London's Cultural Guide

Ich Bin: Isobel Colchester, CEO, Poet in the City

"If everyone tried to be more normal in their interactions, especially in business, life would be much easier."

Poet in the City is an arts charity which creates inspiring platforms for poetry through events, commissioning and participation work. They program around 50 events each year in venues ranging from King’s Place and the Southbank, to the British Museum, St Paul’s Cathedral, Amnesty International and even luxury furniture shops.

Isobel is leading their strategy to transform public experiences of live poetry and put poetry back on the map as a major live art form. Poet in the City is also a founding partner in the new Knowledge Quarter.

Where would you like to live?
I wouldn’t live anywhere else right now. I live in Camden and work in King’s Cross, which is very nice. I’m a city girl, but I also like being in the middle of nowhere, and often dream about living somewhere really beautiful like Cornwall. Maybe in 30 years I’ll set up an arts empire looking onto the sea.

King's Place: home of Poet in the City
King’s Place: home of Poet in the City

What is your favourite sound or smell?
Chamber music, darling. But seriously, I love those strings.


What is your greatest life achievement?
Running Poet in the City. I love my job and am so happy that I get to do it every day. It was a big achievement for me to get the position and continues to challenge me in incredible ways.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Be a normal person. If everyone tried to be more normal in their interactions, especially in business, life would be much easier.

What makes you unhappy?
Miscommunication or when communication doesn’t work. It is dreadful when people get the wrong end of the stick, and on a serious note, if we were able to communicate better as a society and as humans, we would have fewer problems. The fact that lots of people are self-serving and distrustful as a result is very sad.

What simple thing would improve your quality of life?
My quality of life has already been improved drastically over the last year since moving to this job and being able to walk along the canal to work. Not having to engage with the Northern or Victoria lines and angry commuters on a regular basis is extremely good for my health.

What is your most unappealing habit?
Talking to myself at work. My colleagues most likely think I’m mad.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Wild swimming. I love the cold water, and it is very cold. And terrible reality TV shows. Sorry, I know I’m only supposed to read poetry and engage with the ‘high arts’.

Where do you hang out?
On the canal and in pubs. It used to be only the Crown and Goose on Delancy Street, but then it was demolished, which was a sad, sad day.

Isobel Colchester, Poet in the City
Isobel Colchester, Poet in the City

What’s been your best experience?
In my personal life, going to Western Venezuela and seeing the tragic, but beautiful manifestations of total lack of infrastructure in sunken ships and abandoned luxury hotels set amongst salt planes, deserts and the Caribbean Sea. At work, delivering an amazing event called Poetry and Sign Language, where we brought together deaf and hearing audiences to celebrate the body as a powerful tool of communication. It was a lot of hard work, and it paid off.

What’s the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
You don’t care about us. You’re just working for the man. A young person said this to me when I was working in FE setting up employability programmes. It was absolutely the opposite of what I was trying to do and made me feel awful.

What has your career taught you?
There is no single route to getting to where you want to be and taking unexpected opportunities is incredibly important.

What did you do today?
I’ve spent all day developing our programming for 16-25 year olds. I’ve met lots of brilliant potential partners, from a major arts centre to a London University and a bank who might support this work.

Describe yourself as an animal.
A giraffe. Surveying the scene, and eating only the best trees. I also think I look a little bit like a giraffe.

Find out about forthcoming Poet in the City events at King’s Place and beyond via their website.

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