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‘… on the impossibility of being Byron in 2024’: Rebecca Watts at The Byron Festival

Trinity alumna Rebecca Watts is a Cambridge-based poet and Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow. Her debut collection The Met Office Advises Caution (Carcanet, 2016) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and her second collection Red Gloves (Carcanet 2020) won a Gladstone’s Library Writers-in-Residence award in 2022. She will perform a new work at The Byron Festival Poetry Readings on Saturday 20 April in Trinity’s Antechapel.  

What inspires you about Byron’s work and/or life?

Neither my writing nor my lifestyle have much in common with Byron’s: he was a swashbuckling, womanising aristocrat, famously described as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”; my life thus far has been rather less high octane. What we do share, though, is a love of the outdoors and a penchant for swimming. I took that as my starting point, and pinned it to a specific location on the outskirts of Cambridge where Byron is thought to have swum.

How do you begin to craft a poem in response to Lord Byron’s work?

Responding to another writer is always a challenge. You don’t want to end up simply mimicking their style – not least because, in the case of a poet whose work has already survived two centuries, your effort is likely to be inferior to the original! So you have to find another way in, an angle.

The poem I wrote in response is a (good-humoured, I hope) reflection on the impossibility of being Byron in 2024 – not just because our personalities are wildly different, but because the environments he inhabited, in Cambridge and beyond, have fundamentally changed. I think most of us are still Romantics, in a broad sense, and I’m interested in what Romanticism looks like today, given everything we’ve done to and come to understand about our fragile world.

Book a free ticket at The Byron Festival Poetry Readings, Saturday 20 April, 4pm-5:15pm in Trinity’s Antechapel. 

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