In praise of poetry festivals

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!

15 thoughts on “In praise of poetry festivals”

  1. I have begun to attend festivals since my late wife died in 2012, and enjoy them as much for the friends (most from Facebook) who I can be with “in person”, and to meet and hear writers whose work I often own in pamphlets, chapbooks and collections.
    The prime festival which begins my Spring & Summer year is towards the end of April each year in delightful Much Wenlock in Shropshire, such a contrast with the seaside resort where I was born and have gone back to in order to enjoy my retirement.
    And that’s the other “main enjoyment”: living briefly in different circumstances and getting excellent service from the pub I stay in, The Talbot Inn on the High Street, as well as from the many independent shops in the place – the locals are so friendly, helpful and informative – prompts for future pieces of my own writing often occur to me when travelling and staying elsewhere.
    Very different is Warwick Words which has a minor poetry element, an Open Mic, but concentrates its main focus on fiction and history writers usually based on a recently published book of theirs – as with Much Wenlock, the location is key to the success of the two weekends of the festival in June and September/October.
    How I love Warwick, The Rose & Crown in Market Square where I stay, and the delightful pubs, restaurants and shops there. The people are a delight too.
    The other element is really a self-made “festival” – two or three weekends in Covent Garden mainly based on events at The Poetry Society & The Poetry Cafe on Betterton Street when I can afford Friday and Saturday night stays at with LSE Student Accommodation on High Holborn, or, more expensively, at The (excellent) Morgan Hotel on Bloomsbury Street close to The British Museum.
    Thanks for reminding me, Josephine.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have never attended a poetry festival. The closest I have come to doing so is going to an open mic session at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. I hope to attend the open mic event, at the Poetry Cafe on Tuesday 22 March and read a few of my poems. This will be my first time reading in public although I once read some of my poetry at an event organised by my place of work. Certainly attending poetry festivals is something I would like to do, however I enjoy my home comforts so would prefer to stay in a hotel or guest house rather than a leaky tent! Kevin

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  3. Good luck with reading your work at the open-mic. Any event I’ve attended at The Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden has been friendly and well-organised. I’m sure you’ll get a warm welcome from the audience. I’ve only started attending poetry festivals myself in recent years. I don’t always stay for the whole time, I sometimes buy a day pass and attend on one day only. I agree, accommodation needs to be comfortable! Most festival websites will have links to local b&bs and small hotels. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m actively involved with the Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe, now in its sixth year. I love the competitions, the anthologies that come from the best of the competitions, the poetry and prose workshops and spoken word events – there’s always a good mix of things going on. This year it’s between 10-19 June at various venues in Worcestershire. See where the programme will soon be released 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoy experiencing poetry festivals. There is the added benefit that you are likely to either bump into old acquaintances or friends, or make new ones. One of the attractions is the frisson of the unknown.
    Name poets on the page come with no guarantee that they will impress live, and there is always the unknown poet whose performance delights. At the larger festivals the “names” often sell out in advance, so some planning is required. Also do check how long poets are scheduled to perform. £15 may not seem exorbitant, but for a half hour slot, three could set you back £45 in three hours.

    Having the venues close together is time efficient, easier on the feet, and less weather vulnerable too.

    Do watch out for Poetry Busk and open mic events too, they often combine names who drop by with interesting aspiring talent.

    Workshops should be treated with caution. All too often they can be overpriced PR vehicles. Any workshop of just two hours duration will be over before it has started with little time for interaction, and the best poets do not necessarily make the best workshop leaders. Word of mouth pays here, and poetry blogs tend to offer a rich seam of tips for who is hot- and who is not.

    My personal favourite is Much Wenlock. The venues are off beat and close together. A bookshop, owned by legendarily well connected organiser Ana Dreda, is at the heart of proceedings, and there is an excellent mix of superstar poets, and free gems . The location is beautiful and there is a good range of accommodation within striking distance too.

    If that has whetted your appetite this is a snapshot of forthcoming festivals around the Midlands.


  6. I only discovered poetry festivals two years ago, when I attended the Ledbury Poetry Festival for the first time – it was brilliant. I saw Benjamin Zephaniah (hilarious), and Owen Sheers (he read from Pink Mist, and I actually found myself crying at the end – it was that powerful) as well as some new poets. I went by myself, just for the day, and it was well worth it. I couldn’t go last year I was working, but am going again this year and am hoping to attend even more events.

    I’ve also recently discovered that there are loads of poetry / spoken word events taking place in Cardiff (where I live) that I never knew about. I’ve just started a blog (, and will be regularly writing about the festivals and events that I attend, including the Ledbury Poetry Festival in July.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this lovely comment, Rachel, and for the link to your blog. I’ve only ever read and seen those two poets on the internet but can imagine they’d be wonderful. Wishing you a good poetry year! 🙂


  7. I love hearing poets talk about their reasons for writing particular poems. And, I love famous names who bring their work and themselves to life. Hearing Seamus Heaney read was the ultimate for me.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh Josephine, Seamus Heaney was magnificent. It was like he had an audience of one (me) and was reading for the very first time.
        I’ve heard Michael Longley too and adore him also.
        I’ll have to keep eyes peels for Helen Mort. I hate to tell you she’s a new name to me so thanks for the intro!

        Liked by 1 person

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