Degna Stone on taking on Poetry&Words at Glastonbury Festival 2024

Photo: Dawn Kilner

Originally from the Midlands, Degna Stone is a poet and poetry editor based in north east England. They are co-founder and former Managing Editor of Butcher’s Dog poetry magazine, a Contributing Editor at The Rialto, and an associate artist with The Poetry Exchange.

She makes her Glastonbury Festival debut this year, closing the Saturday evening in the Poetry&Words tent. Ahead of the show, we caught up with Stone to find out her plans for the show.

Q&A with Degna Stone

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into live performance poetry?

    My name is Degna Stone and I’m a poet and poetry editor. I’m originally from the Midlands but I’ve lived in North East England since the turn of the century. Newcastle is where I started writing poetry seriously. I’d always written poetry when I was a teenager (I thought everybody did) but it was only when I met a poet called Julia Darling who was gently encouraging when I told her that I enjoyed writing poetry. Back then my poems were just an attempt to make sense of the things swirling around in my head but she was just really positive so I started writing with a bit more of a sense of purpose. When I was heavily pregnant with my second child, I took a series of poetry masterclasses led by Anthony Joseph at the Lit and Phil in Newcastle. At the end, there was a launch event of an anthology of the poems we’d produced so I guess I always had an expectation that poems were meant to be shared with an audience, not just read. And so that was really the start of my interest in the communication between the poet and audience. From then, I started regularly going to open mic nights in Newcastle and that’s when I started to develop as a performer.

    Around that time, I remember attending a John Hegley workshop in North Shields, and as he was walking around strumming his uke during one of the writing exercises he casually said “it’s all in the performance anyway”. That really resonated. The next time I got on stage to perform, I really felt the sense that the poem was completed, or enhanced, by that interaction with the audience. After that I got involved with Apples and Snakes and I was also selected for the first cohort of Verb New Voices, where I was mentored by Zena Edwards. And that really consolidated the idea that poetry was about communication and a shared experience. Whether that was in written or spoken form.

    What’s it like to be performing at this year’s Glastonbury Festival?

      It hasn’t quite sunk in but I’m really excited! I’ve only been to Glastonbury once before in 1997, and I remember being pleasantly surprised when I stumbled into the Theatre and Circus field (I hadn’t realised that Glastonbury was more than just music). I really enjoyed the vibe and so I’m really looking forward to spending lots of time there again.

      I’m also really nervous. When I applied to the Poetry&Words call out, I didn’t expect to be invited to close out the main programme on the Saturday evening, so right now I’m a little bit terrified! But between now and the festival I shall be practising my set, and I’ve got a chance to try it out at King Ink spoken word night in Sunderland, so hopefully that will help to calm my nerves. So yeah, excited and nervous. But mostly excited.

      What can you tell us about your plans for the show?

        There are two particular poems that I’ll definitely include in my set. One of them is the poem I’ve tended to end my poetry sets on recently because I like to leave the audience with a sense of possibility and hopefulness. It’s a poem called A Manifesto of Tiny Commitments, which seems appropriate, as the General Election is just around the corner. And I have a poem inspired by the film Withnail and I, which always seems to go down well with audiences. There are a lot of easter eggs in it for fans of the film, so I’ll definitely be doing that one. I haven’t quite decided on the rest of the set yet so I’ll try a few things out at King Ink and see what lands.

        How do you approach performing at a festival like this?

          Glasto is such a one off so I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to approach it! Sometimes it’s best not to overthink these things. When I’m building my set, I’ll think about what is happening in the world and see which poems speak to that. Then once I’ve decided on the poems I’ll be sharing, I’ll just start practicing it.

          To stop myself getting too nervous I’ll focus on logistics. I very rarely camp and I haven’t been to Glastonbury for over a quarter of a century, so thinking about the practicalities of getting to the site with the things I need whilst I’m there is my main concern!

          Will you be checking out any other acts across the weekend?

            I’ve never seen Roger McGough live before, so I’m really looking forward to seeing him. Kayleigh Jayashree, Princess Arinola Adegbite, AFLO, Sam Danson and Dominic Berry are also on my list of poets to see. In terms of music, the only band I absolutely HAVE to see is Fontaines DC. I’m gutted that my set clashes with Michael Kiwanuka but it’d be good to catch Corinne Bailey Rae, Afrodeutsche, Bob Vylan and Faithless. I’ll probably spend a fair chunk of time in the Left Field too. Other than that I’ll just explore and let myself happen across things.

            Degna Stone is performing at Glastonbury Festival, running from 26 to 30 June

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