Ledbury Poetry Festival, Various venues, Ledbury <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

It is a perfect English summer's day. Apart from the scaffolding on the town's Market House - a 17th-century building on oak pillars, according to legend, from the Spanish Armada - this former "small town national winner" of the Britain in Bloom competition is looking ravishing.

The Burgage Hall is in a pretty courtyard off Church Lane, an almost parodically picturesque cobbled street of half-timbered buildings, tea rooms and hanging baskets.

I'm here in time for Edward Lear: Escapes & Encounters. "Nonsense," according to our youthful lecturer, Peter Swaab, "is a way of reimagining Romanticism." For the next 45 minutes, he talks, entertainingly, about Lear's wanderings around Europe.

When I return later for "the Jeremy Reed poetry experience", the furniture has been rearranged to look like a cabaret."My work has often been compared to the French poet Arthur Rimbaud," says Reed, a skinny figure once described in this newspaper as "British poetry's Glam, spangly, shape-shifting answer to David Bowie", "so I'm going to read you a poem called 'Rimbaud's Formula'." He is, true to form, sporting a black sequinned beret, red nail polish and a diamanté bracelet with his purple T-shirt and jeans.

His next poem is about a friend who committed suicide. The next is about a woman who died of alcohol poisoning. He ends with a poem called "My Death". "There's no irony in my poems," he announces, unnecessarily. "It just comes straight out of the subject."

The last event of the day is with Liz Lochhead, Glasgow's poet laureate. Lochhead is charming. "I'd like to start off completely incomprehensible," she says with a cheeky smile, "because then it might get easier later on." She also reads a poem about inspiration: "This is a game you very seldom win/ Most of your efforts end up in the bin."

The next day offers further evidence that the world of poetry is a broad church. There's a lively reading by two poets with a shared passion for the poetry of the page and field: Sarah Wardle, a former poet in residence for Tottenham Hotspur and John Lindley, "Cheshire poet laureate" and a life-long supporter of Stockport County. And then the Oxford professor of poetry, Christopher Ricks, ambles on to the platform. His lecture on Robert Lowell is electrifying.

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