Celebrating The South Downs Through Poetry

The chalk landscape of the South Downs has a special place in this year’s Winchester Poetry Festival (October 7-9 2016). Seven poets whose lives and imaginations have been shaped by this area of outstanding natural beauty have been commissioned to create new work, which will be celebrated in a special event and a new anthology on Friday October 7.

Winchester Poetry Festival has a reputation for showcasing poetry which has its roots in the local area as well as high-profile and international work.

Winchester is a gateway to the South Downs National Park and has fuelled the imagination of poets in many different ways. The Festival’s artistic co-director Keiren Phelan said: “ The Downs have poets strung along its length and breadth, from Edward Thomas to GK Chesterton. Our aim is to celebrate contemporary poets who live, or have lived, in the area – and we’re indebted to Stephanie Norgate for gathering together this unique band of writers.”

Curated by Stephanie Norgate, Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, and herself a published poet who lives in Midhurst, the event will include readings of the seven poets’ commissioned work, and marks the launch of Chalk Poets, a collection of their poems, all of which feature or are inspired by the South Downs.

The poets selected are a mix of young, new voices and more established talent. Out of the twenty-one poems published, all but four are new and written expressly for the anthology.

Stephanie Norgate said: “It was very exciting to be invited to curate this reading and this particular set of poems. As my fellow contributors sent me their poems, I could feel a mounting sense of excitement. As if by magic, all the poems were entirely different to one another and yet all drew on the strangeness and power of the Downland. Some poems draw on myth and legend, some on personal experience, some on history, but all evoke an ancient landscape in a modern world in language that is sensuous and evocative, at times disturbing and always atmospheric. I’m looking forward to the reading on October 7th very much as the poems work well on the stage as well as the page.”

Winchester Poetry Festival aims to introduce contemporary poetry to new audiences and new poets to existing audiences, and this has underpinned its approach to creating and promoting the Chalk Poets project, which combines well-published and prize-winning poets as well as emerging literary talents.

Keiren Phelan and his co-directors hope that the poems will continue to resonate long after this year’s Festival is over, as part of a longer-term project to create a permanent South Downs poetry trail. “It would be wonderful to see how we could embed these and other poems into the fabric of the Downs – but that’s an ambition for the future” he said.

The seven Chalk Poets, Stephanie Norgate, Hannah Brockbank, Lydia Fulleylove, Kate Miller, Zoe Mitchell, Steven O’Brien and Colette Sensier (see below for biographies), will be appearing at Winchester Poetry Festival on Friday 7 October, 5.00 – 6.30pm in Winchester Discovery Centre Performance Hall. Tickets are £8.00. For more information visit www.winchesterpoetryfestival.org