We've just come back from what we think is one of the best of the UK poetry festivals -- best in terms of programme, organization, friendliness and location. We could not have been made feel more welcome, nor could our authors, and we have only praise for Ledbury's Artistic Director, Chloe Gardner, the Festival staff and the wonderful band of volunteers.
Arc had five poets reading at Ledbury this year -- actually, it turned out to be four, since one of them (who has asked to remain anonymous) was intitially refused a Visa and then, upon re-application, received it too late to catch the plane which would get her to Ledbury in time to read. Why was she refused a visa? Well, once Arc had paid 14 USD to speak to somebody at 'Worldbridge', the private company which now handles visa applications for the British Government, to find out what was happening, we discovered that our poet had made the mistake of saying that she would be receiving a small fee for reading at the festival (no advice is given on filling in the forms) which meant that she should not have been applying for a visitor's visa at all, but a work visa. So new letters of invitation had to be sent (in which the question of a fee was not mentioned), along with a detailed itinerary and offers of free accommodation, but all to no avail, as sadly our poet did not receive her visa until after her plane had left.
The Arc poet was not the only poet to experience visa trouble. Two Moroccan poets, published by Banipal, were refused visas which meant that they were unable to appear in the 'Moroccan Poetry and Food' event on the final Saturday evening of the festival.
What effect will these uncertanties with regard to visa applications have on literary festivals in future? Will promoters steer clear of authors from outside of the EU, just in case? And what practical advice can we -- publishers, festival organisers, events promoters -- hope to receive from the Arts Council England as we implement our 'international' programmes in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics?