher, four packs of biscuits. We went on to run a total of ten reading groups over the course of the weekend and, with the ages of group members ranging from about sixteen to sixty, we were pleased to meet and read with all kinds of people - from librarians to students, photographers to paramedics.

We would recommend a couple of short stories from the weekend. Donald Barthelme’s ‘The Balloon’ was probably the most popular one. Somewhat surreal, the story led us on to talk about the impact of living in an urban environment on a person’s behaviour, the desire for meaning in the modern world and the ways in which people display distress.

‘The Wishing Box’, by Sylvia Plath, stirred up thoughts on whether there is a link between someone’s dreams and their imaginative capacity. It was fun to share some of our own weird and wonderful nocturnal experiences! We also considered the inward competitiveness of couples, discussing the intensity of being close to a creative person and how their energies have the potential to be destructive for relationships. With another group we tried Plath’s poem ‘Morning Song’. In this poem, is this mother proud of, and intrigued by, her newborn child or is she irritated by the weight of maternal responsibility? We spent a while thrashing this out and decided it is probably a bit of both.

Of the other poems we read, ‘Trust’ (Lawrence) and ‘Crossing the Bar’ (Tennyson) went down well. We decided to tackle an excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s ‘East Coker’ with two confident readers. Taking the last stanzas, we enjoyed attempting to crack the poem’s riddles, talking about the idea of a life as a unified cycle (‘In my end is my beginning’) and, as this seemed partly related to age and we were all young adults, we felt we were probably positioned quite close together on Eliot’s circle. The line, ‘Love is most nearly itself/ When here and now have ceased to matter’ stood out of a poem, which, together, we ‘most nearly’ came to grasp.

Running a reading group outdoors, and amidst the buzz and bustle of festival goers, presented a definite challenge. We found ourselves competing with the noise of comedians, bands and stereos but perseverance and our biggest declamatory reading voices saw us through!

Bumping into Blake Morrison in the camping area, we were glad to have made contact with our patron, who said he’d give The Reader Organisation a shout out at his gig in the literary tent on the Sunday afternoon.

Highlights work-wise:

  • The teenage boy who read the poem out loud. Twice.
  • The lady who said 'It's good because you read the poem the first time and you're not really sure what's going on but just spending a short time talking about it together opens it all up.’
  • The young man who, when asked what he would like to read, joked 'T.S. Eliot' and then ended up reading ‘East Coker’ with us.

And other-wise:

  • the XX, John Cooper Clarke (and his best haiku ever: 'To convey one's mood in seventeen syllables is very diffic'), the funny sketch show people, the song 'Sometimes' by James, Jonsi's voice and the epic drumming which drowned it out, Soreen malt loaf - a festival god-send, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and the performers’ camp-site with (wait for it...) TOILET PAPER IN THE TOILETS!

So, the two of us felt as though the mission had been altogether worthwhile: the magazines attracted a lot of attention – they seemed to draw people towards us - and there seemed to be real interest in the work of the organisation as a whole. Overall, we came into direct contact with about a hundred people, plus the many more who would have seen the banner.

Hopefully our presence will have stirred up a bit more awareness of The Reader Organisation in the south and a bit of networking will have paved the way for more opportunities for us.  It was also great for us as individuals to get more experience of running groups and to do so in an untrodden environment. We were delighted to have the chance to try something new and to take advantage of the general festival vibe, one which encourages people to be inquisitive and open to new experiences.

Bring on the next reading fiesta!

Thanks to Jen, Leila, Clare and Lee for providing us with tickets, an atlas, leaflets and a sturdy gazebo in case of the rain which never came!

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