The time for Whitby Folk Week is approaching. This annual, warm and friendly folk festival runs from noon on 22nd August to Friday 28th August. I will be running daily stand-alone poetry workshops in the early afternoon each day starting from Sunday 23rd. Each session lasts for an hour and twenty minutes. While there are regulars who attend every year, there is also a steady stream of new people who are made very welcome. I started leading these workshops about five or six years ago, taking over from the kind and friendly Yorkshire poet, Jay McShane.
Whitby is a rather special festival; it’s an annual date for many, and familiar faces seem to pop up everywhere. There’s something for everyone, from small intimate venues to larger ones like the Spa, The Metropole Hotel Ballroom, and the Spa theatre. There are traditional singers, transatlantic performers, every kind of instrument that you can think of, dances, dancers including Morris, and the mornings are given over to loads of wonderful workshops for beginners right through to advanced. There’s also a craft and music fair, which is a great place to informally meet up between events.
I love being part of this festival and my proudest moment every year is joining the other artists to sing the chorus to The Wild Mountain Thyme at the front of the stage, before the heather wreath is divided up and shared out as a pledge to return next year.
I’ve made many friends at the festival and have many special moments. This year is its 50th, and I have only been going for about 13 years. There have been many changes over this time, particularly of venues, which become available and unavailable as time goes on, even in the short time (relatively) that I have been going. Whitby is one of the most reasonable festivals to attend, and unlike many, it is not in a field with tents, but indoors with seats, so it’s much easier for me.
I will soon be getting down to planning my poetry workshops. We usually start with a hot penning to a simple prompt, as a warm up, then move into different exercises, always with chance to feedback and gain some pointers from everyone else, or just for the fun of it. We will often read some poems by published writers too, for stimulus and to help us get into the right zone, to ‘tune in’ as it were. Some of the attenders are musicians and dancers, others have come to the festival with family and are glad to find there are some different activities to do. On the last day, the Friday, we have a readaround, in which the available time is divided by the number of people who want to read and everyone gets their slot to come out to the front and entertain us with their work. I give advice on publication opportunities and encourage people to support poetry events local to them when they return home.
There is something very inspirational about Whitby itself: the literary connections, the spectacular coastline, the dramatic abbey, and the views of the moors. There are also some amazing eateries. It is a place I love to return to every year.