Poetry night remembers late naturalist and Chichester Observer columnist Richard Williamson

Flights of the Mind celebrates the poetry and life of the late Sussex naturalist and long-time Chichester Observer columnist Richard Williamson.

Richard Williamson
Richard Williamson

The South Downs Poetry Festival is linking up with MADhurst (Music, Arts and Drama Festival in Midhurst) to present the special celebration. The event, which is named Flights of the Mind after the title of the final book of poetry Richard published just before his death in May of this year, is being held as part of the Midhurst arts festival, on Thursday, August 11 at 7.30pm. Fittingly, the event is being held at the headquarters of the South Downs National Park in the Memorial Hall on North Street. Tickets £5 from www.madhurst.co.uk or on the door.

Richard wrote a nature column for the paper for 57 years, sending in his contributions about Sussex walks and wildlife right up until just before his death. He had been the warden of Kingley Vale Nature Reserve, held a role with the Nature Conservancy across the South Downs for many years and was a great supporter of wildlife in Chichester Harbour.

Taking part will be four South Downs poets, Stephanie Norgate, James Simpson, Joan Secombe and the director of the South Downs Poetry Festival, Barry Smith. The poets will be reading a selection of their favourite poems from Richard’s anthology alongside similarly themed poems of their own. Poems such as Storm Petrel, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tawny Owl Dusk and The Superstition Bird are set to figure.

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    Stephanie Norgate was until recently the MA in creative writing course leader at Chichester University. Her poetry is published by Bloodaxe and has been nominated for various awards. She is also a playwright. Her latest collection is The Conversation.

    James Simpson is an Arvon/Jerwood Award winner and the author of several collections of poetry including Hunting the Wren and The Rhyme of the Reddleman’s Daughter.

    Joan and Barry lead Chichester Open Mic Poetry as well as the South Downs Poetry Festival. Joan’s collection is titled Moving from the West. Barry’s collection Performance Rites was published by Waterloo Press last year when he was also shortlisted for the Bread & Roses Songwriting and Spoken Word Award.

    Music for the event is being played by the Stradivarius Piano Trio. The leader, violinist Andrew Bernardi, will be playing one of the finest violins in the world, a Stradivarius worth more than £4 million. He is joined by Maria Marchant on piano and Jonathan Few on viola.

    They will be performing music specially chosen to suit the theme of the occasion, including Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending and pieces by Edward Elgar. Both composers lived in Sussex.

    Richard’s widow Anne, herself an author, will be paying tribute to her husband in an address. She and Richard lived close to nature in a gamekeeper’s cottage in a wood on the West Dean estate. Richard was the son of Henry Williamson, the author of the classic Tarka the Otter. In addition to his poetry, Richard was the author of many books including The Dawn is My Brother.