Our passion for poetry is as strong as ever, author Louis de Bernières declares at King’s Lynn festival

Louis de Bernieres talks at the 2013 King's Lynn Poetry Festival at the Lynn Town Hall. Picture: Mat

Louis de Bernieres talks at the 2013 King's Lynn Poetry Festival at the Lynn Town Hall. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Bestselling author and Norfolk resident Louis de Bernierès has declared contemporary English poetry is alive and well after giving a much-anticipated reading at the 29th annual King's Lynn Poetry Festival.

Louis de Bernieres talks at the 2013 King's Lynn Poetry Festival at the Lynn Town Hall. Picture: Mat

Louis de Bernieres talks at the 2013 King's Lynn Poetry Festival at the Lynn Town Hall. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

The 58-year-old, author of the award-winning novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin, said that while there are challenges for budding writers trying to break through in the modern era, the public's passion for written verse is as strong as ever.

'Modern poets can't really write old fashioned poetry,' Mr de Bernières told the EDP during the event at King's Lynn town hall.

'They have got to find new ways of pulling off old tricks. They have got to be more subtle about it, because otherwise they are just repeating what has gone before.'

That is a challenge for the 21st century poet, for as Mr de Bernières said: 'The thing about old fashioned poetry is that it is so much easier to remember. It stays in people's minds in a way modern poetry doesn't.'


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Mr de Bernières said contemporary poetry 'is not dying out at all'.

He added: 'There are an awful lot of people who write it. A lot of people do try to write poetry, often as a form of escape at a time of despair. It is a very natural way of expressing ourselves.'

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Mr de Bernières pointed out that 'most successful poets will be forgotten', argung that the names of some of the finest writers from the 19th century were unknown to most members of the public.

Yet although he admitted poetry was to an extent a 'minority interest', he said: 'It always takes time for poets to make it.

'Hardly anyone arrives as a fully-fledged poet. It takes a long time to build up a reputation.'

Despite penning some of the finest works of modern English literature including Birds Without Wings and A Partisan's Daughter, Mr de Bernières admitted he was developing his poetry writing.

Although he wrote poetry before fiction, Mr de Bernières only published his first collection of poems – Imagining Alexandria – earlier this year.

And the former winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Novel confessed even he was at first a little nervous to be giving a reading in front of other established poets, such as John Fuller, Caroline Gilfillan and Norwich prize-winning poet Helen Ivory, at the west Norfolk festival.

'There were several reasons for me to come to the King's Lynn Poetry Festival,' said Mr de Bernières, who attended all the weekend's events and sat alongside other audience members when he was not on stage.

'It's nice to get out – writing can become quite a solitary thing, so I always hope to pick up new things, like a new word or subjects I haven't thought of addressing.'

He even admitted that his own children 'don't take me seriously when it comes to writing – they just see me as daddy!'

Tony Ellis, the organiser of the festival who succeeded in getting Mr de Bernières to appear as part of the star-studded line-up, said the attendance for the six events showed how popular poetry is today.

The festival opened with readings by Ms Ivory and Michael Hulse on Friday and included two discussion events – one about the work of the poets Roy Fuller, George Barker and Dylan Thomas and another about what inspires poets.

'We've such a rich tradition of poetry in this country,' Mr Ellis said.

'We have a body of some of the greatest poets in the world.

'If we don't put on a festival like this, it gets lost. I also think there is a lot of fine poetry being written today that we don't want to miss.'

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