New poetry collection from co-ordinator of the Festival of Chichester

Barry Smith, director of the South Downs Poetry Festival and co-ordinator of the Festival of Chichester, has released his first full poetry publication, Performance Rites

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 8:05 am
Barry Smith
Barry Smith

It is available from Waterloo Press at £12, available at has worked in education, as a theatre director and as a critic. Productions directed include Antigone for the Edinburgh Festival and Murder in the Cathedral and The Mysteries for Chichester Cathedral. His poems have appeared in journals and magazines, as well as online and on YouTube.

“In Shakespeare’s bitter-sweet comedy As You Like It, Jacques delivers a famous speech to the exiled duke and his followers: ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ I have taken inspiration from this insight and used the idea as a springboard for Performance Rites. As its title suggests, the collection explores the notion of life as performance. As a lover of music in all its forms, there are poems on both classical and popular music inspired by famous composers and legendary popular musicians, from Beethoven to Elvis Presley. Having directed many plays in my life, including shows for Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, the Edinburgh Festival and Chichester Cathedral, theatre plays a big part in the collection.

“Art too figures prominently. In fact the cover illustration was very kindly provided by the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral. During the pandemic, I was inspired to write a poem by an image in their newsletter showing Graham Sutherland’s masterpiece about the resurrection, Noli Me Tangere, ‘touch me not’.

“But it’s not all arty topics – clowns and soap opera characters find their way into some poems! The scope covers social rituals, political games, medical rites and the theatre of the natural world.

“When I’m out walking, I often take notes of landscapes and wildlife so nature too is very important in my writing. In some of the poems, I write about various historical figures including the composer Bruckner, President John F Kennedy, the artist Paul Klee, Vladimir Putin, the Greek tragic heroine Antigone, the French New Wave philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Shakespeare and even The Rolling Stones.

“The collection examines ideas of change, transformation and discovery. In the poems, we gather in the auditorium of a theatre before the curtain rises and in the churchyard as a legendary musician’s coffin is opened, sit in the audience as a punk icon breaks down on stage, lose ourselves in a crowd of clowns at a convention, stand behind the cameraman taking a photograph of a wartime atrocity, rush along hospital corridors with the tea-trolley to the radiotherapy treatment room, gaze at overloaded bookshelves to pick winners and losers for the recycling bin, jump on the big wheel at a fairground tragedy played out to an unsuspecting audience and stand amongst ancient stones at a famous beauty spot.

“When I left university at the end of the 60s at a time of new directions and ideas about life, I was already heavily into theatre and poetry. Somehow the two always seem to naturally blend together for me.

“In fact, three of the major dramas I’ve directed in Chichester Cathedral have been poetic dramas – Murder in the Cathedral, which deals with the assassination of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury, and The Mysteries, Parts One and Two, in a version by Tony Harrison, based on the Medieval Miracle Plays.

“While we were rehearsing The Mysteries, we had an unexpected and most unusual visitor in the Cathedral. An eagle-owl took up residence in the triforium. As we rehearsed scenes from the bible stories, the owl, with its huge wingspan, used to suddenly sweep over our heads! It took the RSPCA days to lure it out. This amazing incident found its way into one of my poems, Airborne, which I love reading to audiences – especially in the Cathedral itself, as I was able to do this year during the Festival of Chichester.

The launch for Performance Rites will be on National Poetry Day – Thursday, October 7, 7.30pm, at the Novium Museum in Chichester: “I’m sharing a launch with poet Stephanie Norgate, who will be reading from her new book, The Conversation.”

Tickets are available from the Novium at £7.50 on