Role Model: Ian Royce Chamberlain

I love literature festivals. I find them fun, entertaining, and an amazing place to learn new things and have interesting conversations. I’m going to four literature festivals in four weeks in March! The third festival I’ll be attending is the Teignmouth Poetry Festival.

Ian Royce Chamberlain is one of a group of Festival Directors (Veronica, Jennie, Virginia, Ronnie, and Graham) for the Teignmouth Poetry Festival. He had a career in hard engineering before being bit by the poetry bug in his 50s, and is definitely a role model of mine.

Ian Royce Chamberlain

I sent him over a few questions:

Why did you decide to start this literature festival & how did it start?

Teignmouth Poetry Festival is entirely run by people who are long-retired. We wish we could attract volunteer helpers who are younger and have more energy but — of course — they have jobs.

First festival was in 2014. It grew out of Poetry Teignmouth, a loosely constituted group who met monthly to read the poetry of selected contemporary poets. Poetry Teignmouth doesn’t have ‘members’ or a ‘committee’ — we just get on and do it, running monthly events in our Oystercatchers Café base, featuring the work of one or more poets, reading poems and dissecting selected pieces for close study.

Prime mover towards a festival was Veronica Aaronson, who was determined to bring poetry out of its fusty cupboard and show the people of our little town how it could be relevant in their lives. Previously there was no poetry in Teignmouth. We now have a big mailing list and 25–50 people turn up each month. Teignmouth is now a focal point for poetry in Devon. From tiny beginnings our annual festival now has a turnover of more than £10K.

Always it is high quality poetry we are looking for. Far too many of today’s best-known Performance Poets rely on work which has little literary merit and whose writing does not bear close examination. If that sounds like a form of snobbery — it’s because we are not content to present people who are simply good at memorising their lines and talking into a mic. Because someone is a competent performer it doesn’t mean they are a good poet!

However, outside the festival, we go out of our way to encompass all levels of ability and experience, and to encourage new poets to develop their craft: we run quarterly open mics, welcoming all and sundry. And Veronica produces Pzazz, an annual anthology of poems from open mics. This is launched at the festival — so the novice or less polished poets have a chance to shine too.

Why would you suggest someone attend the festival

Teignmouth Poetry Festival has become widely known for its friendliness and its low-key laid-back approach. This seemingly easy atmosphere takes months of hard work to create.

How has the festival affected the local community?

I don’t have time to give you chapter and verse on our ethos of being determined to make poetry cheaply and easily available to anyone and everyone. Our ticket prices are low, we put on free events, we run free writing workshops for 16s and under, some Poetry Teignmouth folk read poetry to care home residents, we introduce poetry to numerous venues and non-poetry events in Devon… Much more.

What was the catalyst that made you decide to dedicate your life to literature?

You ask a very presumptive question: why do we devote our lives to literature? We don’t. Who could do that? We are people who have come to poetry after long careers in many fields. These days we much prefer the business of writing poetry to the hard grind of organising a festival and all the many other events in which we are involved.

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I am so excited for this festival! If you’re interested in attending or finding out more, send me a message or go to their website.

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