There was something for everyone at the Grand Finale of the 2005 Literature Festival: poetry, music, dancing, all brought together in a cosy night club atmosphere constructed on the stage itself of the Gala Theatre. Poet Jane Hirschfield was entranced by the backdrop of stars, and asked particularly that they should be visible in her photograph. Storyteller Chris Bostock played host, remarking cryptically that this might be the end of the Festival, but it was the beginning of... the rest of our lives, and that although no director of Durham City Arts had yet been appointed, great things would no doubt be forthcoming in the future. But first it was time for celebration!
The party began with a reading from Jane Hirschfield, introduced by her UK publisher, Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books. After reading her poem For What Binds US, Jane Hirschfield dedicated her evening's reading to all the poems we will never know about - poems in little known languages, written in places where it is difficult to publish, or even to write. She illustrated this with her poem The Poet, which ends by wishing her fellow-poet "enough paper to make mistakes and go on." This concern for barriers of language, which has led her, in the past, to write translations and versions of poems from other languages, was evident too in her questions to her audience: were they familiar with the word "beeves", which she used in her poem Red Berries? And what about "rebus"? It was odd, she remarked, being in another country and becoming unsure of her language.
There followed a group of poems which drew less on the natural world, more on daily domestic life, on topics like Habit and Button: "If you'd asked me," she admitted, "can you write a poem about a button, I'd have said 'no'." Yet she had written it, and another called Pillow, which moved from this simple starting point to a meditation on death. One of a series of poems containing "recipes for getting through difficult times" even included a recipe for soup.
After a question and answer session from Jane Hirschfield, and an interlude with the compère, it was time to take the floor and dance to the music of the Dog Leap Stars: a very persuasive caller had almost everyone on their feet and dancing, and guided even the least experienced dancers through the sets with a firm hand. Even the Mayor of Durham, splendid in his chain of office, was prevailed upon to join the dance.
Tim Dalling recovered his breath with admirable speed. He maintained the dancing theme with his first song, a setting of the late Julia Darling's poem Salsa Dancing Class. Heaton, and followed it with a poem which Julia had written in response to a National Poetry Day request for poems about small things Small Things in the Cupboards of Long Relationships. Next came one of his settings of poems by Louis MacNeice, Time was Away (his title, which he preferred to MacNeice's more prosaic Meeting Point), and finally his own Flight of the Beer Monkey.
Time for a square dance, and then more from Tim Dalling's collaboration with Julia Darling (pictured, right, at their Sudden Blossoms event at the Cumberland Arms in 2004). Picking up a theme from Jane Hirschfield, he started with a poem of instructions, How to Negotiate Hospital Corridors. An a cappella rendition of The Radio in the Morning, a song from an off day, which began bitterly "Melvyn Bragg seems to know everything..." was prefaced with the explanation that "Julia thought this should be a song". Two Lightouses had an even more complicated genesis, being a song based on a poem which had in turn been inspired by Emma Holliday's painting of Tynemouth. In the best ceilidh tradition, the evening ended with a chorus song, The Rendezvous Café, and a circle dance, the Circassian Circle, which left no-one sitting out.
A Maid in Durham