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The Chair sums it up

“I welcomed the festival with open arms! It was so good to have active, vibrant energy in the space once more. Most enjoyable!”

“I loved the hybrid nature of the festival with the lead up with online sessions in summer. Thought the weekend events were really stimulating. Paul Muldoon sensational and loved contribution of ‘big’ names and local poets too.”

What an amazing festival of poets and poetry we have had over the last few months! With a hybrid approach of online sessions and then the culmination in the recent October live festival weekend, Winchester Poetry Festival 2021 has been one of the most ambitious programmes to date. Such a great collective experience with many memorable moments. The comments above are just a few of those we have received which describe the welcome delight of the live festival events.

So much of the wonderful feedback we’ve received about the 2021 live festival weekend commends the variety of poets and speakers, the different formats, and especially the welcoming and lively atmosphere, particularly enjoyable in the light of the many months of CV19 restrictions.

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, loyal Friends, and all our supporters and partners. You were wonderful!

Of the live Festival weekend, the two sessions with Paul Muldoon were amongst many highlights -with a particularly insightful conversation with Paul facilitated by Jon Sayers in Things Being Various. And then there were the readings by Clare Pollard, Patience Agbabi, Romalyn Ante, Kathryn Bevis, and Liz Berry. At times, these really held the audience in that thought-provoking collective silence of engagement.

Inspiration was provided by the Poetry Prize longlist and winners and our 2021 judge, Jacqueline Saphra – and it was a joy too to experience the humbling talent of The Young Ambassadors. And we enjoyed the beauty of the poems from Winchester Muse, and the dynamic energy of River Ghost Collective. Alongside all this, there were opportunities for writing and reflection through a range of workshops

Former WPF Chair Stephen Boyce, in conversation with Caleb Parkin, Kathryn Bevis and a filmed contribution from WPF’s own Poet on the High Street, Jonny Fluffypunk, stimulated discussions about the varied contributions a poet-in-residence can make. They each brought insights into the joys of working with communities and people through being ‘in residence’.

Contributors to our earlier monthly online and filmed events included Joyelle McSweeney (USA); Jacqueline Saphra and Sophie Herxheimer; Jen Hadfield and Jason Allen Paisant; Raymond Antrobus & Leo Boix with Dzifa Benson. A particular highlight was the Robert Hutchison Lecture. This was a partnership with the University of Southampton and Artful Scribe, with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Entitled, ‘Crossing the Water: Stevie Smith, Sylvia Plath, and The Distant Mentor’, Professor Will May led the lecture with readings from Juliet Stevenson.

It does feel as if poetry is alive, vibrant and well. This was also emphasised for me when I attended the celebration of the prize-winners in the Hampshire Young Poets Competition in early October. It is vital that WPF, working with Hampshire Cultural Trust, can play a role in nurturing the talent of the future.

Putting together a programme of such variety and depth - over a stretched five-month period - 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, festival manager Madelaine Smith, and artistic director Sasha Dugdale. Many of you will know that Sasha Dugdale is stepping down from her role. We will miss her enormously. Thank you, Sasha, for your artistic vision and your creativity in programming.

We are grateful as ever to our partners and funders. These include Arts Council England, Winchester City Council, Hampshire County Council, and, for our Poet on the High Street, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Winchester BID, Winchester City Council, and all those wonderful individuals who helped to make it all happen through the successful crowdfunding campaign. We are once again indebted too, to Paris Smith for their sponsorship of the Winchester Poetry Prize – now regarded as truly international competition – and to Warren & Sons for their support for the prize-winning poet from Hampshire.

Finally – I would like to Stephen Boyce who stepped down as Chair of Winchester Poetry Festival in May. There is no doubt that the festival has continued to thrive under his leadership during a particularly challenging period. Thank you from us all for all you have done to ensure that Winchester Poetry Festival is now well-positioned to plan for its next phase of development.

Jane Bryant

Chair – Winchester Poetry Festival

9th November 2021

“Participation and total engagement. Very fascinating”.

To read a blog prepared by Winchester Poetry Festival Chair, Jane Bryant,

for the Southern Policy Centre, please see:

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