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NEWS: 24th May

Poetry and the Upper Calder Valley seem to have some kind of affinity. After all, the last Poet Laureate came from Mytholmroyd, and the area currently hosts a new generation of wordsmiths. As will become obvious during the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival.

The very first event of the Festival is a Ted Hughes guided walk, starting from Mytholmroyd and taking in sites and scenes from his childhood, with poema and biographical background at appropriate places. It involves some fairly strenuous walking fro 5 or 6 miles and the limited places must be pre-booked. The tour repeats on 10th July Some of liveliest poetry being created locally today emanates from the Puzzle Hall Poets, and they travel up the valley to give a reading at Artsmill, Linden Mill on Monday June 27th

A couple of years ago The Observer featured the 30 poets who it predicted would be the pick of poetry's next generation, and two of them feature together, as part of "Book Weekend", at lunchtime on the middle Saturday of the Festival.

Amanda Dalton and Tobias Hill

Amanda Dalton lives in Hebden Bridge and, used to organise courses for the Arvon Foundation at Lumb Bank (formerly Ted Hughes's house above Heptonstall). She is joined by Tobias Hill, one time Japan-based newspaper rock critic and Poet in Residence at London Zoo, and now author of three award willing poetry collections. Amanda and Tobias will be reading and discussing their work at the Little Theatre.

Ann and Anthony Thwaite

That same afternoon poet, editor and BBC radio producer Anthony Thwaite and his biographer wife Ann read from their works, and talk about a writing life spent teaching and lecturing the world over, during 50 years of marriage, in a session chaired by their friend Stephen Platten, the Bishop of Wakefield.

And poetry continues to be a part of "Book Weekend" at the Little Theatre the following day as American poet Saskia Hamilton reads from her previous two collections and launches her new work, published locally by Arc Publications.

Into the second week, and the therapeutic benefits of poetry are celebrated on Wednesday 6th July at Artsmill in "Survivors' Poetry".

And so on to the final Saturday, when Helen Clare reads from her debut collection "Mollusc", described by one critic as "a new seam opening up in British poetry- every rift loaded with ore" (those poets, eh!). She is joined for an evening of readings from their works at the Blue Pig in Midgehole by Chris Woods, who, like Clare, takes inspiration from the biological sciences, as well as the Pennine landscape.

Poetry is many things to many people, and quite a few of us at some time get round to expressing how we feel in a verse or two. Here, over two weeks, is a rare opportunity to catch a whole range of gifted poets sharing their craft with us, and, who knows, maybe inspiring another local laureate!

Hebden Bridge has been a magnet for artists for forty years, due in part to the availability of suitable low-cost accommodation resulting from the decline of traditional industry. All that has changed, with house prices soaring and former mills being converted to flats. Now, as with other small industries, affordable studio workspace is very hard to come by. Which is why such a range of space is being opened for public viewing as part of Hebden Bridge Arts Festival's Open Studio programme.

From the roof-glazed Northlight Studios on the top of Melbourne Mill - a working mill - through an artist who works with tiles in the cellar, digital 3D environments in the living room, and pattern design in the attic of his terraced house, to a studio in a garden hut, fifteen artists and collectives offer a chance to glimpse their work in the environment in which it was created. Full details are in the Festival Programme, that small golden booklet now available widely in the area.

The Hebden Bridge Arts Festival is not just about viewing what's on offer - there are opportunities to be a part of the creation too. Black Sheep Comedy Theatre, at the Little Theatre, improvise their hilarious and mischievous "Fairly Tales" directly from audience suggestions.

Black Sheep Comedy Theatre

Calderdale Community Samba invite you to join them in making carnival costumes, dancing the samba and beating out monster rhythms.

A play about Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West is followed by a question-and-answer session with the performers, Local Gardeners' Question Time is a chance to put your horticultural queries to local experts, and Calder Valley Voices, the area's own community choir, don't audition, don't expect members to read music, and believe that anyone and everyone can sing. They meet weekly, and can be seen in concert during the Festival.

For details of all Festival events either check out the programme (in local shops and tourist centres, or download from the hebweb) or call the Festival information line on 01422 842684. The box office on Albert Street opens daily from mid-June.

Hebden Bridge Arts Festival