Bard backs campaign to encourage poetry

Barnsley’s first ever festival to celebrate poetry and language is being backed by the town’s very own Poet Laureate, Ian McMillan.

The Hear My Voice Literary Festival runs from 4th – 25th March and is part of the three-year Hear My Voice programme, designed to encourage the people of Barnsley to express themselves through poetry and the written and spoken word.

The programme was launched by Barnsley Museums in June 2016 with Ian’s appointment as Poet Laureate, and he is supporting the festival alongside fellow South Yorkshire wordsmiths Ray Hearne and Steve Ely.

A series of events will run throughout the festival, and Ian, known as the Bard of Barnsley, will formally kick off proceedings with a poetry workshop at the town centre’s Cooper Gallery on 6th March.

He will work with participants to create poetry surrounded by the original Picasso linocuts currently on display at the gallery, and the event will also see the winners of a borough-wide poetry competition recite their entries.

The theme for the competition, held as part of the launch of the Hear My Voice programme, was ‘home’ – with entrants asked how they would describe Barnsley to a stranger in a foreign place. Hundreds of entries were received across three different age categories, including children, teenagers and adults.

Ian said: “I’m proud to be associated with the Hear My Voice festival because it’s a fantastic chance for the people of Barnsley to get their voices heard in poetry, stories, song, debate and discussion. Let’s raise our voices so they can be heard across Barnsley and further afield. Hear all our voices in Hear My Voice!”

One of the aims of the programme and the festival is to bring poetry to the people of Barnsley in places they wouldn’t normally expect.

Spoken word performances next to a piano in the town centre, travelling storytellers surprising shoppers and ‘poetry parcels’ hidden around the market are just some of the surprises in store.

As part of the festival, West Yorkshire-based performers A Firm of Poets will challenge preconceptions of poetry during an event at The Cooper Gallery, and poetry as therapy will be explored during a special Dementia Café on 12th March.

‘Poems in the pub’ sessions, which have been running at Barnsley microbrewery Arcade Alehouse over the last few months, will culminate in a workshop with writer Brian Lewis.

Two events sponsored by the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership will see poets Ray Hearne and Steve Ely lead a literary and heritage walk retracing the footsteps of ‘the Corn Law Rhymer’ Ebenezer Elliott, and a walk that combines birdwatching with poetry.

Jemma Conway, learning manager at Barnsley Museums, said: “We want more people to learn to love poetry, creative language and the spoken word, and use it to express themselves. The Hear My Voice festival aims to engage people in places they may not expect and it’s all about getting everyone together, of all ages, to challenge perceptions of poetry and promote literacy and the spoken word.”

The wider Hear My Voice programme is coordinated by Barnsley Museums with support from partners, and has received funding from Barnsley TUC Training Ltd. The literacy festival aims to celebrate the work of the programme so far.

Cllr Roy Miller, Cabinet Spokesperson for Place at Barnsley Council, said: “It’s wonderful to see such a buzz around poetry and literacy in Barnsley and we hope this festival will inspire even more people to make themselves heard.”