I have been a guest at many writers festivals and conferences over the years. What strikes me is how the idea of a professional guild or craft meeting for the sharing of knowledge and latest literary innovations among peers has been turned into a marketplace, the literary bazaar. The 'pure' inward art of the writing business becomes a networking opportunity to project oneself and sell wares. This leads to the masked desire to out-perform others with a witty panel presence and show pony readings etc. The writer must perform. Perhaps this is not totally a bad thing. To read one's work aloud without boring one's audience to death requires skills that any poet in particular should pay attention to, given that oral delivery is a kind of form of publication.
Nevertheless, a festival is a temporary event, a caravanserai that lasts only a week or a weekend and its dynamics are strange -- a bunch of writers are no longer talking to themselves, they are projecting themselves competitively in front of large audiences not necessarily to find out new things to elevate their art form but to appear to be smart sources of knowledge before prospective book buyers.
A festival then is indeed a weird business fair with many over-earnest handshakes, false expressions of gushy interest in other people's brilliant works, rapid passing of business cards and over eager pressure-cooked promises to 'stay in touch' etc. All of this is born out of dubious ambition for one's own positioning for that next invitation on the next leg of the seasonal festival/conference circuit. Yes, it's a Silk Road, or s-bend racetrack loop that goes around and around, but to where? A prize, a job overseas? The jealous feelings about those who got top billing on the main day in the main room or tent etc are not edifying feelings. The writer's inward nature has been forced outside itself to perform like the seal, jabber like the monkey, or do the clever dance.
In such a world one rarely makes friends. Instead one make contacts. (Someone will have a use one day). It is a world of stall sellers, competitors seeking attention from the the non-writer audiences. This is especially the case among poets, due to the sad fact that they are really their own small band of left-outs and leftovers from the world of 'real books'. This esoteric set is a sub-culture within a literary festival and often the feeling of being the poor seller in the caravanserai bazaar bonds this group of word merchants together in a weirdly passive-aggressive way. The poets too, are often the 'light entertainment' the performative diversions from the sessions that discuss real ideas not just poet craft.
This world of practitioners without real readers relies upon a dubious contract of bonded partnership, while the constituents secretly despise each other. Well, I may have become a bit over cynical over the years. When I get an invitation to attend a festival I genuinely start out with a hope that this one will not be like the last, that the first day will yield more sincere meetings with respected peers. After dutifully attending one panel presentation or reading after another that feeling of overload sets in and suddenly you sense that old deja vu. Yes, this is indeed another caravanserai moment. You have met all these colleagues many times before in strange new glittering cities for a week or a weekend and again that same spirit of competitive rivalry emerges. This is rarely openly stated. We are far too well-heeled for that. We nod our heads and clap with appreciation and by the end of the festival sessions we feel that sense of return to the old condition of boredom. Even the small consolation of sightseeing in a new locality and perhaps gift-shopping doesn't last for long.
Needless to say, I attend less of them these days realising I am no better than my peers. Yes, that desire to run back to the writing cave hits hard and so I return to the desk, the computer, the long solitary hours of musing and punching out words until the next festival invitation arises. To break the monotony (Yes, this too has its boring aspect) you agree to go. As the days get closer you start thinking again, this one will be better. I will be able to catch up with such and such and the whole cycle. The caravanserai is calling and again you must go.