New Poetry from this year's official poet Katie Ailes

June 30, 2023

This year’s Glastonbury poet in residence is Katie Ailes, an award-winning poet, producer, and educator based in Edinburgh.

Katie Ailes is a poet, researcher, producer, and educator focusing on performance poetry. She works as a producer with I Am Loud Productions and has co-devised and performed spoken word shows with them across the UK.

Her poetry has been published widely and her poem ‘Outwith’ was chosen as one of the Scottish Poetry Library’s Best of the Best Scottish Poems in 2019. 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.

For more info head to her website.

We posted Katie’s work throughout this year’s Festival, you can find her fantastic collection of poems below.
She also performed in the Poetry&Words tent at 4:23pm on Sunday 25th June.

I’ve never been

I’ve never been.

I usually watch on TV,
see the headliners’ sets
as the sun sets
over Somerset
and I am so jealous of everyone
out in that field—

Like my friends,
last year,
who returned
muddy and sunburnt
but bursting with stories

Stories of being so close to the stage
for their favourite band
they could see the bassist
playing every note

Stories told with hoarse throats
of singing
til their voices were lost,

of getting lost
on purpose
and finding delights
like a seaside arcade with no beaches in sight
and a neon tree pulsing with unearthly light 

And a cinema drive-in with rad vintage cars
and a techno-beat spider that served as a bar

They saw acrobats hanging from massive balloons,
Artists whittling, carving, and weaving on looms,

Blue blunderbuses with actors in bins,
Stilt-walkers, drag queens, and families with kids,

And a giant silver Pyramid rising up from the crowds,
Resounding with music,
Wild and profound
and surrounded
by thousands
dancing joyful and free—

But me?
I’ve never been.

This year will be my first.

So I’m preparing for everything,
leaving little to chance—
I was checking the weather three months in advance

I’ve memorised all of the headliners’ songs
and printed sheet music to best sing along 

I’m practising queuing in line for the loo
On my back is the site map (I got it tattooed) 

I’m mending my wellies and gathering my gear,
I started to pack in November last year 

I’ve got waterproof bum bags in six different shades,
eight vials of glitter that biodegrades

Two rainbow stash scrunchies that hide secret pockets
And a portable charger with eighteen free sockets!

But I know that no matter how much I prepare

That stuff will not matter when I’m actually there. 

I can’t foresee what will happen,
I don’t really know

because I’ve never been—

and I can’t wait to go.


I set up my tent in my bedroom–
had to check that everything fit.
I patched a few holes,
it’s a little bit cosy,
but at least it’s pretty well-lit.

And it isn’t just me who’s been building!
Have you seen all the pictures online?
Instagram’s littered
with glittering images,
Pilton is looking real fine!

Worthy Farm’s been transformed
by a pacifist army,
this hard-working swarm
of carpenters, painters,
and lighting technicians,
welders and joiners,
of course electricians,
the movers and shakers
who bring decorations,
build compost loos, signage,
and wild installations,
yes, Carhenge is up!
And a weird-looking tree!
Lots of colourful flags
flap and wave in the breeze,
and they’ve fixed on
the peace sign
to the Pyramid stage!

In a matter of days
they will open those gates.
I am all out of patience but
there’s not long to wait…

So I’ll take down my tent
and I’ll pack it away,
get a good night of sleep
(or I’ll try, anyway),

I’ll be dreaming of everything
this week will yield,
I’ll wake up,
and then guys –

I’ll see you
in the field!


We wake at 5am,
bleary but buzzing,
lumber into the truck
and set off south.
The trek from Edinburgh
is eight hours at least,
but at least the sun’s up
and we have Elton on the speakers
easing us into the longest day
of the year. 

Nine hours,
eight playlists,
and seven energy drinks later
we start seeing the signs for Somerset
and we get a fresh wind.

The road narrows
into tunnels of overhanging trees,
the high green hedges
peppered by passing places
funneling us in tight.

We’re so close,
just keep going,
and slowly signs start showing
for the Blue Route
so we follow,
and soon stewards
appear by the side of the road
to guide us through the
maze of entryways.

We drive to a wide field
and park up.
Slap on the sunscreen
we didn’t need back in Scotland.
We load the trolley
and trundle across rocky paths,
cross bridges over streams,
sweat the sunscreen immediately off,
pass smashed tins of Kopparberg
and fallen trolley wheels
littering the divots in the track. 

We brave the gates,
half tickets exchanged for wristbands,
and enter–

and this next bit
is a bit of a blur–

find campsite,
claim our bit,
pitch tent,
inflate mattress,
unroll sleeping bags,
unpack rucksacks,
where’s my bumbag,
unfold chairs,
crack cider 





Navigating Glastonbury 

The friendly steward tells me
to follow the path behind
the giant sunflowers
past the sculpture of the snake
then it’s a straight shot
to my stage. 

Just head west,
he says,
You can’t miss it. 

So for the first time I can remember
I navigate by the setting sun,
tracking her descent
directly ahead of me
like a landlocked sailor
in the rolling waves of this valley.

I let her lead me
deeper into the unknown
but with a clear, searing
certainty that this
is where I’m meant
to go.


Our campsite is caught
in a kaleidoscope of sound
from the five surrounding stages

The thumping bass line
From the DJ by those trees
Rumbles the ground under me
Vibrating through my mattress,
Pulsing through my pillow

A hardcore lullaby
A Glastonbury cradle
Rocking me to sleep


Pictures do not do it justice:
no image can truly capture
just how big it is.
You could walk in a straight line
for ninety minutes
and still not hit the gates.
Two hundred thousand bodies,
double the population
of some countries,
all amassed in the bowl
of this massive valley;

yet somehow I’ve just
bumped into an old pal,
and I keep running into
the same troupe
of ravers in cow suits. 

For a huge crowd
it’s a tiny village,
where people greet each other
with wide smiles
and even the strangers
feel like familiar friends.

Ode to the Glastonbury Loos

The Arctic Monkeys start in twenty
and I need a last minute wee
so I join the ten-metre
queue for the loo.
I’m flying solo right now
but far from lonely,
cos I hear familiar accents
next to me and
get chatting to two lads
who as chance would has it
come from the same city I do.
We meet as strangers
but by the time we reach
those toilet gates
we are best mates
(Even though I don’t
remember their names.)

Ah, the loo queue,
where everyone’s doing
that little dance you do
when you need to pee
and sharing your toilet roll
is a radical act of solidarity.

Sawdust scooped,
we prepare to…
utilise the compost loos
for what they’re designed to do. 

Never before has doing my business
felt like essential environment activism.
We are greening this land,
eco warriors battling on the front lines
of the Bowel Movement!

My civic doody done,
I depart via the hand sanitiser station
and rejoin the crowd,
feeling lighter, fresher,
with a few new friends,
and very grateful for the cleaning crews

So let’s celebrate the good they do
Applaud them here with cheers and whoops:

God bless the Glastonbury loos!

Solstice at Carhenge

It’s the longest day of the year
and we’re
dancing at Carhenge.

It’s not the stone one,
a contemporary remix
of the druidic original,
but still
perfectly positioned
as the sun sets directly
through the circle
of tipped convertibles,
red and intense,
the windows glinting
with its glare.

It’s a facsimile, sure,
but it’s still thrilling to be here
witnessing another orbit,
another year.

A throng of aged hippies
sway gleefully,
their hips tidal,
tugged by the sun’s bright gravity.
It’s clearly not their first journey
but an annual pilgrimage
to the place that for them
marks time’s passage.

Next summer this family
will migrate here again
to kick up the dust
with their dancing sandals
where the sun sets at 9:26pm
on a ring of rusted sedans
as something gorgeous and vital
is driven home.


I wake up in the tent next to my love,
just the right level of hungover,
as three yards away
my mate gently strums their guitar,
accompanied by birds chirping
in the foliage nearby.
And with one final day ahead of us
to live this blissful life
I think
this is heaven;
not the one we anticipate in the end
but the one we make together.

Take Me Back

It’s been six weeks
but I’m still wearing
my wristband…

I can’t bring myself
to cut it,
to puncture that bubble,

take me back
to those blazing days
where bedtime is
3am or never 

and the dress code is
glitter and tit tape,
double dutch braids
and rainbow capes,

where there’s a
Dave Grohl surprise
on every stage
and earthquakes at raves
when they drop the bass.

Take me back to that place
where you can dip into the circus
for acrobats and jugglers,
then nip up to the Pyramid to see
Rick Astley smashing
AC/DC as a drummer

and get lovingly hugged
by a scrum hundreds-strong
who all know the words
and are belting along,

where there’s babies with ear shields
bopping to beats,
vegan shawarma for breakfast
and crumpets for tea 

and up in the Green Fields,
where it’s mostly acoustic,
there’s handfasting, blacksmiths,
and magic masseuses

and I made fast friends
in the queue for the loo
with a big dreadlocked dude
with a didgeridoo.

I witnessed proposals at the Glastonbury sign,
saw BSL signers smashing each line,

saw the kids’ zone exploding
with laughter and glee,
I saw Avalon, Babylon,
and that weird-looking tree!

We had Joe Wicks and Nova Twins,
Christine and those Queens,
Young Fathers and Yusuf—

here’s to singing with Lewis,
the Foos’ tribute to Taylor,
and watching the sun go down with,
never on,
Elton John…

and a million more things
that won’t fit in this piece,
and three million more
that I didn’t see,
cos with this many people
all blissfully gathered
we each have our stories,
our own memories; 

I know I brought home more
than I’ll ever unpack,
and now that I’ve gone,
I can’t wait to go back.

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