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2023 Festival

The first full post-pandemic festival, and with new Artistic Director (Clare Pollard) and Festival Manager (Amy Juliet Brown) at the helm. The festival theme celebrated 'languages of the UK'.

This year we embarked on a strengthened commitment to inclusion and accessibility, with a view of increasing enjoyment and engagement with poetry for all. We engaged BSL interpreters and live-streaming at key events (thanks to a successful grant bid from Winchester City Council) for the first time, and 50% of the programme was completely free to attend.

The festival included workshops, performances, readings, discussions, visuals and music, sessions for children and young people, and sessions from poets who are known locally, nationally and globally.

We programmed 24 events, providing a platform for 81 artists to share their work. Featured poets were Zaffar Kunial (also Winchester Poetry Prize 2023 judge), Menna Elfyn, Daljit Nagra, Matthew Hollis, Harry Josephine Giles, Nazneen Ahmed Pathak (Hampshire Poet 2021-2022), Liz Berry, Kathryn Bevis, Luke Wright. Poetry presses, organisations and groups who took part included Bloodaxe Books, Broken Sleep Books, The Emma Press, Winchester Muse, Poetry Platform, Poetry Translation Centre.


The winner of Winchester Poetry Prize 2023 was Isabel Baafi with 'Path Of Least Resilience'. Longlisted poems feature in the anthology 'a cough of pollen'.

2021 Festival

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic the scheduled 2020 festival did not take place. In 2021 Artistic Director Sasha Dugdale programmed a hybrid festival which took place across a number of months starting with online events June - September, followed by a 3 day real world festival in October (allowing for a more relaxed, socially distanced programme).

The outputs of the revised programme were: 4 x ‘poetry shots’ (x four online events per month – readings, workshops, lecture, conversations). Contributors included Joyelle McSweeney (USA);
Jacqueline Saphra & Sophie Herxheimer; Jen Hadfield & Jason Allen Paisant; Raymond Antrobus & Leo Boix with Dzifa Benson, and Kathryn Bevis with
Isabelle Baafi, Ben Bransfield & Shash Trevett. A particular highlight was the Robert Hutchison Lecture, entitled 'Crossing The Water: Stevie Smith, Sylvia Plath, And The Distant Mentor', given by Professor Will May of University of Southampton with readings from Juliet Stevenson.

The 3-day live festival included 14 events - readings, workshops, conversations, prize-giving). Live sessions were led by local, national and international poets from Paul Muldoon and Patience Agbabi, to Liz Berry and Romalyn Ante. 

2018 Festival 

Artistic Co-directors Sasha Dugdale and Sarah Hesketh programmed a diverse and stimulating menu of events aimed at fulfilling our intention to ‘surprise and delight’. Loosely focussed around themes of place and identity, and bracketed by riotously entertaining performances from Ian McMillan and Hollie McNish, the festival included poets from Macedonia, Iran, Ireland and Jamaica. 


Audiences responded especially well to readings by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Rebecca Goss, Nikola Madzirov, to Annie Freud’s ‘Things Being Various’ and the inaugural Robert Hutchison lecture given by Alexandra Harris. Artist/poet ‘in residence’, Sophie Herxheimer,  animated the festival space.

The pilot Young Wordsmiths writer development scheme was well-received by teachers and students and has kicked off a comprehensive education strategy.

2016 Festival 

Our second festival bore the hallmark of Sasha Dugdale, working as artistic co-director alongside Keiren Phelan. Sasha brought a strong internationalism to the programme, the translation duel being a noticeable highlight. The mix of events and diversity of poets clearly appealed to our core audience and was a factor in attracting larger numbers. The workshop programme once again sold out quickly and was well received. was the Stanza Stones collaboration and demonstration featuring Simon Armitage and letter-cutter Pip Hall.

We built new community partnerships – with Treloar College (one of the country’s leading providers for young people with disabilities), Solent Mind and the Basingstoke and Winchester NHS Foundation Trust –  and 180 sixth-form students enjoyed a dedicated event featuring poets Ian Duhig and Sinéad Morrissey.


The inaugural Winchester Poetry Prize attracted 1500 entries from over 600 poets. The prizes were presented at a special reading on the Sunday by judge Mimi Khalvati, and the winning and commended poems were published as Salt on the Coals.

2014 Festival 

The inaugural Winchester Poetry Festival was held 12-14 September 2014 at Winchester Discovery Centre and venues around the city. The festival brought together more than 30 world-class poets and writers, from Brian Patten to Jackie Kay, as well as young writers of the future, to inspire poetry-lovers of all ages. We commemorated the poetry of the First World War and celebrated  local poets past and present with readings, talks, workshops, exhibitions and a reading tour.

One of the major poets at Winchester’s first poetry festival, Michael Longley, told an appreciative packed audience that “This is not just a good festival, it’s a great festival and this city should be very proud to have it.”

We were particularly pleased with the enthusiastic reception given to all the poets, including Patience Agbabi, Christopher Reid, Michael Longley and Jackie Kay, and also with the quality of the new young voices – hugely promising poets like Rosemary Brooke-Hart and Dom Cramp from Peter Symonds College, the latter the stunning winner of the festival’s pop-up poetry competition organised by Magma magazine.

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