[This post was paid for by Winchester Poetry Festival, and features gifted tickets but, as always, opinions and views are completely honest and unbiased]
Nothing says ‘poetry is for everyone‘ more than having a world-class showcase of the word form right on your doorstep.
Here in Hampshire, we have the wonderful Winchester Poetry Festival, which does just that. Established in 2013, with the first event in 2014, the biennial event is run mostly by volunteers and brings top-notch poets and literary experiences into the beautiful city of Winchester
This year was the Festival’s fallow year, so there was just one day of events planned as opposed to the usual weekend-long experience; but what a chock-full day of treats it was.
I was kindly invited along to check out what the Festival had to offer this year at the 2019 Winchester Poetry Day. I’d already been eyeing up the event and had booked myself on to the evening Open Mic night before the Festival team got in touch, so I was delighted to spend the day absorbing all things poetic – my first visit (and it was about time, too!).
My tickets were gifted (except for the Open Mic!) in return for this blog post, but my review of the experience will be completely honest as always!
It was a very, very wet day, and I was glad to find myself warm and dry in the Winchester Discovery Centre with a coffee, ready to start the day!
The first session on the schedule had been a poetry workshop with Elisabeth Sennitt Clough called ‘Dramatising the Animal Encounter in Poetry’. I wasn’t able to attend this as it had been fully booked – or rather, overbooked, due to popularity! – but I heard that it was a fantastic experience for all involved, and I will be keeping an eye out for similar workshops in the future.
Session One: My Favourite Poem
My first session of the day was a short talk by poet Jon Sayers entitled ‘My Favourite Poem.’ Over 25 minutes, Sayers talked us through Sharon Olds’s After 37 Years My Mother Apologizes For My Childhood. I’d not encountered any of Olds’s poetry before now and was delighted to explore something new.
As he spoke to us about imagery and techniques used by Olds, as well as the background of the piece, I found myself scribbling notes on my printed copy as if I were in a lecture at back at university.
It may have been a fairly short event, but it was enlightening and really got me thinking again about breaking down and analysing existing poetry, as well as discovering new work, which really spoke to my love of learning! A great introduction to the Festival, and a good way to get the old creative juices flowing, ready for the next sessions.
Session Two: Loose Muse Showcase
Next up was a showcase of talent from local poetry group, Loose Muse. Loose Muse has been running in Winchester for four years, led by Sue Wrinch, who brought the idea down from its original location in London.
It was an hour of poetry readings that offered an insight into the talent on show at the group’s monthly event, and it was a real joy to watch. This was an illustration of local poetry, and proof that you don’t need to live in the capital to experience great art; all of these strong and inspiring voices are right on our doorstep.
Session Three: Winchester Poetry Prize: Announcement and reading of winning poems
The Winchester Poetry Prize hit its fourth year this year; it’s gathered quite the reputation and is known for attracting some seriously high-quality poets and submissions.
Judge and poet Helen Mort introduced each shortlisted/commended poet and announced the winners. There was a huge range of wonderful pieces which were shared and recited, and all deserved the recognition they received in this event.
Ellora Sutton’s Moon Collector won the Hampshire Prize, while Lewis Buxton’s Boy Sees a Ghost took third place; Maria Isakova-Bennett’s Subcutaneous was second, and first prize was taken by Peter Iveson for Mother’s Milk. Congratulations to the winners!
As well as those lucky enough to receive prizes, I also loved Julia Bird’s Helium Pearl, Martin Figura’s The Bomb, Rowena Knight’s Rain and Simon Murphy’s November, Under Black Mountains.
I bought myself a copy of the anthology afterwards to flick through in my own time; I think I will find it motivating when writing and submitting my own pieces. Maybe one day I might be lucky enough to find myself featured in something similar.
Session Four: Meet The Artistic Directors
The fourth session of the day was an intimate sit-down with the Festival’s artistic co-directors, Sasha Dugdale and Sarah Hesketh, who shared some exciting news about what to expect for the event next year, which will see the Festival back in its full, three-day glory from 8-11 October 2020.
This was the first time they had made the programme public, and there were some very impressive announcements! Next year’s Festival will be joining in with the Mayflower 400 celebrations, exploring the relationship between the UK and USA in poetry.
What particularly thrilled me was the prospect of having venues and events across both Winchester and Southampton next year, taking into account the Festival’s relationship with both universities and both cities.
Some big names were mentioned, too; poets who would be representing both countries and reaffirming our that ‘special relationship’, as well as Winchester’s position as a hub of poetic celebration.
Michael Rosen, Carol Ann Duffy and Raymond Antrobus are some stand-out poets who will be joining us in Winchester next year, all of whom I am very much hoping to see perform! Raymond’s session will be particularly special as his poetry will be signed in British Sign Language, reflecting his experiences with hearing loss, and adding to the experience his poetry provides.
There’s also an emphasis on emerging poets, and artists who explore journeys and navigating identities. Mary Jean Chan, Safiya Sinclair and Aviva Dauch are just some of the names I made note of, too.
2020 will aim to bring attention to unknown poets and bring them to the forefront for a wider audience, but Sasha and Sarah also made the point of saying that this includes older and more senior poets. Age is not an indicator of a ‘new poet’, as creativity and opportunity can strike at any stage in life.
I won’t share too much more – but it sounds like it’s going to be a phenomenal weekend and I couldn’t wait for it – even before this year’s festival had ended!
It will definitely be an event to get in your diary.
Session Five: Early Evening Reading with Helen Mort and Elisabeth Sennitt Clough
This was a wonderful way to round off the day’s events. We were spoiled with readings from Helen and Elisabeth, who shared some really atmospheric pieces.
It’s been a while since I’ve written my own poetry, but this really inspired me to keep writing; both Helen and Elisabeth are beautiful writers and it was a real treat to be in the audience for this session.
Poetry Cafe: Open Mic
We finished the day with an informal Open Mic session – tucked away in the children’s reading corner! It made for a lovely, relaxed, friendly location to share words with others. I was able to hear some of the day’s poets share their work again, and see some new faces…and I even performed my own pieces too! I may have forgotten my words at one point (oops!), but the response was lovely and I had a great time.
I’ve not performed in Winchester before, but everyone was so welcoming and it was the perfect way to end the day. Thank you for having me!
A Few Final Thoughts
I had the best time at the Winchester Poetry Festival this year. With almost back-to-back events and a busy schedule, I was worried that it would be a little intense; but I had no need to fear! There was a lot to take in, sure – but it was all so welcoming, relaxed, well-run and absorbing that the day whizzed by in the blink of an eye.
The other great thing was that some of the events were free, and you could choose the sessions you wanted to attend – you didn’t have to go to the entire day. It eases up the pressure and means that you can make the experience your very own, and it also makes it much more accessible to all.
I should think this will be the same next year, and look forward to buying a few tickets to the events that interest me the most!
I also had a great time meeting some of the people behind the Festival, including Stephen Boyce, Chair of the Festival, who was so interesting to talk to, and I loved finding out more about the event and the community behind it.
I’m incredibly proud to live in such a cultural community; we are so lucky in Southampton and Winchester to have so many opportunities for events like this, which open up doors for local creatives and give so many people the chance to discover something new.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: who needs to live in London?!
Thank you Winchester Poetry Festival for having me – I honestly can’t wait to both start writing again, and attend next year’s event.
I’ll see you there!