Preview: Bristol Poetry Festival

The thrill of being a modern poet
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What is life really like for a modern-day poet? David Harsent, winner of the Forward Prize with his most recent collection, Legion, has published nine collections of poems and gave up his day job in 1983 to do nothing but write.

"I write poems slowly, not usually on the back of an envelope in a hurry," says Harsent. "Being a poet is wonderfully isolated. I am fantastically sequestered from the world."

At this year's Bristol Poetry Festival, now in its 11th year, he will be reading from Legion - the title sequence offers reports from a war zone. He will also read new poems, including some English versions of the modern Greek poets, who, he says, "I have been reading a lot of recently as I'm working on my second full-length opera, The Minotaur, for the Royal Opera House, with the composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle."

Elsewhere, Carol Ann Duffy will read from her latest work, Rapture, and Ireland's Brendan Kennelly will air his Poetry My Arse collection. There will be performance poetry and poetry slams, and a grand celebration of Sir John Betjeman's centenary. Other highlights include Germaine Greer's talk on The Point of Poetry and appearances by international poets including the South African Gabeba Baderoon, and the Chinese poet Yang Lian who became a poet in exile after the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.

But Harsent, who began writing poetry as a child and started taking himself "seriously" as a poet in his late teens, concedes that "all poets need a day job. Otherwise you would be living in a tent in Hyde Park." He was a bookseller and a publisher before "I decided that if I didn't stop having to work for a boss and turn up to the office every day, I would probably jump off a tall building."

His day job now is writing crime fiction (his latest thriller is Cold Kill) under the name David Lawrence. He says: "If you win the Booker Prize your sales go through the roof. This doesn't happen with poetry."

7 to 17 September (0117-942 6976; www.poetrycan.co.uk)

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