Festival is a deer do...

Matt Black
Matt Black
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THE problem with poetry festivals, of course, is their appeal can be a little limited.

So how do the organisers of Sheffield’s first ever such extravaganza – a weekend of 30 events at more than 10 venues across the city next month – generate interest beyond your average Carol Ann Duffy reader?

By bringing in cheerleaders, TV quizzes and taxidermists, it seems.

“We want to do as much as we can to try and get as many people involved as possible,” says organiser Matt Black, the artistic director of city writing development group Signposts.

“There’s lots of readings, of course, and we have some great poets coming along including Simon Armitage, George Szirtes and Kelvin Corcoran.

“But there will also be a few more unusual events for people to enjoy.”

Unusual is right.

One such will see Sheffield poet Fay Musselwhite collaborate with city taxidermist Susannah Gent to do a reading while footage of a deer being skinned plays on big screen.

“I suppose it could be uncomfortable for some people,” says Fay, of Walkley.

“But I’m interested in man’s interaction with the animal kingdom, and this reading is wrapped up with those kind of themes

“We’re not showing the taxidermy to be controversial but I am prepared to respond to that if it becomes an issue – poetry should be challenging anyway.”

Less controversial but a whole lot noisier will be The Best Of Sheff Poetry Slam.

Matt is running the event and promises cheerleaders, chanting and perhaps – if you’re lucky – an introductory reading of The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.

That’s his favourite poem, and the single piece of writing which inspired him to become a poet.

“A poetry slam is an American idea,” he says.

“It’s where you stand up, do three minutes of your own work and get rated by judges.

“But what they take into account is not just your words but how you read it and how the crowd reacts – how loud they cheer as you’re going along. It’s a lot of fun.”

There’s also a University Challenge quiz between Hallam and Uni students – where all questions will be about poetry, of course.

“People can go along and watch and support their team,” says Matt.

“Again, hopefully that will take poetry to a younger audience and a few people who might not otherwise go to the festival.”

Goat Boy And Other Journeys with Fay Musselwhite and Susannah Gent will take place on Saturday, April 2, at Bank Street Arts, in Bank Street, city centre, at 3pm.

The Best Of Sheff Poetry Slam will take place on Sunday, April 3, at The Lescar in Sharrow Vale Road, Sharrow Vale, at 7pm.

And University Poetry Challenge will also take place on the Sunday at The Showroom, in Paternoster Row, city centre, at 5pm.

A full programme – including dates and times of readings by Simon Armitage, George Szirtes and Kelvin Corcoran – is available at www.sheffieldpoetryfestival.org.uk