St Mary Redcliffe Church Bristol
Photo by Emily Whitfield-Wicks

Poetic cities: slams, storytelling and sensational literary festivals in Bristol, Bath and beyond

Inspired by 2020's A Poetic City project, we delve into Bristol and Bath’s literary scene...

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February 11th, 2020

2020 marks 250 years since Bristol-born poet Thomas Chatterton died. Despite only reaching the tender age of 17, he inspired generations of poets after him, including Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth and Coleridge.

To celebrate Bristol’s poetic past, present and future, a programme of activity, ‘A Poetic City’, will run throughout 2020, presented by organisations including Lyra poetry festival, Glenside Hospital Museum, the University of Bristol, Bristol Libraries, Bristol Culture, the RWASt Mary Redcliffe and Destination Bristol.

Inspired by these poetic goings-on, we thought we’d delve into Bristol and Bath’s poetry scene – a slew of electrifying poetry slams, word wizards, stimulating spoken word nights, historical significance and thought-provoking literary festivals...

Literary festivals in Bath, Bristol & beyond

Lyra: Bristol Poetry Festival (13-22 March)

Tying in with the 250th anniversary of poet Thomas Chatterton’s death, the Lyra Festival will be themed around Romantic Poetry, climate and nature. The diverse programme features a poetry slam, a poetry film screening, family events, walking tours and local, national and international poets performing in venues around the city. Confirmed performances include Simon Armitage, Danez Smith, plus Bristol poets Vanessa Kisuule and Rebecca Tantony.

Lyra Bristol Poetry Festival 2020
Lyra Bristol Poetry Festival 2020

Free talk on Thomas Chatterton, St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol (21 March)

St Mary Redcliffe are running an event telling the story of one of Bristol’s iconic but often forgotten poets – Thomas Chatterton, sometimes described as ‘Bristol’s Shakespeare’ and the ‘The Boy Genius’. Up for discussion:  does Thomas Chatterton's Life and Work Speak to us today? Get free tickets here:

Bristol Women's Literature Festival, Watershed, Bristol (28-29 March)

Returning for a fourth time, the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival brings together the brightest women writers, thinkers, journalists and academics for a weekend of fascinating debate, reflection and conversation about women’s history, writing, and cultural heritage. 

The Bath Festival (15-24 May)

The Bath Festival is England’s longest-running arts festival and a 10-day celebration of music, books, science, politics, live music and poetry. The full 2020 line-up is yet to be revealed, but previous programmes have included award-winning spoken word artists, a Literature Lounge, pop-up performances, Shakespeare-themed lunchtime lectures, performances by household names and rising literary stars.

The Bath Festival The Bath Festival
The Bath Festival

Bristol Shakespeare Festival (1-31 July)

This summer celebration of The Bard's plays sees Shakespeare’s works brought to life in unusual spaces around Bristol. Venues include parks, playhouses, city farms and Brunel’s SS Great Britain - expect traditional and fresh interpretations, interactive, musical and choreographic productions.

Bristol Open Doors (September)

For one weekend a year, Bristol Open Doors gives you the keys to the city by opening over 100 fascinating buildings that are often closed to the public. 2020’s festival will see special events take place across the city as part of A Poetic City.

Jane Austen Festival, Bath (11-20 September)

Every September, Bath’s splendid Georgian cityscape provides the perfect backdrop for a celebration of the life and work of one of its most famous former residents, Jane Austen. During the ten days, there are over 80 events including theatricals, readings and workshops, with one of the highlights being the Grand Regency Costumed Promenade, which sees Austen fans fill Bath's streets, clad head-to-toe in Regency dress. 

Jane Austen Festival Players Jane Austen Festival
Jane Austen Festival Players

Bath Children's Literature Festival (25 September - 4 October)

Europe’s largest children’s literary event features a fantastic array of world-class authors, illustrators, literary megastars, storytellers and poets. The festival gives young book lovers a chance to meet the minds behind their literary heroes, watch fun-filled poetry performances, take part or attend a poetry slam, discover the power of poetry alongside published authors, plus lots more.

David Walliams, Bath Children's Literature Festival Bath Children's Literature Festival
David Walliams, Bath Children's Literature Festival

Cheltenham Literature Festival (2 – 11 October)

The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival is the UK’s oldest literary festival. The programme features some of the brightest thinkers and writers of the literary and entertainment world, over 500 workshops, interviews and debates. Past speakers have included Debbie Harry, Louis Theroux, Nadiya Hussain and Helena Bonham-Carter.

Wonder, Bath, Bristol and beyond (10-18 October)

Wonder run kids’ book events in Bath, Bristol and beyond all year round with the Wonder festival taking place in October. This new venture has been started by the couple who founded Bath Children's Literature Festival and details of the literary happenings can be found on The Bath Hive website.

Bristol Festival of Literature (15-25 October)

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Bristol Festival of Literature will present a diverse programme, bringing writers, publishers and poets together for ten days of literary events around the city. Highlights from last year's festival included a Bristol Writers’ Group reading their fiction in Redcliffe Caves and a writer’s retreat at Arnos Vale Cemetery.

Poetry events

Mariner: A Painted Ship Upon a Painted Ocean Exhibition, The Edge, Bath (24 January-21 March)

One of the most influential poems in the English language, The Rime of The Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is the inspiration for The Edge’s current exhibition of international art. Featuring 14 artists’ works, the exhibition presents a series of new commissions and artworks that examine the contemporary resonance of the poem.

Image credit: ZubenElgenubi: The Price to be Paid, a film by Serena Korda, 2019 Image credit: ZubenElgenubi: The Price to be Paid, a film by Serena Korda, 2019
Image credit: ZubenElgenubi: The Price to be Paid, a film by Serena Korda, 2019

Loupe Theatre Presents at The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol (23 February-26 July)

Picking up the baton from Sharp Teeth Presents, Loupe Theatre Company’s monthly night of storytelling, music, theatre and spoken word at The Wardrobe Theatre will bring together performances from a collection of talented artists from the South West. 

Cappella Nova: Music of the Poets, St Luke’s Church, Bath (29 February)

‘Poets Corner’ in Bath’s Bear Flat neighbourhood refers to the seven streets named after Shakespeare, Shelley, Byron, Chaucer, Milton, Longfellow and Kipling. In this concert (in aid of Julian House), Cappella Nova will explore the musical settings of poems by these poets, with music from Milton’s words in Hubert Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens, Edward Elgar’s setting of Byron’s Deep in My Soul, John Rutter’s jazz-inspired settings of words by Shakespeare, as well as newly-commissioned music. 

Harry Baker: I am 10,000  (22 February - Bristol Improv Theatre, 9 March - Komedia, Bath)

Mathematician-turned-World-Slam-Champion Harry Baker is celebrating turning 10,000 days old! From winning his school’s Battle of the Bands competition with a Jay-Z maths homage, to his prime number poetry TED talk being watched by millions online, Harry’s love of language and logic has seen him rap battle in front of Ice Cube, and now has him analysing the technical accuracy of So Solid Crew’s 21 seconds. 

Harry Baker: I am 10,000
Harry Baker: I am 10,000

Will Harris Poetry Book Launch, Bath and Bristol (18 & 19 March)

Rising star of contemporary British poetry, Will Harris, will be reading from his first full-length collection of poems, Rendang in Bath (The Bookshop, 18 March) and Bristol (Storysmith Books, 19 March). In Rendang, Harris draws on his Anglo-Indonesian heritage, reflecting on race, culture, memory and identity.

Be Well Week: The Poetry Machine, The Edge, Bath (18 March)

Co-create a poem with Beth Calverley, a poet, producer and workshop leader who has been writing and performing for 17 years. Just follow the sound of her vintage typewriter, sit down for a heart-warming chat and you’ll be amazed at the poetic results.

Milk Poetry presents: Made Up – Poetry as Fiction at The Wardrobe Theatre (13 April)

Milk Poetry selects the finest UK poets and brings audiences the tastiest poetry and eclectic spoken word bonanzas in Bristol! Their fun evenings of poetry and performance take place at the Old Market Assembly’s Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol. Upcoming events include Iona Lee (2 March) and Made Up: Poetry as Fiction (13 April).

Bristol Hammer & Tongue at The Loco Klub

Bristol Hammer & Tongue’s poetry slams take place on the first Wednesday of the month (except for January, July or August) at The Loco Klub, Bristol. Participating slammers compete to get to the regional poetry slam final, and the chance to perform in the national final at the Royal Albert Hall.

Raise the Bar, Bath and Bristol

This acclaimed live arts events organisation based in Bristol gives artists a platform for development and showcases the best of UK and world spoken word poetry. Upcoming events are planned at Komedia Bath, St George’s Bristol and Bristol Old Vic over the next couple of months.

Word On The Street at The Royal West of England Academy, Bristol (25 June)

This poetry workshop, led by Leeza Awojobi, looks into Street Art and identity through poetry and the 'urban word'. Using the upcoming RWA street art exhibition Streets Ahead (6 June-23 August) and the work of Bristol street artists as a starting point, the workshop will look at how poetic techniques shape tone and imagery to create impactful poetry in response to this dynamic exhibition.

RWA Streets Ahead: Bristol Street Art 2020 RWA
RWA Streets Ahead: Bristol Street Art 2020

Tune thy musicke to thy hart - lute songs with Musicke in the Ayre at St Stephen's Church, Bristol (23 March)

Dr Thomas Campion was a celebrated poet, prolific composer and revered physician who died 400 years ago. He published over 100 lute songs, several volumes of poetry and other literary works. Early song specialists Musicke in the Ayre will highlight a small selection of his work with lutenist leader Din Ghani accompanying Bristol-based sopranos Heido Couper and Ruth Bamfield.

Literary Walks

IsamBard’s poetry walk, Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol (8 March)

Join Bristol’s foremost poetic foursome, the IsamBards, as they take you on a poetic exploration around some of the historic, poignant and unforgettable places within Arnos Vale Cemetery. Pameli Benham, Deborah Harvey, Dominic Fisher and David C Johnson - all published poets in their own right - will share their original poems inspired by this special Bristol site, alongside fascinating facts from Janine Marriott about the Victorian cemetery.

Arnos Vale Cemetery Courtesy of Arnos Vale
Arnos Vale Cemetery

Treasure Island Trail, Bristol

Bristol's contribution to a respectable string of well-loved maritime yarns, including Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, inspired a family-friendly trail around the Harbourside. Download the app (available in both Android and iOS versions) and navigate from planter to planter to discover fascinating facts about the city's swashbuckling history and many other literary connections.

Bristol and Romanticism walking tour

With its reputation for political and cultural dissent and debate, Georgian Bristol attracted key figures in the Romantic Movement, with poets Thomas Chatterton, William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge living and working in the city.  Visitors can walk in the footsteps of the key figures of Romanticism and find out more about their lives with two enjoyable city tours - one which takes you from the top of Park Street to St Mary Redcliffe, and the other around Clifton and Hotwells.

St Mary Redcliffe Church Bristol Photo by Emily Whitfield-Wicks
St Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol

On the trail of Poets, Writers and Dreamers, Bristol and Bath

Find out more about the Romantic movement with a self-guided journey around Bath and Bristol. Learn more about Jane Austen, her family and see the film locations where her books were shot and discover important locations in Bristol where key Romantic figures lived, worked, visited, lectured and wrote poetry. 

Jane Austen Festival Bath Photo by Owen Benson, courtesy of Jane Austen Festival
Jane Austen Festival

Poet's Walk, Clevedon

This short walk, starting at the Marine Lake in Clevedon is inspired by some of the poets and writers who have visited the North Somerset coastal town. Follow in the footsteps of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and Tennyson who drew inspiration from the rugged coastlines and heaths with their views over the Bristol Channel.

Clevedon Marine lake Photo by Sarah Ball
Clevedon Marine lake

Frankenstein in Bath, Show of Strength Theatre Company

This live theatre walk around Bath (which normally runs April-November) reveals an extraordinary, and often-forgotten story of how Mary Shelley wrote much of her iconic novel in Bath in 1816/17. Mary and her step sister, Claire Clairmont, lived in Bath for nearly six months and the walking tour reveals the secrets and scandals that beset the two women during the creation of this world-famous novel. 

Poetic things to look out for in Bristol, Bath and beyond in 2020

The multi-partner, city-wide programme A Poetic City, led by Bristol Cultural Development Partnership (BCDP) has lots planned for 2020. From a new smartphone app exploring the city and its connections with poetry, to a Thomas Chatterton comic book - follow #BristolPoeticCity on Twitter and Facebook for updated information. 

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