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An international festival grounded in our community

Sasha Dugdale talks about programming the 2021 festival

As you’ll know we had to cancel the poetry festival last year, and this year we are making up for that very keenly felt loss with a hybrid programme of events. We’ll have a series of monthly digital poetry days, easily accessible from your PC at home – and fingers crossed we’ll make a return to live events in October, with some safe and enjoyable readings in Winchester and Southampton.

One of the guiding principles of this year’s festival work was that it felt very important to us that we didn’t simply reprise 2020’s cancelled festival – it would have been impossible anyway, but it felt wrong. These really are new times and demand a different approach: we’ve all been starved of community and warmth in lockdown. So we wanted to go back to some of the founding values of the festival – a local and very grounded community festival with a big reach. That meant working with our partners in renewed relationships and it meant inviting some particularly beloved poets back to nourish us. For the digital days, the second Saturday of the month from June to September, we’ve stressed interaction – interaction between our performers, workshop leaders, community groups and our audience. So each poetry day begins with a writing workshop, including writing for wellbeing workshops with trustee, poet and mentor, Jon Sayers, as well as a reading group who will be looking at the work of the poets we are showcasing. This is led by the Hampshire Poet, award-winning Kathryn Bevis.

For the online readings we have opted for sessions which are part-discussion, part-reading, as we felt this really suits the zoom format best, and compensates for what might seem like a very distanced experience. The poets have the chance to talk about and around the poems they are reading, and offer unique insights into their creative processes. We feel this gives the digital readings a different profile and a different attraction to a straight live reading and we hope you’ll agree.

The full programme is all online on the Winchester Poetry festival site and you browse at leisure there. However I’ll mention one or two events to whet your appetites.

On 12 June we kick off with a reading and discussion between me and Joyelle McSweeney.

Joyelle is an American poet and a great lover of Keats, and her new collection, Toxicon & Arachne, begins with a beautiful crown of sonnets, dedicated to John Keats. We discuss Keats, the perilous state of the planet, TB, contagion and disease, the hadron collider, and whether, if Keats had had a drone he would have looked down into the Grecian Urn from above.

Festival trustee and poet Stephen Boyce interviews and chats to T.S. Eliot winner Jen Hadfield and Jason Allen-Paisant about poetry that engages with the natural world, wilderness, race and belonging in July. We have a lecture by Will May of Southampton university on Sylvia Plath with readings of her letters by Juliet Stevenson.

For the live festival in October we’ll have a spectacular opening reading by Paul Muldoon and Clare Pollard, and a retrospective from one of the UK’s best-loved poets Patience Agbabi. She’ll be reading from Telling Tales and The Refugee’s Tale from the Refugee Tales anthology and talking about this important project.

There is so much else on the menu, but I’ll stop there and hope I’ve infected you with something positive – an enthusiasm for poetry and this year’s festival programme. I so dearly hope to see you at one of the events before too long.

See the What's On pages of this website for more information about each date. Bookings can be made via our online Box Office.

Sasha Dugdale has been the artistic director of Winchester Poetry Festival since 2016. Sasha is a poet and translator herself.

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