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Canterbury: Wise Words Festival in the Secret Garden highlights including Lemn Sissay and Sophie Willan

Brace yourself to be inspired by wordsmithery this week, as the Wise Words Festival enters its second week.

The festival aims to inspire wonder and curiosity for all ages with unexpected encounters around every turn, as it opens the gates of Canterbury’s Secret Garden, in the heart of the city.

Offering audiences 10 days of thought-provoking walks, music, shows and poetry for all ages, the festival, which started last weekend, will also have family-friendly activities including creative writing workshops, Indian head massages and face painting.

Wise Words in Canterbury's Secret Garden
Wise Words in Canterbury's Secret Garden

Festival patron Lemn Sissay will be closing it with a dramatic reading of his critically-acclaimed one-man play Something Dark, which tells the story of his upbringing, and his search for his family and true identity, after he was put into foster care by his Ethiopian mother, before it goes on a national tour.

The reading will be on Sunday, May 7 from 8.30pm to 10pm and costs £15.

Young poets from across Kent will be performing a free afternoon of poetry in the Quinn Yurt from 5pm to 6pm on Thursday, May 4, while on Saturday, May 6 Emily Hennessey will be delivering Storytelling on the River on the punts, between 1pm and 5pm on the hour. Entry is £5. Fearless performer and comedian Sophie Willan will be exploring who she is today after growing up in the care system and being assessed by many experts along the way.

The 23-year-old guides her audience through key incidents in her life, including the mental health issues in her family, including her mother’s heroin addiction, with engaging honesty, northern charm and dark optimism. She will be at Wise Words on Friday, May 5 at 7pm at the Quinn Yurt. Tickets are £7.50.

The Wise Words festival mixes poetry, storytelling and performance
The Wise Words festival mixes poetry, storytelling and performance

Poets will use their written weaponry to go head-to-head to be crowned the Wise Words Grand Slam Champion 2017 in the slam final on Saturday, May 6 between 1.30pm and 3.30pm in the Quinn Yurt. Wordy witticisms will be flying and the audience will help decide the winner. Hosted by Alex Vellis, featuring Will Turner and with headliner Patience Agbabi, the winning poet will win a bag of books signed by the festival performers. Tickets are £5 and the show is suitable for all ages.

There will also be a lantern parade on Saturday, May 6 from 8pm to 8.30pm, as dusk falls, with youngsters carrying their lanterns through the gardens and beyond.


Wise Words will be the first time writer Lemn Sissay will perform as Canterbury’s Poet Laureate.

In partnership with the Marlowe Theatre and Wise Words, with funding from Arts Council England, the three-year laureateship will mean he can base himself in the town and get to know local writers.

Poet and writer Lemn Sissay
Poet and writer Lemn Sissay

He said: “My aim is to inspire and be inspired by this fantastic city. I am looking forward to collaborating, influencing and involving myself with the many artists and poets working here.”


Wise Words runs until Sunday, May 7, in the Secret Garden in Canterbury. For a full programme and tickets go to wisewordsfestival.co.uk

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