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Winchester blog 2: August

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I spent another day in Winchester as Poet in Residence for the Winchester 10 Days Festival, and once again the sun shone and the city was buzzing with life.

Brassey Road Studio 1The artist, Michael Weller, had asked if he could paint another portrait of me, so I sat for him in his studio at Brassey Road in the morning. The studio, which is shared with various artists, is light and airy, and Michael had selected some recordings of poetry readings to play to me while I sat for him. They included many well-known poems, and a few that I hadn’t come across before. It is extremely rare to get the opportunity to sit for two and a half hours doing nothing but listen to poetry, and the time passed quite quickly. This portrait, in any case, took less time than the last.


Once again I didn’t see the painting until it was finished. It is very different from the first one, and I’d be interested to know which people think is the best. I prefer this one, which I think captures my eyes better, but one of my daughters thinks the colour is better in the first. I’ll put the two together (chatting to each other?) at the bottom of this blog, so that you can judge for yourselves. I hope some of you will respond with your considered judgement, as I think the artist would appreciate some feed-back.

In the afternoon I spent some time with two of the other artists with whom I’m working in preparation for the festival. Sue Wood is preparing a sound art installation, for which I have written a poem; and she has now made this into a poster to display as part of her installation in the Triforium. As it describes the project, I’ll include it here in full:

  Sound installation in Winchester Triforium

Listen! you probably won’t hear
monks chanting plainsong in the choir
– there are no monks –

nor pad of ghostly feet ascending
and descending night stairs linking
their dormitory and prayer.

If you’re standing, your ears are on are a level                  Triforium arch
with other visitors talking face to face,
admiring the purity of the exquisite arches;

and if you were to lie down on
the stone floor, monk-like
prostrate yourself, perhaps your ears

would pick up faint reverberations
of passing feet, as a rabbit
bends her ear to catch

vibrations of dog or human
through the earth. But better still,
if you sit awhile, here on this bench,

and close your eyes, your inner ear
will start to catch a rich
cacophony of sounds:

perhaps the clank of workmen
mounting and dismounting

a mobile telephone that somebody
forgot to turn off, tinkling an inane
tune deep within a pocket,

the drone of a deep authoritative voice
explaining the iconography
of early English architecture,

a girl and boy who’ve found a quiet
corner in which to hide and whisper
secrets of human love and beauty,

the organ playing far away,
footsteps on stone steps, the muffled cry
of a baby, filtered through the stone.

Then in that stillness you may become aware
of the music of your own life-giving
breath, the spirit within, as when

on a still blue summer’s evening
you hear the beat of swallows’ wings
as they fly overhead

and realise that what you’re hearing
is the sound of flight.
That’s right: just pause awhile and listen.

After leaving Sue in the Triforium I peeped into the Morley Library where my portrait will be exhibited during the festival, spent a few precious moments in the cathedral library poring over the beautiful Winchester Bible pages on display, then went downstairs to the Fishermen’s Chapel to meet Lisa Earley. Lisa is a textile artist, and she’s got some exciting plans for our collaboration. She’s already using one of my poems, and I might well write another for her.

I’ll write about Sue’s ideas and the development of her art work in my next blog. There are still some more artists I need to meet, and quite a few more poems that need to be written.

Finally, here are the two portraits. Which do you prefer?




  1. Zoe Zoe

    Beautiful poem! xx

  2. Thank you very much. xA

  3. Hugh Hugh

    Prefer pic on the right. Hx

  4. Elizabeth Bennett Elizabeth Bennett

    I certainly prefer, and really like, the one on the right. The darker background and lighter tones on your face, I think make you look slightly sharp and slightly aggressive on the left hand one. The tones of the right hand one on the other hand, are more flattering and serve to give a softer image – definitely a better likeness. EBx

  5. Yes, certainly an artist friend to whom I showed the first one said that it lacked the necessary ‘gentleness’, which presumably means more or less the same as your comment that it was too aggressive. Thanks for your comment EB. xA

  6. The second portrait appeals to me more…it captures an expression I recognise and the colour seems more lively. Also love the poem! What an exciting experience you must be having as writer in residence Alwyn

  7. Hilda Weller Ben Nun Hilda Weller Ben Nun

    I am Michael Weller’s aunt (his father is my brother). Mike put your poem and his portrait of you on Facebook. Of the two portraits I think the second one is the one which looks more like you (from what I see from your photograph). Your poem is so beautiful – I loved it.
    I think my nephew is very talented and I hope that this talent will soon receive its well-deserved recognition. Incidentally, he also painted my portrait and (unfortunately) it looks just like me! I would have liked it to be a bit more flattering, but since I am now 79 years old, there is nothing one can do to reverse the ravages of time (unless you are Ann Robinson).
    With best wishes,
    Hilda Weller Ben Nun

  8. Thank you for that, Hilda. It was so kind of you to write.

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