Winchester Poetry Festival

Hollie McNish. Credit Paul Newbon

Winchester Poetry Festival is a registered charity (1150997) established in 2013 with the first festival taking place in September 2014

The next festival will take place in October 2021

Previous Festivals

The 2018 Festival takes place on the weekend of 5-7 October, straight after National Poetry Day on Thursday 4 October.

Returning in 2018 for its 21st year, and one of the oldest festivals in Winchester, Winchester Festival has grown into an established week-long celebration of the arts, featuring music, talks, drama, visual arts and guided walks in venues across the city. Speakers for 2018 include John Humphrys, Jeremy Paxman, Mary Berry, Terry Waite, Paddy Ashdown and Richard Dawkins.

The music programme includes uplifting choral music from chamber choir Southern Voices and their partner German
choir in the annual opening concert at Winchester Cathedral, as well as award-winning choir Tenebrae, the distinguished Piatti Quartet, The Waynflete Singers, thepopular lunchtime concerts by Hampshire’s young musicians and, closing this year’s Festival, music from the Great American Songbook with National Youth Jazz Orchestra Nonet. Drama is provided by 2TimeTheatre featuring a surprising link between a Winchester WWI gravestone and the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Festival’s guided walks through the city take the theme of Winchester in

IDENTITY is the theme for 2018

Festival co-director Sarah Hesketh said: “Questions of who we are really are or who we want to be, where we come from, and where we find ourselves have long preoccupied poets. But while technology makes the distances between us grow ever smaller, it can also feel like we are retreating from each other, unsure of who we are and how to live with those who might be different from us. The poets we have invited explore the difficulties, but also recognise the strength in our individual differences and personal stories.”

2018 International Poetry Prize

Winchester Poetry Prize is an open poetry competition, which attracted more than 1800 entries last year. The 2018 competition, sponsored by 200 year-old Hampshire law firm Paris Smith, will be judged by award-winning poet Liz Berry, and the winner will be announced at the Festival. Last year’s award was won by Bristol-based Caleb Parkin. See him read his prizewinning poem Somewhere to Keep the Rain here.

New for 2018

Special events include a new writing competition for 11-16 year-olds. Its theme, Changing the World, eco poems for a new climate, is a collaboration between the Festival and Winchester Action on Climate Change and commemorates Robert Hutchison, the founder of both organisations, who died last year.

Also new is a programme of workshops for young writers aged 16/17, which will be led by this year’s Hampshire Poet Robyn Bolam. These will run in five local colleges throughout the summer term. Their work will be published by the Festival and read at a special event on National Poetry Day.

The Festival takes place at Winchester Discovery Centre.


World voices

Poetry from other countries, and how it is translated, is a key element of the Festival, bringing the very best in translated poetry to Winchester, with poets from Syria, Macedonia, USA and the Caribbean.

The natural world

Three award-winning poets, Rebecca Goss, Kathleen Jamie and Harry Man, for whom the natural world and its environment are a vital concern, will read new work, from Suffolk to endangered species.

Old Norse Translation Duel

Sharpen your axes! Translators Debbie Potts and Carolyne Larrington tackle verse from the saga of Gísli.

Free events – tours and readings

Book early for popular Festival freebies, with poetry tours of Winchester conducted by literary expert Kieren Phelan, and close readings by Festival poets.

Poetry workshops

An opportunity for aspiring poets to improve their creativity, from crafting sentences to the inspiration of Tai Chi – with acclaimed poets Frances Leviston, Liz Berry and Eileen Pun.


Celebrating The South Downs Through Poetry
Major New Poetry Prize Beats Predictions


Brian Patten picture by Theo Moye

An ambitious literary event made its debut in September 2014  in Winchester. It brought 30 poets and writers to the city, including Brian Patten (who lived in Winchester during the late 60s) and Jackie Kay.

Many of the country’s most successful and popular poets shared their inspiration, their craft and their work alongside those starting to make a name for themselves, and talented young newcomers. The line-up included internationally acclaimed and award-winning writers Patience Agbabi, Ros Barber, David Constantine, Christopher Reid, Michael Longley and Kate Firth.

The new Festival weaved together three themes during the three-day event: in addition to bringing the very best of Britain’s wordsmiths to Winchester, a town with its own great tradition of learning and culture, it commemorated the centenary of World War One; and it also celebrated the contribution that Hampshire poets past and present have made to Britain’s literary heritage.

Winchester Poetry Festival brought an enjoyment of poetry to the widest possible audience. Its programme offeed a feast of inspiration for both poetry-lovers and aspiring writers with readings, talks and workshops, some of them free. Patience Agbabi retold Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales for the 21st Century; Brian Patten, Ros Barber, Jackie Kay and other acclaimed poets read and talk about their work; Christopher Reid shared five things that have inspired him; Michael Longley and David Constantine commemorated the war dead; and Kate Firth, sister of Colin and herself a former resident of Winchester, helped aspiring writers improve their live delivery.

The Festival also made literary history. The winner of the first Wilfred Owen international poetry competition was announced. Two other new poetry competitions also made Festival firsts: Hampshire’s first school poetry slam and a pop-up poetry competition launched by Magma, one of Britain’s leading poetry magazines.

Hampshire’s own poets, young and old, were celebrated: from readings by seven of the county’s leading bards to the poetry of Edward Thomas and cricket broadcaster John Arlott in the centenary year of his birth. Students showcased their work in Slam Dunk Hants, the new Hampshire Poetry Slam.

Free events included a literary walking tour, 15-minute talks and readings from Festival poets about a poem that has inspired them and exhibitions featuring artwork specially commissioned for the Festival. The Poetry Postie was also delivering poetic inspiration on her bicycle.



Brian Patten, Patience Agbabi, David Constantine, Michael Longley, Jackie Kay, Ros Barber and more. Local Hampshire poets include Joan McGavin, Robyn Bolam, Stephen Boyce, John Haynes, Nick MacKinnon, Maggie Sawkins and Julian Stannard.

Commemorative WW1 reading in the Winchester College War Cloister, with Michael Longley and David Constantine, hosted by Sasha Dugdale.


Roads from Hampshire: the poetry of Edward Thomas with Professor Edna Longley.
Things being various: the poet’s craft and inspiration with Christopher Reid.
Those timeless things: John Arlott, poetry and the BBC with former England cricket captain Mike Brearley and Arlott’s acclaimed biographer David Rayvern Allen.


Performance skills led by Kate Firth. Sat 13 Sept 10.30am-12.30pm.
Getting published led by Clare Christian. Sun 14 Sept 10.30am-12.30pm.

Free events

Close readings: 15 minutes in the company of a well-known poet and a favourite poem.
Wilfred Owen International Poetry Competition award ceremony.
Literary walking tour around the city.
Edward Thomas exhibition of memorabilia.
Robert Truscott, exhibition of sculpture, some specially commissioned for the Festival.
Slamdunk Hants: student showcase, the county’s first poetry slam competition.

Festival firsts

Wilfred Owen International Poetry Competition.
The National Conversation about Poetry

Winchester Poetry Festival is supported by Winchester City Council, Hampshire County Council, Arts Council England and Winchester Bid.