Bedford poet returns to his hometown for special performance at Eagle Bookshop

Ouse Muse will take place in March
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Poet and festival director Barry Smith is returning to his hometown of Bedford to read from his poetry collections Performance Rites and Reeling and Writhing at the Eagle Bookshop, St Peters, Bedford, 7.45pm, on Tuesday, March 5.

As a Bedford resident in the 1970s, Barry directed productions of Shakespeare including Macbeth, as well as contemporary works like Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw.

Ouse Muse, a live poetry event with an open mic is being held at the Eagle Bookshop, Bedford, with guest poet Barry Smith, the director of the South Downs Poetry Festival. Barry grew up in Bedfordshire and was very active on the local theatre scene. Since then, he has worked in theatre, education and as an arts festival producer and his poems draw upon his experiences in these fields. His new book, Reeling and Writhing (Dempsey and Windle/Vole Books) follows his successful debut, Performance Rites (Waterloo Press), which has been hailed as ‘a masterpiece’ by both Acumen Literary Review and Sentinel Literary Quarterly. Spinning off ideas and themes suggested by Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice books, Reeling and Writhing offers a retrospective of Barry Smith’s poetry from the 60s right up to the 20s.

Barry SmithBarry Smith
Barry Smith

The international best-selling novelist, Louis de Bernieres (author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) has praised Reeling and Writhing, saying: ‘His verses are rich in imagery, narrative and feeling. It is a collection to take with you in the pocket of your coat.’

Barry said: “My new collection brings together poems written over several decades as well as poems written this year - for example my response to the wonderful Sussex Landscape exhibition recently held at Pallant House Gallery. My poem on the pandemic, The Masks of Anarchy, ends the book. I was delighted that this poem was shortlisted for the Culture Matters Bread & Roses Award, and equally delighted that my new collection has been nominated for the 2023 T.S. Eliot Prize. The title, Reeling and Writhing, comes from a speech by the Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland, who goes on to talk of ‘Mystery – ancient and modern’ and I think that description fits my poems very well. I write about nature and ecology, historical events, people and places as well as personal experiences. The central section of the book includes song lyrics written for my theatre productions of Alice, The Country of the Blind and The Mysteries, all staged in Chichester.”

Barry was born in Bedfordshire and spent a decade in Bedford from 1970 to 1980. During that time he was chairman of the local theatre group, the Bradgate Players, forerunner of the Swan Theatre. He directed several productions at the Civic Theatre and the Bunyan Centre, including Antigone (which transferred to the Edinburgh Festival), Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, Durrenmatt’s The Physicists and Joe Orton’s black comedy, What the Butler Saw. He acted in the 300th anniversary production of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress at the Corn Exchange, in Miller’s The Crucible, the Feydeau farce A Flea in Her Ear, Stoppard’s After Magritte and as the Knave of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, amongst other plays.

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