The Poetry Exchange began in 2014 as an artistic enquiry by poet and facilitator Fiona Bennett into the creative act of reading and the power of poetry in people's lives.
The idea of poems as friends emerged when Fiona recognised the powerful conversations she has with poems in her own life, and became curious about whether this idea of a poem acting as a companion was true for others.
Fiona then worked closely with actor Michael Shaeffer to devise the unique encounter at the heart of The Poetry Exchange – an invitation for an individual to explore a poem that has been a friend to them, in conversation with two members of our team.
We created an intimate environment for these conversations at festivals, libraries, bookshops and other public spaces around the UK, making an open call for people to join us to talk about their chosen poem and the part it has played in their life.
We have been joined by people from all walks of life, bringing us poems we did not know before, as well as introducing us anew to poems we did.
The invitation for people to talk about poems in this way led to such extraordinary and eloquent insights that we wanted to find a way to share these beautiful conversations more widely. In 2016 we launched The Poetry Exchange podcast, discovering poems as friends resonating with listeners across the world, with thousands tuning in each month.
As we approach our 10th anniversary, we are thrilled to be publishing our first anthology of Poems as Friends with Quercus Editions in May 2024. Compiling this anthology has been the most enriching and heart-warming project, gathering together a beautiful selection of poems alongside the stories of the readers who brought them our way.
We are so grateful to everyone who has been part of The Poetry Exchange to date – to all our readers, listeners, artists, producers, supporters and friends. A beautiful and diverse community has grown around our work over the last 10 years, and we are so pleased to have you all with us in the company of Poems as Friends.
"Sharing poetry as a vehicle for human intimacy"
- Lennon Mhishi, visitor to The Poetry Exchange
"The Poetry Exchange has become my oasis. It nourishes my work, my life and my very being."
–– Dr Maria Augusta Arruda, supporter of The Poetry Exchange
Who we are
Founder & Artistic Director
Fiona Bennett is the founder and director of The Poetry Exchange. She is a poet and creative facilitator and her work has been featured in a wide range of journals in the UK, the USA and on BBC radio. She has designed and delivered artful interventions in organisational, community and education settings across the world and her collaborations include work with The National Theatre, New York University, Shakespeare’s Globe, Spread The Word and many more. She is co-director of The Map Consortium. The poem that has been a friend to Fiona is 'A Kite for Aibhín' by Seamus Heaney.
Michael Shaeffer is the Associate Director of The Poetry Exchange. Michael has been closely involved with TPE since its inception, bringing a multi-faceted practice in voice & performance to our conversations, readings & audio work. Michael's recent work in the theatre includes: Grenfell: In the words of survivors; A Very Expensive Poison; The Girl From The North Country; How To Hold Your Breath; Mr Burns; Table; London Road. His recent film & television credits include: Bodyguard; Rogue One and The ABC Murders. The poem that has been a friend to Michael is 'In Praise Of The Piano' by Helen Dunmore.
John Prebble is a creative producer, with a deep love of poetry and the ways it can speak to us in our lives. He was previously Relationship Manager, Literature at Arts Council England and Chief Executive at New Writing South. John is also a Relational Dynamics 1st qualified coach and Co-Director of Junction 7 Creatives in Stevenage. The poem that has been a friend to John is 'Ars Poetica #100: I Believe' by Elizabeth Alexander.
The Poetry Exchange is proud to collaborate with a wide range of writers, performers, producers, audio and visual artists. Our Podcast Editor & Composer is Ben Hales. Our Associate Artists are: Sally Anglesea, Hafsah Bashir, Jessica Boatright, Sarah Butler, Roxy Dunn, Victoria Field, Katharine Goda, Martin Heaney, Jacqueline Kington, Rebecca Manley, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Roy McFarlane, Alex McIntyre, Alison McManus, Sarah Salway, Alistair Snell, Degna Stone, Subhadassi and Andrea Witzke Slot.
Dr Alison McManus
Alison McManus is the Chair of Trustees of The Poetry Exchange. She is Associate Professor (Education) and Foundation Programme Director at the University of Durham. Passionate about reading, education and social justice, Alison has spearheaded programmes in Durham and around the world that open up literature and learning to people from all backgrounds and walks of life. The poem that has been a friend to Alison is 'Restlessness' by D.H. Lawrence.
Roy McFarlane was born in Birmingham of Jamaican parentage and has spent most of his years living in Wolverhampton - and more recently in Brighton. He has held the role of Birmingham’s Poet Laureate, Starbucks’ Poet in Residence and Birmingham & Midland Institute’s Poet in Residence. Roy’s writing has appeared in magazines and anthologies, including Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe, 2012), Filigree (Peepal Tree, 2018) and he is the editor of Celebrate Wha? Ten Black British Poets from the Midlands (Smokestack, 2011). He has three collections published by Nine Arches Press: Beginning With Your Last Breath (2016); The Healing Next Time (2018), which was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award, and Living By Troubled Waters (2022). In 2023, Roy McFarlane was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. The poem that has been a friend to Roy is 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers' by Langston Hughes.
Dr Andrea Witzke Slot
Andrea Witzke Slot is an author and an artist with two books of poetry, The Ministry of Flowers (Valley Press 2020) and To find a new beauty (Gold Wake Press 2012). Her work can be found in many UK and US journals, including Ambit, Poetry Wales, Acumen, Under the Radar, American Literary Review, among many others. An editor with the Chicago-based journals Rhino Poetry and Fifth Wednesday while teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Andrea returned to London where she works daily to explore the possibilities of our rhuman and natural worlds in words, paints, piano and photography. The poem that has been a friend to Andrea is 'Diving into the Wreck' by Adrienne Rich.