Hilda Sheehan, 49, is director of the Poetry Swindon Festival, whose 11-day run ends on Sunday, October 9 and will be the longest yet. Herself a published poet, the mother-of-five helped to found the festival in 2012. She was interviewed during a break from an event in Old Town.

“To me,” said Hilda Sheehan, “poetry is the most exciting kind of explosion of words and language and possibility that I’ve found to express myself – and to hear and receive other people’s ideas, stories and emotions.

“It’s everything. Poetry is everything to me.”

As might be expected of somebody who helped to found and now directs a successful poetry festival, Hilda also believes the medium is for everybody, whatever their background.

“I think it’s the biggest challenge that poetry has, to reconnect with where it belongs, and that is with people and communities, and to come back down to earth.

“For instance, we’re here sat in the Savernake Community Centre. I love being in places like this, where you meet new people. Give them the right kind of poetry, poetry for them, and it brings people in, brings people together.

“I think poetry is about community. If it’s done well it’s a place to share stories and to find new ways of telling and saying and using language.

“And it’s fun. Even at its most serious it should be fun because it’s wonderful to be serious in that way.

“Poetry is so powerful. Yesterday in the Central Library Park South Wellbeing Group came. I was so delighted to see them.”

The group helps people tackling life issues, and had been working with Swindon poet Michael Scott. They were invited to Poems Aloud, a festival event in which participants share their favourite poems.

Hilda said: “The organiser was in tears at the end over how important it had been to bring those people to the event and the effect it had on them.

“For me that’s probably going to be the highlight of the festival this year – real people writing, expressing, enjoying.”

Hilda is originally from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. Her father was a Jack of all trades who now has a smallholding, and is a lover and reciter of classic literature.

Her mother is a veteran Left-leaning political campaigner and former Communist who is an activist for the Labour Party. A sister works for Jeremy Corbyn.

“I spent my life going to Communist rallies, Russian nights – it was quite funny, really. I had a great time.

“But it gave me an insight into equality and fairness in the world and how important it is. I think that’s where my stance on poetry comes from – that I want it to be fair, that I want people to experience it. I feel it’s been taken away from people and become a very high art. People are scared of it and I think that’s wrong.

“I want to hear people who read and write and enjoy. That’s where it belongs and that’s about fairness.”

Hilda has been writing poetry for as long as she can remember. Some of her earliest inspiration came from the fossil-laden chalk landscape which was her childhood playground.

She still has the perfect the fossil of a starfish which she found during one expedition many years ago.

Her first career, for which she began studying at 18, was in psychiatric nursing.

Later, at 28, she began a decade in Thailand and trained as a teacher using the Montessori method, in which teachers are guides rather than instructors.

The move to Swindon came in 2006, when her husband bought his brother’s house in the town.

“This is the best place I’ve ever lived.”

She soon became involved with the Swindon Festival of Literature, and the poetry festival was a natural development. Hilda is also involved with a variety of writers’ workshops and other community cultural events.

She had begun submitting her own poems to publishers and competitions at the turn of the century, and the second won a commendation in a major national contest. The early success brought her into contact with many other poets.

Her published work includes a collection, The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood, and a pamphlet, Frances and Martine, which attracted the attention of a prominent poetry publisher Dancing Girl Press, in Chicago.

The latter work found a fan in former XTC keyboard player and Shriekback frontman Barry Andrews, and he invited her to record the work to music he created.

Her advice to others who would like their work to reach wider audiences is simply to be true to themselves.

“Be authentic. Always come from that authenticity and then think, ‘Where does this fit?

“What could I do with this work that I’ve got?’ There are so many places now to get published, that will like what you do.

“If you work hard at it, edit it and have a look at it in many different aspects – is it cliched, is it new, is it somebody else’s work? – there are so many things you can do, but it must come from that authenticity.”

In spite of events such as the festival, the reading, hearing and creation of poetry is a minority pursuit, and that is something Hilda would like to change.

Although she has a lot of time for the sort of challenging, dense poetry beloved by professors and students of literature, she also champions far more accessible work such as that of Roger McGough, Wendy Cope and Pam Ayres.

She believes that for many people the urge to enjoy and create poetry is lost to insecurities gathered as we emerge from childhood into maturity.

“I think we’re very self-critical, and we become more and more critical of ourselves, probably through the schooling system and through the way we’re parented, sadly.

“It’s a vicious circle and we’ve got to get out of that. What I always say when we go and do beginners’ writing is that free-writing is a great way because it’s non-critical.

“I say, ‘Don’t edit yourself as you go along, just write and get all that wonderful subconscious expression that’s in you, that’s in everybody, out on the page.

“But it’s hard – it’s hard for people to stop themselves from saying, ‘Well, that’s no good, I can’t say that, I couldn’t possibly tell people that!’ “We’re very self-critical, aren’t we? And there’s also this thing: ‘Don’t show off!’”

Full details of the festival can be found at poetryswindon.org