Winchester Poetry Festival


Yesterday I took a trip to Winchester Poetry Festival. It is on for the weekend, but I could only go for one day. I was interested to see how it was run and, of course, hear some new poets.

In the afternoon, I went to the student slam which was sixth form students from local schools/colleges competing in a poetry slam. I was really impressed, not just with the poetry, but the passion and enthusiasm. Who says poetry is a dying art?! I do think spoken word poetry (the mot du jour it seems) is on the up and, perhaps, for the younger generations adds the ‘pazazz’ which page poetry doesn’t always deliver. In the foyer, I chatted to the man from Magma about it and we agreed that a lot of spoken word is either rap or comedic and it would be interesting to see a wave of more serious, less rhythmic spoken poetry. Not that the other should be negated – definitely not – but I noticed some of the students ‘performed’ their poems (thrusting arms, Del Boy neck movements) in a somewhat formulaic manner. Interestingly, the winners (who, thankfully, I had picked out too) were more sedate, eloquent and still in their delivery.

IMG_5643In the early evening I went to ‘Hogwords’ which celebrated Hampshire poets and I heard seven local poets read their work (Robyn Bolam, Stephen Boyce, John Haynes, Joan McGavin, Nick MacKinnon, Maggie Sawkins and Julian Stannard). I must admit, I had never heard of any of them but they have a fine pedigree between them and Nick MacKinnon won the 2013 Forward Prize. It was good to hear poets/poems I would have never experienced had I not been there and also which ones appealed and which didn’t. This is, of course, no reflection on their merit, but on my taste and I think it is healthy for a poet to acknowledge that some poetry, no matter how acclaimed, simply doesn’t do anything for them. Nobody is wrong, it is just not their thing (like my dislike of Oasis – despite acknowledging their success and Noel’s talent, I just can’t bear them). I think, sometimes, we poets feel we must be oohing and aching about all poetry; it’s as if when we verbalise our dislike of a poem, somewhere, a puppy dies.*

Anyway, had I not had a big spend up in Waterstones beforehand, I might have bought Maggie Sawkins and Julian Stannard’s books. They were a bit more edgy and my taste is definitely more edgy and less ‘behold the fields of scattered dawn’ (none of them wrote that, I did, but you know what I mean…).

It was a positive trip and I got to meet one of the poets we have published through Paper Swans who was managing the event. There I was, scoffing a KitKat, drinking tea and trying to write something for the Magma competition and she was, ‘Sarah Miles!’ Always lovely to meet people in the flesh. She was Madelaine Smith and doing a fine job of organising everything!


* this is (a) not true and (b) a borrowed (bastardised) anecdote from a lovely fellow poet/writer.

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