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Jane Bryant, Chair of Trustees, reflects on Winchester Poetry Festival 2023

‘It's the best organised festival I have been to - seamless and perfectly managed.”

“Great festival. A jewel in Winchester's crown. Will definitely come again.

Thank you to all involved.”

What an amazing festival of poets and poetry we have just experienced! I hope you will agree that the Festival this year was an extraordinary opportunity to celebrate the diversity and creativity of the languages of the UK - from Bengali to Cornish, Welsh to Black Country dialect, and with inspiration from Orkney, Sri Lanka and beyond!

The programme this year featured local, national, and international work and the diversity of poets and our engagement of BSL Interpreters and live streamed performances ensured a range of access options. Indeed, we were particularly pleased, through successful grant bids including from Winchester City Council, to be able both to engage the BSL signers who enriched the performances for us all, and to livestream performances to welcome more people into our community.

“Thoroughly enjoyed it. I couldn't have attended this if the festival hadn't provided an online option and I am grateful for that.”

“I am hard of hearing but was glad the amplification was so good + Signing!

Our approach to the Festival aimed to be genuinely inclusive, and to increase enjoyment and engagement with poetry in all its forms. It included workshops, performances, readings discussion, visuals, and music – plus sessions for children and young people, and, a range of free events too. We very much enjoyed the diversity of innovative poets including Zaffar Kunial, John Hegley, Menna Elfyn, Luke Wright (pictured above), Liz Berry, Daljit Nagra, Matthew Hollis (talking about The Waste Land, pictured below), and Susmita Bhattacharya. Overall, we programmed 24 events, providing a platform for 81 artists to share their work.

“The Bengali poetry event was absolutely phenomenal. Really high calibre and so inspiring and

affirming to hear our stories told locally.”

Inspiration was also provided by the Poetry Prize longlist and winners and our 2023 judge, Zaffar Kunial (pictured below). With the Winchester Poetry Prize generously sponsored by Paris Smith, we were once again delighted to receive entries from around the world demonstrating WPF’s international reach. Indeed, we received 1846 entries. 295 entries (16%) were from Hampshire, 43 entries were paid for by other poets/donors using our Pay it Forward Scheme, and, in addition to the UK, there were entries from 37 countries including Yemen, Israel, Ukraine, Haiti, Our overall winner this year was Isabelle Baafi with the poem, ‘Path Of Least Resilience’.

Performances by local poets featured alongside those who work nationally and internationally is a key strength of the Festival. Opening the 2023 Festival with an informal foyer welcoming performance, were local musicians/poets, In Verse, led by WPF trustee Jon Whitfield and his group. And we also very much enjoyed the thoughtful and thought-provoking poems from Winchester Muse, and the dynamic energy of Poetry Platform.

So much of the wonderful feedback we’ve received about the 2023 Festival commends the variety of poets and speakers, the different formats, and especially the welcoming and lively atmosphere. There were also many moments that really held the audience in that thought-provoking collective silence of engagement.

'….A welcoming atmosphere. Diverse programming – local, national, international; multi-voice; range of formats all combined to ensure accessibility, variety and appeal.’

None of this would have been possible without the enthusiasm and hard work of everyone involved. So, we want to say thank you to our dedicated volunteers, fantastic Friends, and all our supporters and partners. You were wonderful! We really couldn’t have done it without you all!

I certainly felt the festival was a great collective experience with many memorable moments. re-emphasising for me the feeling that poetry is alive, vibrant and well. This was also illustrated at the celebration of the prize-winners in the Hampshire Young Poets Competition (pictured below), with School prizes kindly sponsored by P&G Wells, Winchester. The competition judge was the 2022/2023 Hampshire Poet, Dr Nazneen Ahmed Pathak and the theme was 'Home'. The standard of entries was very high and it is very clear that there are some very talented children and young people. Nurturing the talent of the future and stimulating a lifelong enjoyment of both reading and writing poetry is very important which is why WPF values its partnership with Hampshire Cultural Trust and Hampshire Library Service in the delivery of this initiative,

Putting together a festival programme of such variety and depth and making it all come together fluently requires a great deal of skill, insight and hard work and we are especially indebted to our creative team: Artistic Director, Clare Pollard, and Festival Manager, Amy Juliet Brown,

We are grateful as ever to our partners and funders. These include Winchester City Council, Winchester BID, Hampshire Cultural Trust, a number of Charitable trusts and foundations, and a range of wonderful individual donors. We are once again indebted to Paris Smith for their sponsorship of the Winchester Poetry Prize – now regarded as truly international competition, to Warren & Son for their support for the prize-winning poet from Hampshire, and to P&G Wells for their support of the Hampshire Young Poet’s Competition.

Thank you all. Your support was invaluable and undoubtedly ensured that once again, we could deliver a dynamic and innovative festival, and to ensure that we can look towards 2024 onwards with enthusiasm.

Thank you very much for organising a diverse, inspiring and exciting festival - well done!”

“it was a brilliant weekend: thank you to everyone who directed, managed, organized, envisioned.”

“Fantastic my first poetry festival of any kind… inspirational and aspirational”

Jane Bryant

Chair – Winchester Poetry Festival

15th November 2023

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