I haven’t been to that many (Swindon, Reading, Winchester, Aldeburgh, to be exact) but, so far, I’ve enjoyed all of them. Hearing poets read their own work reminds me of hearing my favourite tunes at a live concert. The anecdotes you hear between poems are also, usually, very interesting and entertaining and often offer insights into the poem which deepens my appreciation and enjoyment of the work. Some poets talk about the writing process, the creative spark that set the poem on its journey from notebook to finished piece, and this can be fascinating and helpful. Sometimes, a small amount of clarification makes me view a poem in a completely different light and I go back to read it again from a new perspective.
I’ve been to festivals where I’ve already known and read a poet’s work and others where the poet was completely new to me. I always end up buying books (and getting them signed) and I sometimes come away with ideas for new poems of my own.
I look for festivals with a good variety of poets on the bill: different ages, different nationalities, different ethnicities, different world views, different styles of writing and reading. I look for a well organised programme, not too much waiting around between events and little, or no, overlapping. I prefer a weekend festival of two or three days – anything longer isn’t practical for me.
The venue matters to me. It’s got to be at least reasonably comfortably or, preferably, very comfortable. You’re sitting down for a long time, after all. I have been at festival events which were so popular I had to stand at the side or the back – not ideal but worth it if the talk really interests you. At least I was warm enough! Draughty venues are a turn-off.
I like most events to be within easy reach of each other. I’m not a fan of too much trekking about but I’m not averse to a short, brisk walk. I’m able-bodied but I’d like all venues to be open to everyone, so wheelchair access, disabled toilet facilities, and good sound and visuals are important, too.
Food and drink should be available somewhere. If not at the venue itself, then within a short distance. Poetry listening is a thirsty and hungry business. Days can be long, especially if you’ve bought a festival pass or a day pass, so you need to keep your energy up.
Imaginative programming is always welcome. Not just readings but also workshops, close readings, talks and lectures. Some variety in the programme can be delightful. A good bookshop on site, of course, or good book stalls.
What’s your favourite aspect of poetry festivals? What do you look for? Have you been to many? Share your thoughts!