Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Winchester Poetry Festival

I arrived back from the Winchester Poetry Festival yesterday. It turned into a full-on weekend and there is only so much you can attend! I also had to divide my time a little as my hubby came with me. He is not a poet so there was compromise.......we took a couple of great walks around Winchester together between the events I booked. Actually, that worked really well as it was good to get out into the fresh air now and then, especially as the weather was so good.

We arrived on Thursday afternoon and after we'd unpacked we set off to the Discovery Centre to pick up the tickets I'd booked many weeks ago. I was excited to finally be here and immerse myself into poetry. It was a chance to hear poets read, both those I knew of and new ones. I soon realised how limited my knowledge was!

Friday morning was the very first event. I had booked a workshop entitled The Matter of the Poem which was led by Maura Dooley, who despite being the author of three poetry collections (shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize) I had never heard of! Over the the next two hours we were given prompts based on our name (we had each shared something with the group about our names) and what it meant to us.We wrote short pieces which we were able to share. The first prompt found me drawn to something I had previously written about my Christian name but I basically ended up with just lines of notes. We were then encouraged to to pick one line (or was it the last line...I forget) to form a poem. I was stuck! My poem was going nowhere. The next prompt was to look at the piece and draw out four things that our writing was trying to say and then to write a poem entitled The Heart of the Matter. Lastly we were each given an object as a prompt to a new piece of writing. My object was a key which felt cold and smooth and led me to the lino in our front room at home, the north facing room which was forever cold. This was the only poem I was able to share. I felt there was potential in this and I will work on it in the future.

I always find workshops hard because (a) I am always anxious (yet I keep putting myself through it!) and (b) I am not usually able to produce anything much to share - my ideas don't come in such short spaces of time. However, I do end up with lots of notes, some of which will develop into poems and sometimes even good ones! Workshops also give me fresh ideas and new ways of writing. Workshops are good places to mingle with others because writing is a lonely occupation. On this workshop the writing level of participants ran across the board from beginners to published poets. Everyone had something to share, everyone was supportive and people chatted with one another.

This was what I found generally over the weekend, the friendliness of people whoever they were. We mingled in the cafe, in the queues for the Performance Hall and wherever poets/readers gathered. There were strange moments too. I found I was sitting next to Liz Berry at one time, though I wasn't 100% sure then that it was her. I had taken an online course with her through The Poetry School (I can't even remember which course) but I was too embarrassed to ask her if it was she! Then a little while later I heard her reading on stage as part of the New Voices spot. She has a lovely accent (she's from Dudley) and is wonderful to listen to. She performed alongside Olivia McCannon and Jacqueline Saphra on Saturday afternoon. Before that I'd been to see Patience Agbabi read from her book Telling Tales, a retelling of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. She is an extraordinary performance artist and her work includes rap pieces. I love listening to this type of poetry....poetry meant for performance. She holds you there in the moment as her stories unfold. This was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.
A view from St Giles Hill

Looking down on the town

In the time between these performances hubby and I did a couple of walks. On the Friday afternoon we walked up to St Giles Hill and viewed Winchester from the top. It looked so beautiful and was just what I needed to clear my head and wind down after the workshop. We used one of the walking guides from the Tourist Information Centre and followed the route back down to the river Itchen. We kept bumping into wedding parties, maybe it was the same group or it was a good day to marry! In the car park near the river we spotted a yellow Robin Reliant complete with white ribbon and suitcase on top. On the side it said Trotter's Independent Trading, well I had to take a photo of that!

The Almshouses at St Cross

The gardens

The church at St Cross taken from the gardens
On the Saturday morning we walked along The Weirs and Water Meadows to St Cross. What a beautiful walk. The Hospital of St Cross is open to the public. It was founded in 1132 and is still home to 25 brothers who live in the Almshouses. The church is wonderful........there was a wedding that morning - people were gradually arriving (I'll come back to this). Also on the site is the Hundred Men's Hall which also contains the old kitchens and beer cellar. And there there is the beautiful gardens complete with lake. Here it was so peaceful and no one else there. I would have been happy to stay there and just enjoy the flowers. There is a cafe and a shop where you can ask for the Wayfarers Dole and you are given a small piece of bread and a beaker of ale....very nice it was too! It was in here that the assistant told me about the wedding bingo they played. They hold many weddings throughout the year and they have devised this game to look for certain people. She told me who they all were and though I can't remember them all I do remember a few - the lady over 50 wearing the dress meant for someone younger, the man who turns up in tartan trousers, the young lady (not the bride) who is in love with the bridegroom. If they find every one of these people they have a full house!

Where Jane Austen lived and died
On Sunday morning there was a poetry walk and I'd persuaded hubby to come with me on that.  It was led by Keiran Phelan, literary detective and editor of the Literary Winchester blog He took us to a dozen sites around Winchester where famous poets and writers had lived or had a connection including Wendy Cope, John Keats, Thomas Hardy. Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Matthew Francis and former local poem and rector David Scott as well as Julia Darling and William Whiting (who wrote the hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save). Parts of the King James Bible was written in college rooms in Winchester (I remember reading about this in a book a few years ago). At each spot there was a reading from the poet/writer. At the end of the walk we received an information sheet with a note of the readings. There are a couple of poets I'd like to look into more when I have time.

There was time for some lunch and as it was Heritage Open Weekend hubby was keen to look at the local Quaker Meeting House. For me it was a flying visit and I had to leave him to it in the end. I know something of the Quakers and have read one of their books and obviously there was a lot about their beliefs on display, especially about war which is in everyone's minds with the WWI anniversary. The house had a lovely wooden staircase and we were able to go into the warden's flat which has the most stunning view across Winchester. As it so happens the warden is also a poet and she showed me her little book which she offered to lend me but I wouldn't have had time to read it and get it back to her before we left. But I wrote her name down and intend to look her up.

I did manage to read one of her poems before I had to dash back to the Discovery Centre for the next event which was entitled Things Being Various - Christopher Reid on the Poet's Craft and Inspiration. I have to admit I'd never heard of Christopher Reid but the subject matter interested me. Christopher was in conversation with Jon Sayers from Magma magazine (I realise I'd met Jon before - though not to really speak to - at two past events). Anyway, Christopher Reid was wonderful. He had brought along five items which meant something to him. I rather liked his poetry, both amusing and poignant. He seemed a thoroughly genuine man and I was glad the subject of light verse cropped up. Light verse gets bad press as if it is a sub-species of poetry not worthy of note.  (I love light verse). Christopher was given an award in America for light verse - he was offered it and told no one else wanted it! Christopher was very pleased to accept it.

The final event was Ros Barber and Jackie Kay reading from their work. I have read many books by Jackie Kay, both poetry and novels and have always wished to see her read in person. I had studied one of her poems on a course I took with the Open University. It was one of the first times I had 'taken apart' a poem to analyse it. The course had included a conversation with Jackie Kay about poetry (on cassette!) and I loved what she said. I became a fan. She did not disappoint and had us laughing with her anecdotes. I had not come across Ros Barber, who read from her verse novel The Marlowe Papers. That must have been some undertaking. Not my kind of subject matter but we all have our own preferences.

And so the festival ended. On many levels this was brilliant - the poets. workshop, discussions and meeting new people. I also kept bumping into Joan McGavin my tutor for the day in Basingstoke, along with Angela Hicken who I also met a that workshop. For the duration of the festival Angela was co-ordinating the Close Readings, a series of 15 minute talks held at various venues across Winchester. There were various events I didn't get to - one on Friday night with main readers including Imtiaz Dharker who I had heard read at the Poetry Book Fair the weekend before, but also included Matt Harvey and Brian Patten. There were also other workshops I fancied, especially Performance Skills (which I feel I should do but I couldn't quite pluck up the courage) and Getting Published. Well, I couldn't do it all. This was the first ever Poetry Festival in Winchester and I'm pretty sure it will back next year.

This is the first proper poetry festival I have been too and I enjoyed it so much. They pulled in some big names and I'm sure their success will spread and attendance will be even higher next year. I curbed my impulses to buy every book on the stalls and just picked up a collection  by Joan McGavin and took out a subscription to Magma. In some ways the effects of the festival will stay with me for many weeks to come. There are always new poets to look up, poems to write and for everything to sink in.  I feel as if I am still coming down from it.

If you would like to read a little more about the festival and some events I didn't get to here is a link to  poet Josephine Corcoran whose blog I follow.

I didn't take any photos as there was an official photographer and hopefully those photos will be available somewhere soon (maybe on the Facebook page).

Fireman inspecting the roof and surrounding
area - Winchester Cathedral
I should also mention that one day (I think it was Saturday) we saw four fire engines flying by. Later I found out where they ended up. There was six of them at the Cathedral. A ladder was raised to the roof of the oldest part of the Cathedral (which had been closed) and they were inspecting the area. They must have been there for a couple of hours (I was lounging on the green watching) but later in the day they'd gone and the Cathedral was open again. There was nothing on the local news but there are works going on in that old part with scaffolding up around the roof and flying buttresses. I guess there must have been some movement or something that could have seriously taken place. Thankfully all was well.
Some bits and bobs from the festival

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