William’s current work-in-progress, due out next year, involves some of his more radical poetry. So he was thrilled to win the hotly contested Winchester Poetry Festival 2016 pop-up competition sponsored by the prestigious Magma Poetry magazine, with a not-so-radical sonnet. The piece had to be a 14-line prose or poem letter to the great romantic himself on the theme of ‘John Keats and Winchester’. In fact, as a piece in The Guardian once explained: ‘The 23-year-old Keats spent time in Winchester in the summer of 1819, planning to finish his poem “Lamia” but instead composing “To Autumn“. The ode, with its idyllic images of ripening fruit, drowsing workers and a maturing sun, was published the following year, and was originally thought to have been inspired by the poet’s regular walks through the meadows by the river Itchen.’ So, of course, my sonnet had to mention the river, which is why I wended my way down to it, not expecting what I found, which gave me a subject to write about. Most people have written at least some poetry in their lives, if only when madly in love and lust; or love and grief; or possibly love unrequited, full of that innocent hope and those dreams which rarely, if ever, live up to reality…
I stood this morning where you once did
To ford your river in bare feet. You can’t. The Itchen’s bridged.
It’s conduited in shadows deep, with concrete and steel,
Its murmurs lost. Its constant cry 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 across the din:
‘Are we poets to be stopped from ent’ring boldly in?’
John, with trousers off, I waded in bare-thighed;
But there came a dog, its owner horrified!
Relax. England is modest, she still averts her eye,
It was the dog that stared, its mistress walked on by.
Cupping my fingers to the river’s ancient cold
I tossed its water to the light and saw pure gold.