I’ve now made my last visit to Winchester before the Festival starts in earnest at the end of this month. This visit was to finalise the venues and formats for all my poems that form the Poetry Trail through the Cathedral, and then to meet Stephen Boyce to make plans for my Poetry Reading on the evening of November 1st.
My next blog will probably be on something completely unconnected with the Winchester Festival, but after that I hope to be able to post a final Winchester blog with lots of pictures of the various artworks in situ. The Cathedral is going to be bursting with new and interesting art in the festival, as is the whole city of Winchester. If you can possibly get there between 26th October and 3rd November, I highly recommend a visit.
As on all the other days I’ve made preparatory visits to Winchester over the last few months, the weather was beautiful and I was able to sit on a bench in the peaceful Cathedral Green to eat my sandwich. I then wandered round the side of the cathedral, to visit the Barbara Hepworth sculpture of the Crucifixion. I’ve always loved this piece: it’s one of three casts, and was originally situated against a backdrop of the sea in St Ives, down in Cornwall. The autumn leaves were drifting gently down, there was no sound of traffic and the great ancient cathedral formed a fitting backdrop to the colour and quiet drama of Hepworth’s sculpture.
It has been a very stimulating and enjoyable process working with the artists who will be represented in the Cathedral during the 10 days Festival, including Sue Wood, Lisa Earley, Michael Weller, Lucy Cass, Penny Burnfield and Anna Sikorska. It was easier when I could meet the artists, particularly if I could see something of what they were working on for the Festival. The two poems that came most easily were Listen, for Sue Wood’s sound installation in the Triforium and Sitting for a Portrait to go with Michael Weller’s paintings in the Morley Library. It’s not so very surprising that this latter poem came quite easily, given that I had hours to think about little else as I sat while he painted my portrait.
The most difficult poems to write were those for which I hadn’t met the artist and didn’t have a very clear idea of what the finished artwork was going to look like. The last poem I was asked to produce for the Trail was in response to a huge polystyrene float that will be suspended above the nave. The work is to be called ‘You are very near to us’; and the artist Anna Sikorska sent the following guidance:
The title of the swimming float, lowered through the roof, hovering and waiting, was overheard at the Cathedral as a response to intercessions. It is part of a body of work describing and playing with surfaces and substance, particularly in this case the chalk of the surrounding land, thinking about directness, cleanliness and simply the desire to reach and bubble upwards.
Mark 2.4 (also Acts 10.11 although this is just a coincidence and was not inspiration for the work).
The chalk lands of Winchester and surrounding areas.
Being underwater, and looking/rising up
He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. (Acts 10 v 11).
All that presented something of a challenge, but I’m glad to say that after several attempts I did manage to reflect most of these themes in the poem, though with its final focus on music, it turned out to be about something very different from what I first anticipated. One strange result is that this piece is the only one of the poems that has a recognisably religious theme, as it reflects on some of the difficulties of prayer. I am told that this particular artwork is likely to be the most controversial, so it’s rather fun that it should turn out this way. I’d like to include a picture of the float here, but as it’s not finished yet, that will have to wait until my next Winchester blog in November.
There will be maps showing the positions of my poems in the Poetry Trail just inside the Cathedral, and Lucy Cass has produced a series of postcards of some of my poems alongside photographs of her artworks. I shall be doing a couple of ‘walk-abouts’ in the Cathedral in the second week, and running a poetry reading and writing workshop at 2.00pm on Thursday 31st October. You need to book for this workshop, but it is free.
Then on Friday 1st November I shall be giving a Poetry Reading in the Epiphany Chapel at 7.00pm. At this event, the musician/performer June-Boyce-Tillman will give a short performance before I read, and afterwards Stephen Boyce will chair a conversation with me and some of the artists with whom I’ve been working. We will talk about our collaboration, and invite comments and discussion with the audience. Do join us if you can.
There is going to be SO much going on during this 10 Days Festival. You certainly won’t be able to get to everything, but I do urge you to try to visit Winchester at least once during the ten days.