As usual, this year’s Festival Programme contains some of the biggest names in UK poetry. It was such a wonderful experience to be writing letters of invitation to well-known poets like Ian McMillan, Kathleen Jamie and Hollie McNish and have them say 'yes!' to performing in Winchester. But whilst it’s exciting to have the chance to experience readings by these great talents, for me, the real moments of excitement at any festival are always the result of discovering something completely new. Taking a chance on an event where by a new voice (and then telling everyone I know about this great new poet they just have to read…) is one of my favourite things to do, and we’re hoping that you’ll come away from this year’s festival with lots of new passions! Here are just a few of the poets whose names might be new to you, that I we hope you’ll be talking about long after the festival.
It seems ridiculous to describe Doireann Ní Ghríofa as a ‘new voice’ in poetry. She’s been awarded nearly every poetry prize going in her native Ireland, including the Rooney Prize for Literature and the Michael Hartnett Poetry Prize. I first met Doireann as part of a small poetry tour in Ireland, and I was utterly captivated by her incredibly crafted and lyrical writing. Take a look at her beautiful control and use of sound in this closing stanza to her poem ‘Brightening’ taken from her first English-language book Clasp.
Now, I may have no home of my own, I may be alone, but I am not meek. No. I am a stone released from old gold, shining, shining, and oh, I blaze a Sunday through every week.
I say her first English-language book, because Doireann is bilingual in English and Irish, and one of the best things about hearing her read is the chance to hear her work in Irish too. Doireann’s going to be giving a free close reading on Saturday afternoon. She’s also going to be reading alongside the huge talents of J.O Morgan and Pascale Petit, in an event that is going to be one of my real festival highlights, I think.
Our programme on Sunday is also packed with younger talent. Nick Makoha’s debut Kingdom of Gravity was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2017. Born in Uganda, Nick fled the country with his mother, as a result of the political overtones that arose from the civil war during the Idi Amin dictatorship. Having lived in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, Nick currently lives in London and his writing explores ideas of exile and flight, longing and attachment, issues which are so urgent and necessary to consider in our present moment. Here he is reading his poem ‘Stone’ about the hurdles his mother faced in getting them out of Uganda, taken from his pamphlet The Second Republic. He’s reading alongside Karen McCarthy Woolf and Katharine Towers in what will be a powerful and personal set of readings. Our final group reading of the festival ‘Mouthful of Stars’ has three of the UK’s best contemporary poets sharing their work. Caroline Bird, Siddhartha Bose and Luke Kennard are all dynamic, witty and energetic performers who never fail to make an audience sit up and really pay attention to the words that are being said. Caroline’s recent collection In These Days of Prohibition explores how our public faces can differ drastically from what’s going on inside, as in this poem '48 Veneer Avenue'. I hope you’ll join us at the festival to really get to know more of the poets behind the bios and the blurbs of the programme. I’m really looking forward to developing some new passions!
Sarah Hesketh - Artistic Director