Looking Forward to the 21st Ledbury Poetry Festival

Phillippa SlingerThe Ledbury Poetry Festival is now well established, and 2017 will be bigger than ever, as they celebrate their 21st year. Described by Andrew Motion as “the best” poetry festival in the UK, it will be crammed full of events, including kids activities, free ’20 minute’ readings and writing workshops, alongside the big names in poetry. I interviewed the Festival Manager, Phillipa Slinger, to find out more.      

How did the Ledbury Poetry Festival begin?

It was started in 1997 by a group of enthusiasts who wanted to recognise the poetic heritage of Ledbury: from William Langland in the Middle Ages, through to the Barrett Brownings, and then the Dymock Poets (Rupert Brooke, Robert Frost, Edward Thomas etc). It began in someone’s living room and has grown to become the biggest poetry festival in the UK – “the Glastonbury of poetry festivals”!

Here’s a quote from one of the founders:

“Of the Ledbury friends and neighbours who got together, I doubt if any of us knew more than a dozen living and published poets. But we did know how to put on a party and that proved to be the key: the poets and the poetry seemed to follow of themselves.”

It still retains its party atmosphere. John Burnside called Ledbury “a paradise garden”. The sun seems to shine, and the town has a special and distinctly poetical eccentricity and colour.

ledbury 2017How did you become involved?

I was at the first festival in 1997 and, as a local, have been a punter on and off for the last 21 years. My involvement amped up when I moved into Ledbury five years ago from a nearby country village, and I was able to immerse myself more fully: helping at the Box Office, accommodating poets. When the job of Manager came up, I applied and amazingly got it!

michael palin

Michael Palin at Ledbury Poetry Festival

What’s special about the festival this year, and what are you most looking forward to?

What’s special this year is the sheer size. It’s the biggest festival ever! I love how the whole community gets involved, I’m really excited about the poetry chairs made by two local care farms, the town filled with poetry artwork, and the massive celebration day on the last day of the festival – it’s rammed with entertainment!

My dream ticket would be Vahni Capildeo reading with Denise Riley – two of our greatest contemporary poets appearing together. I think if I manage to see it I will be floating out of that one! But that’s just it, by the end of the ten days everyone is just kind of levitating and there’s this rainbow haze, and the world looks different – better, brighter, more hopeful. That’s how I feel anyway, and I know thousands of others do too.

Fair Field rehearsal in Malvern Hills overlooking Ledbury

Rehearsal of Fair Field – a 21st century reimagining of the great Medieval poem ‘Piers Plowman’ by Malvern poet William Langland.

Ledbury Poetry Festival 2017 runs from 30th June – 9th July.
Visit their website to see the programme and buy your tickets…

Original Ledbury Poetry Festival programme from 1997

A copy of the programme from the very first festival in 1997

2 thoughts on “Looking Forward to the 21st Ledbury Poetry Festival

  1. This is an exceptional festival, highly regarded internationally and very well run. It’s not just about poetry (though that’s the main point of course) – there is a beautiful melding of many artists and art forms all around the town. Definitely one to visit!

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