Benjamin Zephaniah did it stuck in a lift with a drag queen, Phillis Levin in a car on the side of a mountain, Patience Agbabi 20,000 feet above sea level in a spasm of guilt about her carbon footprint, and Kenneth Steven did it in his head during a sermon in church.

Poets don’t need a tranquil room of their own to write, the Ledbury Poetry festival has proved, by asking this year’s participants for the most unlikely physical location in which they have practised their art. On this sample they’re far more likely to be inspired by being in a car than at sitting at an orderly desk or wandering among the dancing daffodils.

The American poet Phillis Levin was halfway up Mount Aetna in Maryland in her Citroen, when she saw the words John F Kennedy spelled out in graffiti on the side of a mountain, and that was enough. She also found inspiration sitting between two women in a subway car, one flipping the pages of a tiny Bible while the other spun a miniature globe – and there was a grim lyricism in her other setting, waiting with a friend and her mother at a bus stop in Tokyo, listening to the death throes of a cricket that had fallen from a tree to their feet.

Gez Walsh – author of The Spot on my Bum, Horrible Poems for Horrible Children – says he once wrote on during “a motorway car crash”, and Phillip Wells could well have caused one, when he began to write “The Rock-Me Timing Bang” on the steering wheel of the car he was driving, while negotiating sleeping policemen around the edge of Hampstead Heath. “Thankfully the Bang did not refer to any imminent car smash, but usefully alerted me to Porlockesque waking policeman/imminent conviction issues, so I promptly stopped the car and finished writing the poem leaning against the steering wheel of my ageing black Golf.”

Kenneth Steven was inspired during a sermon, but had no pen or paper and therefore had to memorise his lines until he could scuttle off home, and Glyn Maxwell also composed in his head “as I wandered the hills around Lumb Bank in pouring rain, in desperate flight from Arvon students”.

Benjamin Zephaniah recalled being “stuck in a lift with a drag queen and a homophobic, claustrophobic weightlifter” – so the slight, dreadlocked poet, who once attempted to be gay on political grounds but concluded he liked women too much, used the only possible recourse and began to compose a poem.

The Ledbury festival has a record of bringing poets and public together in unlikely places including a midnight hillwalking poetry workshop. This year’s poets include the new laureate Carol Anne Duffy, Ruth Padel, fresh from her brief but contentious time as Oxford poetry professor, Ben Okri and Roger McGough, in venues including a 1950s diner offering take-away poems. It runs from July 3-12.

Maev Kennedy