Interview: Glastonbury’s Poet in Residence Katie Ailes, ‘I’m still pinching myself!’

Photo: Jack Hinks

This year’s Glastonbury Poet in Residence is Katie Ailes, an award-winning poet, producer, and educator based in Edinburgh. She focuses on performance poetry and works as a producer with I Am Loud Productions, co-devising and performing spoken word shows with them across the UK.

Katie’s PhD focused on the performance of authenticity in contemporary UK spoken word. Katie is also a classically trained dancer and choreographer interested in the intersection between speech and movement.

Glastonbury Festival will be posting her work throughout this year’s Festival as she reacts to the festival experience and she will also be performing live in the Poetry&Words tent.

This is her first time at Glastonbury and I’ve Never Been, her first poem as poet in residence which has been written in advance of the festival, perfectly captures the excitement that builds ahead of a trip to Worthy Farm as someone who has usually watched from afar; ‘I usually watch on TV / see the headliners’ sets / as the sun sets / over Somerset’ – as well as the obsessions we gain in the run-up, ‘So I’m preparing for everything, / leaving little to chance— / I was checking the weather three months in advance.’

And with this year’s weather looking like the sun might win over rain, we caught up with Katie to find out what it feels like to take on the role and to her plans for her residency.

Q&A with Glastonbury Poet in Residence Katie Ailes

How does it feel to be Poet in Residence for this year’s Glastonbury Festival?

Honestly, I’m still pinching myself! It’s such an honour to be Poet in Residence; I’m following in the footsteps of some of my favourite poets in the UK scene. Glastonbury is such an iconic festival, so to get to document and represent it is a dream come true.

What are your plans for your residency?

The main job of the Poet in Residence is documenting the festival through poetry. I’ve written two poems in the lead-up to Glastonbury and I’ll be writing several more during and following the festival. It’s such a wonderful role because it requires you to open yourself to inspiration, to fully explore what the festival offers and translate those experiences through poetry. I want what I write to represent Glastonbury’s fantastic diversity – not just music but theatre, conversation, comedy, physical artistry, circus, installations, etc – so I’ll be adventuring around as many fields and stages as possible (with the caveat that I’ll definitely miss some things – it’s the nature of the beast!). I’m hoping to find a balance between being in the moment enjoying what’s happening and scribbling away in a notebook.

You’re also performing on the Poetry&Words stage – what can people expect from your performance?

Yes, I’ll be performing a 25-minute set at 4:23 on Sunday afternoon. I’m planning to perform the poems I’ve written during the festival, plus a few of my tried-and-true performance pieces. Hopefully it’ll be a fun mix of fresh material and familiar favourites!

I’ve Never Been really encapsulated the excitement that builds ahead of a first visit to Glastonbury – how do you think it will feel when you finally walk through the festival gates?

As much as I’ve been preparing (and goodness knows I’ve been preparing!) I still don’t think I’ll be ready for that moment. The only festivals I’ve been to before are local community-oriented festivals in Scotland, which I love, but Glastonbury’s operating on a different scale. I can’t wait to soak in that feeling of arriving alongside hundreds of thousands of people!

Are there any acts you’re looking forward to seeing across the weekend?

So many! My home base for the festival will be the Poetry&Words tent, which has a star-studded lineup of the best spoken word performers from across the UK. I’m Edinburgh-based, so I’m particularly excited that there’s a strong contingent of Scottish poets this year who I’ll be cheering on! I’m also looking forward to checking out the rest of the Theatre and Circus fields, which promise acrobatics, dancing, burlesque, and so much more. And, of course, Lizzo. Because LIZZO!!! But beyond that, I’m just excited to explore and get lost in the fields. Aside from a couple can’t-miss performances, I don’t have an agenda: I’m open to everything the festival will offer.

Katie Ailes performs in the Poetry&Words tent at Glastonbury Festival on Sunday 25 June. Watch her perform I’ve Never Been below. You can visit her website here.