Poetry in motion

The annual Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival is now on. This year’s event, which has received funding from RTW Together, is bigger and better than ever with a programme for all ages to enjoy. Eileen Leahy speaks to one of the festival’s co-founders – and Times of Tunbridge Wells cartoonist – Peppy Scott about what’s going on where until June 18…


Three years ago, just as Covid social distancing guidelines were easing, the Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival was launched. It proved to be such a great success that it has now become a firm fixture of the town’s social calendar, taking place over a period of approximately three weeks in June.

Inviting poets of all kinds to perform live in a variety of venues, this year’s event, which kicked off on June 1 and runs until June 18, promises to be as interesting and diverse as previous years, with something for everyone to enjoy.

From Vocal & Live open mic sessions at The Forum and The George, to inspiring workshops at venues including The Grey Lady, Trinity Theatre and Waterstones, there’s so much to get involved with.

“The Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival originated as a one-off gathering of local poets brought together by Sarah Miles of Paper Swans Press,” explains the event’s co-organiser Peppy Scott.

“The baton was then handed to the Tunbridge Wells-based Kent & Sussex Poetry Society, who became sponsors of the festival when a small group of members volunteered to organise it. If you have chanted nursery rhymes, recited a prayer or sung some favourite lyrics in the shower, then you have read some poetry,” she continues.

“Poetry is rooted in our lives and this is what we celebrate as the Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival.”

This year’s festival includes performances by the likes of published poet Raine Geoghegan, who will host an evening of poetry celebrating nature and the countryside, both present and past at Waterstones on June 16. She will be joined by local poet Siân Thomas, who is also very keen on celebrating the natural beauty that surrounds us all.

Rounding off the festival is a free, all-ages afternoon of relaxed creative activity and entertainment at The Forum on Sunday June 18.

“Be as creative as you like – writing, drawing, speaking, singing – or just come along to enjoy a coffee, a beer, a bite to eat and a chance to listen and soak up the poetic atmosphere with family and friends.

“We’re going out with a bang, so be sure to stay for the evening when our festival headliner, world slam champion and poetry superstar Harry Baker performs his celebrated ‘Unashamed’ show.

“This really will be a breath-taking performance,” adds Peppy, who also just happens to be this newspaper’s resident cartoonist. “He is so incredible to see live.”

In addition to all this, there will be numerous workshops on offer over the next few days in order to inspire everyone from novices to established poets.

“At the heart of the festival is the opportunity for participation via a series of free Vocal & Live events with regular open mic hosts from the thriving local spoken word scene,” says Peppy.

“Taking place in some of the town’s most popular cafés and pubs, all are invited to share their words or just to enjoy the diverse range of speakers and entertainers. Poems can be about anything and delivered in any style, from the confessional to the comedic. First-timers are warmly welcomed alongside experienced speakers.”

Peppy states that the Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival – which is an independent, not-for-profit, grassroots organisation – is run entirely by volunteers, who are all poets themselves, many of whom are part of the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society.

“As the Chair of the committee, Charlie Bell has previously said, ‘Poetry is the new rock and roll, with the same elements of commitment, energy and excitement. It appeals to a wide and general audience’. And this is certainly reflected in our line-up this year.”

The festival’s slogan is ‘Poetry for All, Big or Small’ and Peppy says she and her co-organisers are motivated by “the pleasure of sharing poetry of all genres with people of all ages, who may or may not already know they like poetry.

“To be able to invite poets of national standing into the town is a thrill, but we are equally excited by the platform we offer to undiscovered local talent. Members of the committee work entirely voluntarily and each one is also a poet.”

Peppy reveals that the now annual Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival is something aimed at everyone in the local community.

“Poetry can be moving or calming, thought-provoking and intriguing, challenging or soothing, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. While the more cerebral readings will appeal to confirmed lovers of poetry, much of the programme is designed to appeal to a general audience.

“Whether someone is an absolute beginner who has never attempted to write a poem before, or an established poet who is regularly published, the festival offers opportunities to stretch one’s skills, regardless of experience. We also have a policy of affordable pricing and there are many free events on the programme. Accessibility is central to our ethos.”

Full details about the festival can be found at: twpoetryfestival.com, on Twitter @TWPoetryFest, on Facebook @TunbridgeWellsPoetryFestival and on Instagram @twpoetryfestival




VOCAL AND LIVE: No tickets (or jacket!) required. Vocal and Live are FREE community events offering the best of local spoken word and open mic opportunities for all. We’ve Poets in the Pub (June 14), Poets in the Trinity (June 17), and Poets in The Forum (June 18).


LIVING THE POET’S LIFE with Suzanne Cleary. International live link workshop on generative poetry. (June 15) via ZOOM.


RAINE GEOGHEGAN: Raine joins us for an evening of poetry celebrating nature and the countryside present and past. She is joined by local poet, Siân Thomas for readings, book signing and a Q&A on her process and craft.) Waterstones (June 16)


VOCAL AND LIVE AT TRINITY THEATRE: An afternoon of readings from groups and collectives around the region. Come along and relax with coffee and cake (or something a little more invigorating) in Trinity’s café, (June 17)


THE ITALIAN CONNECTION with Veronica Beedham. Presentation and discussion on poetry, photography and letterpress printing techniques. Southborough Civic Centre (June 17)


HARRY BAKER: Multi-award-winning poet and performer Harry Baker brings his blistering one-man show ‘Unashamed’ to Tunbridge Wells to bring the festival to a glittering climax. The Forum (June 18)

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