Amanda's Circus

Poetry Success in the Magma / Winchester Poetry Festival Pop-up Competition


John Keats

I have a poem on the Magma website. Click on the link if you’d like to read it.

How surprised was I when, as I was casually sitting at a table at Loose Muse, Joan McGavin came over and told me my ‘Dear John’ poem had won third place in the festival pop-up competition run by Magma? Many thanks to Joan for telling me and for giving me the prize – a lovely notebook, pen holder and a copy of Magma. Lucky old me!


The Spanish Steps, Rome. Keats’ house is on the right at the bottom of the steps.

The competition entry form was a beautiful piece of handmade paper – really thick and textured, with the words ‘Dear John’ written in faded ink. Very tempting. The brief was to write a poem to John Keats and somehow relate it to Winchester. Keats (or John as I now like to think of him) lived in Winchester for a while. As it happens, I’m very keen on Keats and studied the Romantic poets with great enthusiasm as a student in my twenties – a long time ago but he has stayed with me. Also, I happened to visit his house in Rome this June. It is right next to the Spanish Steps. The lady in charge complimented me on the big blue ring I was wearing. She thought it a romantic and glamorous piece of jewellery but in fact I’d bought it for £1.50 in H&M. Anyway, the small room and the small bed in which Keats died is not something I will ever forget. The Spanish Steps, on the other hand, were fenced off for refurbishment. Behind the fence, six or seven people were leisurely scraping off the old chewing gum watched by an audience of hundreds of disappointed visitors. It was good to get out of the sunshine and noise, and away from the ridiculously posh shops into Keats’ small, dark apartment.


Back to the poem. I was watching a TV news item last week on Flex and the injustice of making workers, who are usually on minimum wage, work night shifts at short notice with threats of little or no work unless they comply. For people who have to arrange child care, this is horrendously stressful, if not impossible. Heart-breaking stuff and so unjust. It has been on my mind. Keats’ ‘to Autumn’, written in Winchester in 1819, two years before he died in Rome, mentions a labourer ‘sitting careless on a granary floor’ – he was presumably exhausted from cutting the corn, and of course lived in poverty, exploited in a similar way to the Flex workers. And I think Keats was angered by this exploitation and injustice. He wrote the poem, I gather, from St Giles Hill in Winchester and the cornfield is now a multi-storey carpark. All interesting poetic material.


A view of Winchester from St Giles Hill in Keats’ time.

I didn’t think of entering the competition until I wandered around the various stands and the chap at Magma’s table said, ‘go on you might as well have a go’. Nothing to lose by trying is pretty much my motto in life so I picked up a sheet of the lovely paper. I sat on the Discovery Centre’s comfortable orange sofa with coffee and a ginger muffin scribbling during the gap between the late afternoon Festival session with the amazing Translation writers and the evening session with Mimi Khalvati, Helen Mort and Simon Armitage. I found myself jotting ideas for the poem in the darkness of the performance hall and rustled it up in full and in my best handwriting when I got home. A pretty quick job really. What pleases me mostly is that I managed to get the Flex workers into a poem.

Thank you so much to Winchester Poetry Festival and Magma for my prizes and for selecting my poem. You can read the winning poems in the magazine here. I’m very grateful and it has cheered me up after a sorry time.


6 Comments to "Poetry Success in the Magma / Winchester Poetry Festival Pop-up Competition"

  1. I’m chuffed for you, Amanda. And how lovely the news came when it did!

  2. Fantastic, Amanda! Congratulations. I had no idea that Ode to Autumn was written in Winchester. My Dad used to read that to me when I was very young. I hope you’ll post the poem when it’s published.

    • Amanda says:

      Thanks, Claire. Yes, I hadn’t realised that either. I’m not sure whereabouts in Winchester he lived. From the picture there don’t seem to be very many houses. 🙂

  3. He stayed in a house, now gone, which was somewhere around where the car park of the Mecure Wessex Hotel now stands.

    • Amanda says:

      Aha! So very close to the cathedral. That multi-storey! It all begins to make sense. Thank you.

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About writing, trickery and a little music