Rachel Phipps, organiser of this weekend's Woodstock Poetry Festival, explains why this year's event is pulling in a new audience of verse-lovers

When I was at school, poetry was taught as though it was some sort of puzzle that had to be pulled apart and ‘understood’. A poem would be read to the class – or, worse, by someone or several people in the class. There would be a little ominous silence, and then ‘So – what do you think that’s about?’

There was never the space for a poem to simply be, to enchant you with its music long before you began to understand or care what it might be about.

There is something magical about hearing a poem read aloud, particularly when read by the author.

Being read or performed aloud gives the poem life off the page, so at this weekend's Woodstock Poetry Festival we have tried to include children and schools, because school is where many learn their dislike of poetry and we would like to change that.

Our children’s event is held in Woodstock Library – where Richard O’Brien is reading from The Noisy Classroom, his poems about school, aimed at children aged seven and over.

The festival is a mix of familiar and new poets and we keep exploring how to entice new audiences and convince people that poetry is indeed something they can engage with and enjoy.

In previous years we have hosted Carol Ann Duffy and Tony Harrison, Pam Ayres and Lemn Sissay, plus younger poets such as Helen Mort, Liz Berry and Sarah Howe.

This year we have David Harsent and George Szirtes – who have never read together before – and rare appearance from the distinguished Anglo-American poet Anne Stevenson.

We have a reading by Caroline Bird, who studied at Oxford, was president of the Poetry Society, shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize this year, and whose performances are electrifying. She is joined by former London and UK Slam! champion Keith Jarrett.

Not many poetry festivals are started and run by a small independent bookshop but this is our sixth poetry festival and we are going strong.

If you thought poetry wasn’t for you, have a look at the programme, pick an event at random, and see if we can change your mind.

* Woodstock Poetry Festival, runs today and tomorrow. See woodstockbookshop.co.uk or call

01993 812760