On Saturday, 23 April I spent the afternoon at Winchester Discovery Centre which is where most of the events for Winchester Poetry Festival will take place in October. The Festival hosted ‘All Day Sonnets,’ a marathon sonnet reading from 10am until 5pm, open to anyone who signed up beforehand to read one of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, on the day that marked 400 years since the Bard of Avon’s death.
It was lovely to remind myself how easy Winchester Discovery Centre is to reach by public transport – it’s a short walk from Winchester train station – and how conveniently it’s situated for cafés and restaurants (and there is also a café in the centre, as well as free wifi.)
The sonnetathon took place in an open space between the café and the public library which meant that the sonnets intermingled with the low-level Saturday sounds of children chattering, families in the library choosing books and friends meeting for coffee. There were regular breaks for refreshments and the audience changed seats and came and went all day, lending a friendly and unstuffy feel to the event. There was a relaxed, engaged atmosphere, some people sitting at the edges of the library and café to listen.
The majority (but not all) of the audience and performers I saw were the usual white, middle-aged crowd that I tend to observe at poetry events outside major cities. However, I think I saw every decade represented at the podium, from teenagers to people in their seventies and beyond. It was fantastic to see children in the audience with their grown-ups and to hear young people read confidently and with real feeling.
Listening to 154 sonnets, my attention came and went. Quite often I allowed the language to wash over me without engaging with meaning, and that didn’t detract from my pleasure one bit. Sometimes a reader’s intonation helped me understand more what the sonnet was about (there were some extremely talented readers). What struck me most about my listening was how much I loved hearing Shakespeare’s half-rhymes, that subtle surprise made me tingle.
Here I am at the podium reading Sonnet 61
and there are more pictures of the day here
Congratulations to Winchester Poetry Festival on an inclusive, fun and interesting pre-festival event! The full festival programme is now online and bookings open tomorrow.