The Power of Poetry

with William Sieghart and Jeanette Winterson

Friday 2 March 2018, 7pm | Emmanuel Centre

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For 15 years, the power of the spoken word has been at the heart of Intelligence Squared’s mission. Argument and debate, we believe, can move, persuade and create real change. Now, in these anxious and divided times, we are holding a special event that will celebrate the positive, transformative force of another kind of spoken word – poetry.

William Sieghart will tell the extraordinary story of his bestselling book, The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-and-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul. This is no conventional collection but one created from Sieghart’s own, personal experience of prescribing real poems to real people in need. Every poem is matched to a specific condition: fear of the unknown, unrequited love, stagnation, purposelessness, convalescence, oppression

Joining him in conversation will be novelist and poetry devotee Jeanette Winterson. Together they will explore poetry’s uncanny ability to calm, console and, above all, connect us to the minds and feelings of others. Finding the right poem at the right moment is not just a problem shared, Sieghart says, but a problem transformed. It is ‘to discover a powerful sense of complicity, and that precious realisation: I’m not the only one who feels like this.’ It is to forge a connection with ‘this stranger who understands – and what results is a sort of peace.’

Bringing the poems to dramatic life will be a cast of star actors including Helena Bonham Carter, Sophie Okonedo and Sue Perkins. Join us on March 2nd to enjoy these inspiring, validating, timeless words – and let the poems connect.

Praise for The Poetry Pharmacy

‘Truly a marvellous collection … There is balm for the soul, fire for the belly, a cooling compress for the fevered brow, solace for the wounded, an arm around the lonely shoulder – the whole collection is a matchless compound of hug, tonic and kiss.’ – Stephen Fry

‘The book is delightful; it rightly re-situates poetry in relation to its biggest and most serious task: helping us to live and die well.’ – Alain de Botton

William Sieghart

William Sieghart

Publisher and philanthropist. He established the Forward Prizes for Poetry in 1992, and founded National Poetry Day in 1994. He is a former chairman of the Arts Council Lottery Panel, and current chairman of both the Somerset House Trust and Forward Thinking, a charity seeking peace in the Middle East and acceptance of British Muslims. His poetry anthologies include Winning Words: Inspiring Poems for Everyday Life; Poems of the Decade: An Anthology of the Forward Books of Poetry; and 100 Prized Poems: Twenty-five Years of the Forward Books. For over 20 years he has been running the poetry pharmacy at literary festivals, where he prescribes poems to members of the public to help them deal with their problems.

Jeanette Winterson

Award-winning author whose first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, won the 1985 Whitbread Prize for a First Novel, and was adapted by Winterson for a television series in 1990, which in turn won the BAFTA Award for Best Drama. Winterson’s subsequent novels explore the boundaries of physicality and the imagination, gender polarities, and sexual identities. She also writes for many prominent publications including the Guardian, Times, Daily Mail, Observer, New York Times, and Harpers Bazaar, and has featured on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.


Sarah Montague

One of the main anchors on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. She also presents HARDtalk on BBC World Television, and has fronted a number of documentaries on Radio 4.


Helena Bonham Carter

One of Britain’s most successful actors, who has appeared in numerous low-budget independent films as well as Hollywood blockbusters. She first shot to fame when she played Lucy Honeychurch in A Room with a View, and was nominated for an Oscar and won the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech. Other notable film roles include Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, Madame Thénardier in Les Misérables, and the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.

Sophie Okonedo

Award winning stage and screen actor who in 2004 was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Hotel Rwanda. She also recently starred in Undercover and The Hollow Crown on television, and the West End production The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?. She received a Golden Globe Award nomination for the miniseries Tsunami: The Aftermath and BAFTA TV Award nominations for the drama series ‘Criminal Justice’ and the television film Mrs. Mandela.

Sue Perkins

Presenter, writer and comedian. Originally coming to prominence through her comedy partnership with Mel Giedroyc in ‘Mel and Sue’, she is now best known for her role co-hosting seven series of the BAFTA award-winning show ‘The Great British Bake Off’. She has also hosted Sky One’s family game show ‘The Big Spell’ and Sky Atlantic’s Game of Thrones fan-show ‘Thronecast’, and co-presented the BBC’s charity talent show ‘Let’s Sing and Dance for Comic Relief’. (Image courtesy Steve Ullathorne).

Remaining actors to be announced.


Speakers are subject to change.


About The Forwards Art Foundation

Forward Arts Foundation

The Forward Arts Foundation is a charity committed to widening poetry’s audience, honouring achievement and supporting talent, through National Poetry Day, the Forward Prizes for Poetry and the Forward Book of Poetry, an annual anthology of the year’s best poems.

About the NSPCC

Rugby Portobello Trust

The NSPCC is the leading children’s charity fighting to end child abuse in the UK. They help children who have been abused to rebuild their lives, protect those at risk, and find the best ways of preventing abuse from ever happening.