How [Not] to Organise a Poetry Reading

At various times in my life I’ve been in literature development jobs where it’s been part of my remit to organise poetry readings and writer events.  From a promoter's point of view, dealing with poets and writers can be wonderful, but it can also be a nightmare.  One poet arrived drunk for the event, dropped his poems on the floor and spent half the evening crawling around trying to pick them up.  Another poet had 15 provisos on the contract (including only one special brand of mineral water) arrived late, and read so boringly that most of the audience went home in the interval.  
Beryl Cook's take on the Poetry Reading
But I’ve also been on the other side of the divide and at the mercy of well-meaning, but sometimes inexperienced organisers.  So I thought I’d share some of my most extreme experiences as a set of  counter-instructions for would-be events organisers.  I bet this rings bells with a lot of writers and poets out there, but I hope it makes you smile!

1.  Book a room in a pub next to the bar with an open hatch to the kitchen for the waiter to go backwards and forwards with the food.  And the cutlery trolley.  (A Sky sports TV would be a nice touch in the bar too - if you can get it.)

2.  Don’t offer the poets a fee, or expenses, tell them they’re doing it to raise their profile, and anyway - they’ll sell some books. Won’t they?

3.  Don’t advertise the reading. Don’t put it in any of the local papers, the poetry  web sites, Poetry Society listings, Time Out and definitely not Twitter or Facebook.

4. Don’t put a sandwich board outside that says ‘Poetry Here Tonight!’

5.  Don’t put up posters in the pub, or a notice that says ‘Poetry this way’, or a label on the door ‘Poetry in Here’.  Make sure that anyone who might possibly come to the reading never finds it.

6.  If by any chance, after all your efforts, someone does turn up, don’t be at the door to welcome them.

7.  And, the one absolute rule of the organiser, never apologise to the poet for the lack of an audience. 

One venue that really does know how to organise events is the Lamb and Flag Pub in Worcester, which has hosted readings by dozens of brilliant poets including Carol Ann Duffy.  I’m reading there on Wednesday night (18th April) at 7.30pm with northern Irish poet Nigel McLoughlin.  We guarantee a warm welcome and a lively reading!


  1. Hilarious Kathleen, but for a refinement to 1, (at least in Australia): Ensure that there are at least three flashing pokie machines within easy reach of the poet, in case she feels like gambling away her huge fee during the reading.


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