Zaffar Kunial’s Festival Picks

Festival Poet in Residence Zaffar Kunial tells us what he is looking forward to seeing at the Festival.

Looking through the festival brochure I felt a bit like a kid leafing through the ‘telly pages’ of the Radio Times Christmas edition. There are lots of great poets appearing at Ilkley – including Jackie Kay, Jo Shapcott, Les Murray (on a rare visit to the UK from Australia), John Agard, Simon Armitage, Ian McMillan and William Blake … The latter will be appearing (another rare visit) in spirit form, ‘remixed’, by the rapper Testament.

I didn’t know Angela Carter also wrote poems – and I’m looking forward to hearing about that side of her work and how it fed into her other writings, in a talk by the critic and historian, Rosemary Hill.

I don’t have a telly anymore but one of the most memorable things I’ve watched recently – on BBC iPlayer – was a documentary by the brilliant historian, David Olusoga, on Britain’s forgotten slave owners. David will be talking at Ilkley about the Forgotten Soldiers of Empire. It’s also good to see other events at Ilkley that address this subject of bringing back ‘hidden voices from the front line’.

And speaking again of telly, the BBC seems to be a hot political issue at the moment. The Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins will be giving a lecture that asks what the BBC means to us now, looking at its beginnings as an institution and its threatened present.

I heard about the journalist and feminist activist, Caroline Criado-Perez, through her campaign for the inclusion of women of British bank notes, and her event should be inspiring. It also sits well with various talks at Ilkley to commemorate the Brontes – next year is the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth. And Karen Joy Fowler (author of The Jane Austen Book Club) who’ll be speaking about We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

As someone who can lose hours over a single comma, in a single line – adding a comma, taking it out, putting it back, taking it out, ad infinitum – it might be good to see where all the trouble began. David Crystal’s a bit of an authority on the English language, and he can tell me in his account of the origins of punctuation.

There are lots of familiar faces I recognise – from the telly of course – as I browse through the festival programme, like Julian Clary, Jay Rayner and BRIAN BLESSED. If Blessed’s talk was punctuated I imagine it having lots of exclamation marks and words in capital letters. I’m really looking forward to seeing and hearing the great actor in the flesh – and if I get to meet him, I might even offer him the benefit of my three-years’ experience reading poems to modest audiences … and give him a few tips on VOCAL PROJECTION. I’m sure he’d LAUGH LOUDLY!

Zaffar will be reading with Jackie Kay and Jo Shapcott as well as running several workshops throughout the Festival.