The third Wee Gaitherin poetry festival will take place in Stonehaven from August 10-12 (Thursday-Saturday inclusive) and once again we’re calling on poets to ‘Turn up, tune in, take part.’ It’s a risky mantra in one respect, as it could be taken as an invitation for chaos, but so far – with a few hiccups – our events have run close to schedule. Given the truism that poetry readings and revolutions always start late, that’s not bad going.
It’s also in keeping with the freewheeling and democratic ethos that underscores the festival. By democratic, we mean we really do want everyone with an interest in poetry, as a writer, reader and listener to take part. We don’t select and book the poets according to who or what we think is worthy – we throw out an invitation, this year via our submissions window, for poets to take part and aim to offer a platform for as many as is practicable. You could say the poets book us, rather than the other way round – we are not prescriptive; it’s your shout.
We want poets, of whatever demographic, well-kent or unknown – or somewhere betwixt both – to read and perform on an equal footing. There are no hierarchies here.
By freewheeling – let’s keep this event entertaining. We’re flexible, which is why we will ensure there’s an open mic, music, intervals, and we opt for unfussy, hospitable venues. We’re particularly keen to break down economic factors that preclude so many people from poetry events, which is why we do not charge for our events and readings. Who, after all, can afford to pay £6-£8 per reading or workshop, repeated over a full day of events, or two days of events – especially in the current climate?
For those of us who grew up in a culture and society in which poetry was widely regarded as ‘belonging to others’, or to have been colonised by people whose lives functioned at a large remove from our own - and ran the venues and festivals, ran the publishing outlets, determined the critical values (and mostly still do) - that is a running sore. Working-class poets have often struggled to gain the recognition or access to readings and publishing forums that has come more readily to their middle-class or up-middle-class contemporaries. Being working-class combined with being BAME, having a disability, being from other disadvantaged groups and crucially being a women poet, then even more so. Our collective purpose as the four directors of The Wee Gaitherin (Lesley Benzie, Cait O’Neill McCullagh, Hugh McMillan and Neil Young) is to remove those obstacles.
That’s why we’ve been at pains to keep The Wee Gaitherin free. This does also create a dilemma, of course, in that we need to find the money to cover the cost of the festival. Our answer to this has been to concentrate our efforts on fundraising and on our own resourcefulness. Our message to any organisation or individual who might consider throwing a few pounds our way is that you get a lot for your money – everything goes towards our work to expand the audience for poetry, encourage new talent, cover participating poets’ costs, and towards essential, basic expenses of the festival.