How to Survive a Poetry Festival…? With a Festival Survival Kit, of course!

by Katie Hale

Picture of Katie Hale outside Farrar's factory holding up a large bag of Kendal Mint Cake


It’s a sunny afternoon, I’m driving home from Kendal, and my whole car smells of mint. I’ve just made my annual pilgrimage to Minstfeet Industrial Estate, through the traffic lights, around the winding branching side roads, past the garage and offices and warehouses, to pick up a bulging bag of Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake.

Why? Because I’m a poet. Naturally.

I first became interested in the idea of Guerrilla Poetry when I was a student. The poetry obsession had taken hold, in that way it sometimes does when you discover poetry for the first time (I mean truly discover it, when reading a poem feels like pulling Excalibur from the stone, when we feel somehow chosen by it), and I couldn’t understand why everyone else didn’t feel the same. More than that, I couldn’t understand why some people seemed frightened by the very concept of poetry.

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably already a poetry convert.

Perhaps you’ve also had an Excalibur moment of your own, or perhaps you just enjoy looking on as someone else pulls the sword from the stone and assumes the throne of Camelot. To push this King Arthur metaphor to its absolute limits: the purpose of Guerrilla Poetry is not to ride in surrounded by all the knights of the Round Table, but to surreptitiously introduce people to poems in a quiet tavern.

In other words, to sneak up on people with poetry, so they don’t have time to feel afraid of it.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve done this in all sorts of ways: prescription poetry on tables in cafes, poems on the backs of toilet doors, or hung on washing lines in the middle of a wood. In 2016, I created the Poetry Plaster Pack initiative, where I would create small packets (each containing a poem, a plaster and a sweet, for ‘physical and literary wounds’), and leave them for people to find in unexpected places. Then, after a couple of years of leaving these poems in public toilets or shop changing rooms or under people’s windscreen wipers, Kim asked if I would create something like the Poetry Plaster Packs for Kendal Poetry Festival – and so the Festival Survival Kit was born.

So what do you need to survive a festival?

In that first year, I was lucky enough to secure sponsorship from both Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake and Farrer’s Tea & Coffee – so the packets contained (yes, you’ve guessed it) a tea bag and a piece of Kendal Mint Cake. They also contained a poem, and a plaster (just in case). In this way, the first Festival Survival Kit was very similar to the original Poetry Plaster Packs

Then last year, during lockdown, Kendal Poetry Festival moved online, and the Festival Survival Kits took on a new level of importance, as they became the only physical aspect of a fully digital festival. The Survival Kits not only got bigger, but they ended up travelling via post as well. A little care package, sent to ticket-bookers through the mail.

This year, things have changed again, as we prepare for our first ever hybrid Kendal Poetry Festival. I’ve kept the Festival Survival Kit in its larger format, and once again, they’ll be posted out a few days ahead of the festival, to get the festival excitement building. After all, who doesn’t love getting a little care package through the letterbox?

Romney’s and Farrer’s are both ongoing sponsors, so the Survival Kits will once again contain a piece of Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake (for energy) and a Farrer’s teabag (to quench any poetic thirst). As with last year, there will also be a plaster (for those sharp rhymes) and a badge (of pride – and also of belonging), as well as a copy of this year’s Festival Pamphlet, containing poems by members of Dove Cottage Young Poets.

Plus, there’ll be a surprise new item this year, which I’m keeping under wraps for now!

It’s been quite the journey, from those original Poetry Plaster Packs back in 2016, to the amazing envelope of goodies which the Festival Survival Kit has become, and I’m very excited to share this year’s Survival Kit with you, as we inch ever closer to the festival. Festival Survival Kits are limited (of course they are – they’re hot commodity!) so if you’d like one, you need to be one of the first 200 people to book a ticket for the festival. It can be any ticket (free or paid, in-person or online), but make sure you get in there before they’re all gone!

Picture of a poetry pamphlet, a badge with 'speak' written, a plaster, a Farrar's tea bag, a piece of mint cake and a cup of tea

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