To be a Poet-in-Residence

Recently I sat on the interview panel of a large organisation which was seeking to appoint a poet-in-residence.  I was their “external” panel member, the “expert”.  For obvious reasons (professional discretion and all that), I’m not going to comment on the various candidates or the organisation itself, but I will tell you that it was one of the most useful and enlightening days I have ever spent.  Forget what anyone else got out of it, I learnt a hell of a lot!  Somewhat perversely, taking part in that  process has given me some much-needed confidence in my own abilities and skills and an even-more-needed boot up the arse to get on with finishing and submitting my own work.

Anyway, I thought I would pass on some useful tips on being interviewed for residencies.  Some of them are pretty obvious, some are applicable to any interview process, but nevertheless, in no particular order, here they are:

  • Make your application specific to the site, the organisation and what it’s about.  Refer to particular projects the organisation’s involved in and be explicit in discussing how your residency would dovetail with all of the above.
  • Make eye contact with your interviewers, no matter how big the panel or formal the set-up.  They’re humans too.
  • Try to be as cogent and as organised as possible; in your anwers to questions, in your presentation.  Answer the questions put to you as directly as possible.
  • Be (sorry about this word) pro-active.  Bring ideas, have a vision, don’t wait for the organisation’s members to tell you how it will be.
  • Do your research.  If there was a brief, read it and refer to it during your interview.  Visit the organisation beforehand.  Try to talk to someone on the staff.  Read the website, interview literature etc.  Find out what really drives those people.  What are they passionate about? 
  • Be passionate yourself.  What fires you up?  What is it about this organisation that interests you?  What possibilities about this partnership between poet and organisation really excite your imagination? 
  • Show confidence (but not arrogance) in yourself.   What are your strengths?  Why are you unique?  What particular passions will you be pursuing if appointed?
  • If you don’t have that much experience, don’t worry.  Whilst it was good to know that the candidates could use previous, successful experiences  to inform their work on this Residency, we were looking more for imagination, enthusiasm and ideas that were really tailored to the particularities of our organisation.


It’s worth pointing out that we were seeking to appoint from a strong shortlist, but that no candidate managed to do all of the above.  Lastly,

  • Remember not to take it personally if you don’t get appointed.  A Residency has to be a best-fit between the poet and the organisation.  It’s not a comment on your suitability for all residencies, nor on the quality of your work.
  • Ask for feedback.  You’re entitled to it, and whilst you may wince (we all hate learning where we didn’t do so brilliantly), it’ll really help you target your next application effectively.

As I said, none of this is rocket science.  We did appoint, and were very excited to do so. The successful candidate had done an impressive amount of research, put forward a really exciting and thoughtful proposal and was obviously passionate about the organisation and its focus. S/he was also brimming with enthusiasm and potential.  Congratulations to that person!


4 thoughts on “To be a Poet-in-Residence

      1. 😉 Obviously, just as the moon has the face it doesn’t show us, there were observations about individual candidates that I’m not going to share here! Those observations were available to the candidates, though, via the feedback notes we made.

        If you’re asking, was there a negative side….erm….no! I think interviewing has come on a long way from the bad, old days. My fellow interviewers were relentlessly positive – we had a strong and diverse shortlist, and were interested in what each individual could offer. Of course, “there can be only one”… the person who hit the most of our criteria at presentation and in interview. Having a standardised checklist really does help quantify what you’re looking for, and compare your several excellent candidates.

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