Hastings festival celebrates famous Owl and Pussycat poem

The first week of the A Town Explores A Book festival has taken St Leonards by storm say organsiers

Artworks created by young artists in tandem with creative professionals have appeared across the town from flowerbeds in Warrior Square rose garden to collaged poetry posters around building sites.

This year’s theme of Edward Lear’s Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets has allowed explorations of everything from children’s poetry to botany.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat by Edward Lear was first published 150 years ago in his anthology Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets and is consistently one of the nation’s favourite poems.

A Town Explores A Book St Leonards On Sea UK 2021. Edward Lear, Nonsense Songs Stories Botany & Alphabets. Erica Smith distributing owls, St Leonards On Sea, 30 March 2021. SUS-210604-144809001

Lear was a regular visitor to Hastings and St Leonards often stayed with the MP Frederick North and knew his daughter, the painter Marianne North. The Owl and the Pussy-cat poem was written for Marianne North’s niece.

The Owl Trail, inspired by Lear’s famous Owl and Pussycat poem, has led to over 150 owls to be created and displayed in homes and shop fronts across St Leonards.

The Bavard Bar launched the festival on April 1 with three international speakers: composer Daniel Mudford talking about John Cage and mushrooms, Scientist Dr. Ljiljana Fruk who explained why scientists should always explore ‘non-sense’, and Dr Robert M Peck from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, in the USA, who spoke eloquently about The Natural History of Edward Lear.

Winners of the Children’s Nonsense Poetry prizes were announced on Easter Sunday – the winners were both pupils at Christ Church CofE Primary Academy – ‘The Geeze’ by Sonny and ‘The Skwemling’ by Charlotte. Both children win an illustration of their poem drawn by artist and writer Ed Boxall.

A Town Explores A Book St Leonards On Sea UK 2021. Edward Lear, Nonsense Songs Stories Botany & Alphabets. Emma Harding & team install "Green Heads Blue Hands, a project woith Caroline Ellis, Clement Boland and pupils from Robsack Wood & St Pauls CE Primary Academies, St Leonards On Sea, 31 March 2021. SUS-210604-144820001

This week young song-writers from Hastings Thrives get to perform their songs outside Badger Inc. cafe on the seafront, opposite Hastings Pier, and at an online event on Thursday hosted by Isolation Station Hastings.

There have been Zoom private views for The Nutcrackers and the Sugar-tongs doodle project and automated machines used to illustrate Edward Lear’s The Story of Four Little Children who travelled around the world.

The festival comes to a close with a celebration of the independent shops re-opening on April 12, a ‘Stuff and Nonsense’ spoken word event on April 15 and an Isolation Station Broadcast ‘Lear Was Here’ which explores Lear’s connections with Hastings and St Leonards.

The lead up to the festival launch saw 3,000 copies of the Edward Lear book distributed to school children across Hastings and St Leonards.

A Town Explores A Book St Leonards On Sea UK 2021. Edward Lear, Nonsense Songs Stories Botany & Alphabets. Esme Fisher with automata, SUS-210604-144831001

Artists and poets have worked with primary school children and college students and college students on Edward Lear inspired visual arts and poetry projects which have kindled a joy for making, reading and writing nonsense verse.

Charlotte Kim, the Education Futures Trust Literacy Lead, said: “The reason these projects have been so successful is that children were able to use their imagination and be creative. There were no SAT driven objectives, just an opportunity to create their own nonsense poem, or character or painting. It really helped that the children received such lovely books to accompany the project.”