The Festival as Form report

released 11 November

We have been working for the last 12 months to code, analyse and understand what people have told us. It's been an incredible privilege to hear them, and the stories people have shared are remarkable. Using photos taken by festival participants and long-form interviews, the report is the first to track how people experience poetry within the whole festival setting, and to show the work that both festivals and poetry are performing.

Poetry at festivals, it turns out, does much more than entertain. It reaches people who do not usually have much to do with poetry, and moves them in ways they didn’t expect. It makes people laugh, but it also creates spaces where people can admit personal vulnerability, and barriers of hostility are overcome.

Festivals in general lower boundaries between people; poetry fast-forwards that process and speaks to the personal transitions that many festival-goers are going through. For a sizeable number of our participants, the festival and its poetry was a transformational experience. Poetry also calls attention to injustice, including the results of it visible at the festival. 

But the particular work poets and poetry do is often undervalued and underfunded - partly because it depends so much on hidden labour, and partly because the wider role festivals can play in the mediation of life's crises, not just happiness and well-being, is also under-recognised. 

To download it, please click on the report cover to the right, or the yellow button below.


words of interviews





About the project

The 'Festival as Form' is a research project exploring the festivalization of the literary scene, through the diversity and impact of poetry at UK festivals.

Over the last 15 years, festivals of all kinds have been adding word-based stages to their range. They've become a new space for writers and artists to find their audience, and a new form of publishing medium, expanding the page or the stage. 

But a festival event isn't the same as  a regular gig: it's framed by the festival's special atmosphere of excess, social boundary-dropping, out-of-hours living and the will to try something new. 

It's also framed by the festival's commitment to change-making or community-building for the rest of the year. And it's all framed by the way life is shifting post-pandemic. 


Using poetry as our lens, we will be going to different kinds of festival over 2022-23 and researching what the festival as a form is doing for the literature in it, and for its audiences. 

If you're a professional interested in festivals, we'll be hosting a series of events at Queen Mary discussing our findings with industry experts and programmers, and we'd be glad to hear from you. 


We'll be writing a report and making a documentary. And if you just like going to festivals, we'll be going back to a number next year to report on what we found.

We are based at Queen Mary, University of London and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. 

Meet the team

Both of us think festivals are extraordinary things, but we bring different interests to the project. Rowena is a Shakespeare expert who got interested in the way festival performances encouraged European audiences see the plays anew. Peter is wondering whether contemporary UK festivals take their audiences through any of the same patterns that anthropologists round the world have noticed happen with rituals and gatherings. Both of us firmly believe, however, that the best parts of any festival happen in the conversations you have with random people in the queue for the falafel van. 

Professor Peter Howarth

Principal Investigator

Peter is Professor of Modern Literature at Queen Mary, University of London, a National Teaching Fellow and an AHRC RDE Fellow (2022-24). He has just finished The Poetry Circuit (OUP), a book about the many ways that the rediscovery of live reading changed poetry in the twentieth century. He also writes regularly for the London Review of Books

Dr. Rowena Hawkins

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Rowena is a researcher whose work explores festivals, audiences and Global Shakespeares. Her PhD thesis is the first book-length study of the European Shakespeare Festivals Network (ESFN) and has been nominated for King's College London's Outstanding Thesis Prize. 

What we've been up to

Follow our journey around the UK's festival scene on Twitter and Instagram and read more on our blog


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