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Magma at Winchester Poetry Festival 2016

Between the 7th and 9th October, Magma was proud to attend the Winchester Poetry Festival and get involved with a wide range of really great events, readings and lectures.

Jo Shapcott and Things Being Various

Jon Sayers, hosted another episode of ‘Things Being Various’, an illuminating one on one conversation with prizewinning poet Jo Shapcott. The format of the event was a detailed look at Jo’s inspiration and writing practices through the medium of a series of beloved objects – a wonderful biographical collection of keepsakes from Jo’s life and career.

From a small piece of the Queen Elizabeth Hall stage (Jo worked as an Arts administrator there early in her career) and a marvellous Victorian book of random scientific ephemera called ‘Science Siftings’ (an article in which inspired the poem ‘Electroplating the Baby’) to a 1950s Italian phrase book (inspiration for ‘Phrase Book’) and a set of beautiful handcrafted head scarves made for Jo by the artist Susie Freeman (creator of Cradle to Grave in the British Museum) to wear following chemotherapy treatment.

Each object painted an intimate portrait of Jo’s journey as a poet and a person and let the audience in on a trove of trade secrets that lie behind her craft and feed her curiosity.

During the conversation Jon described Magma as a magazine for established and emerging poets to which Jo responded “I always hope to be emerging.”


The Ultimate Dear John Letter

As part of the event we also ran a pop-up poetry competition to coincide with one of the major themes of the festival – John Keats and the impact and poetic achievements he made during the eight weeks he spent there in 1819. Keats described Winchester as ‘the pleasantest town I ever was in.’

Festivalgoers were invited to pen an original poem entitled ‘Dear John’ on beautiful handcrafted Georgian manuscript paper (check out the pics). The creative brief – a poem-letter on any subject, as long as it was addressed to Mr Keats.

With a multitude of entries, the Magma team whittled down three winning entries worthy of a little prize and publication on

We hope you enjoy them as much as we did judging and congratulations again to William, Amanda and Kate for such wonderful off the cuff compositions!


First Prize

Dear John

I stood this morning where once you did
To ford your river in bare feet. You can’t. The Itchen’s bridged.
It’s conduited with concrete, steel, in shadows deep
Its murmurs lost. Its constant roar would make you weep.
So, reined in, I paused, gazing at the flow below
Once briefly yours, now ours to briefly know.
Outraged, your spirit came and called above the din
“Are we poets to be stopped from boldly entering in?”
John, I took my trousers off and waded in bare-thighed
But then! Oh no! A dog, its owner horrified.
Relax! England, modest still, averts her eye.
It was the dog that stared, its mistress walked on by.
Cupping my fingers to our river’s ancient cold
I tossed its water to the light and found pure gold.

William Horwood

William Horwood

Second Prize

Dear John

I think it important
to thank you for all I’ve learned
by watching you when I was pretending
to busy myself outside your window
(I would pick about the gravel,
you’d be head cocked, bright eyed
at the glass) You let me
take part in your existence
Just that little shift
I owe mine of course to you
your friend and passer-by

Kate Miller

Kate Miller

Third Prize

Dear John

Come on. Tell me, how did it all go wrong?
You saw the slick ripe corn on St Giles Hill
slashed by scythes.  You smelled the sweat and pit-dry stalks,
listened to the songs of a hard day’s work. But…
that labourer sitting ‘careless on the granary floor’
tweaked bile in your gut, for he couldn’t afford
the corn he’d cut.  Now the multi-storey
covers that field with its snake-rind canisters and
pick’n’mix retail, and the tricks of the day are Flex
at £7.20 filled with the songs of tripwire clauses, hard
on the ear and fighting the fast-flow dissonance of debt.
A dynasty upon dynasty of rotation. Tell me, John,
How did it all go wrong?

Amanda Oosthuizen

Amanda Oosthuizen

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