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writing competition

artSOUTH invited both new and experienced writers to respond to any of the artSOUTH commissions and exhibitions. Writers could respond by writing either fiction or nonfiction, up to 700 words. It could be a direct critique of the work, an emotional or imaginative response to it, or a work of fiction inspired by what the writers had seen.  

The winner of our competition is Keith Bennett – who responded to Susanne M Winterling’s Shelter – The Lighthouse of Fragility at Keyhaven Nature Reserve.

Notable entries were received from Francesca Branthwaite, responding to Elpida-Hadzi-Vasileva’s, Resuscitare at Mottisfont, National Trust and Simon Waller, responding to Graham Gussin’s, Close Protection at The Gallery, Winchester Discovery Centre.

You can read their entries below.

The Revelation of Venerius the Hermit

Suddenly it was summer
Small shelter from the sun
Scant shade for the absent swimmers
The sea the clue to where they have gone.

Now the wind sings October
No shelter from the rain
Which could never remember
The names of those swimmers again.

Just for a second, Sutton Hoo
The giant helmet on the shore
The treasure buried out of sight
The certain knowledge we all knew
About whatever had gone before
Was revealed by this fragile structure and the agency of light.


The Beech Circle

The Traveller shivered as he passed through the close circle of trees. The last of the weak winter sunlight was pulling away from the beech trees that surrounded him on every side. Dark enough to shadow the path ahead, thin shafts of light still tripped on skeletal branches, casting grasping silhouettes on the ground. In ages past, twisted shapes had been etched deep into the tree trunks, for the greater glory or dark purpose of some ancient god. These might have faded long ago into the encroaching bark, but for the efforts of some unknown devotee that kept them filled with bright gold leaf. They flashed and flickered in the dying light.

The Traveller could well imagine hooded figures, members of some terrible cult, lurking in every shadow, lifting their voices and souls to the worship of whatever unspeakable horror still lingered in these dark forms. Writhing in their timeless dances, ululating, bizarre songs echoing in the listening trees. Perhaps they waited for unsuspecting lone travellers to wander by. Travellers that would never reach their destinations. Instead, ending as part of some bloody ritual, their lives seeping into the hungry earth to feed the trees anew.

The Traveller pulled the collar of his coat higher against the biting wind.

And then paused.

His gazed was drawn slowly to the nearest part of the beech circle. The sun had now bowed down to the rising moon. The carved trunks no longer glittered but appeared to glow. They were… inviting. Beckoning the Traveller to touch, to feel. To become. Almost against his will, he moved closer and raised a tentative hand. His palm met the solid bulk of the bark. His questing fingers traced the golden rivers that flowed through the surface. They clung to him, began to crawl up towards his hand, swallowing his flesh. Drawing him into the heart of the tree.

The hand that suddenly came down upon the Traveller’s shoulder startled him out of his reverie, yanking him away from the tree. He turned and gazed up into the gaping maw of a hooded figure, the emptiness beneath the cowl going on and on. The Traveller screamed in terror and, pulling away, bolted for the edge of the treeline, as if all the demons in this awful place were chasing him.

The National Trust volunteer pushed back his hoodie and watched the man fade into the night.


He turned his torch on the beech tree the man had been touching. “And look what he’s done to the gold leaf!” He sighed and turned away, pulling out his radio as he headed back the way he had come.

“Hey, it’s me,” he said into the mouthpiece. “We’re going to have to go over the gold leaf on the circle again. I can’t imagine what the artSOUTH lot are going to say…”


Dream Dance

Yes, I can see you, but of course, you know that! Yet, you ignore me. If you won’t let me join you, then leave me in peace. I would rather be left on my own than have you taunting me with your isolating movements!

You devour my space to all corners, and visit me every night in my slumber, giving me a little relief from this concentration camp of horrors. For you, it is just a stage, to let your free spirits dance in unison. I envy you all as you immerse yourselves in splendid unity: fulfilling your purpose. But still, you will not let me join you.

You enter my mind-space as if you are on a stage: appearing from one point and somehow disappearing from another. Where will you come from next, you boys and girls of the silent dance of my mind?

Perhaps, I can influence your movements. Perhaps, I can control you, just as I am controlled by the guards of my day. I am kind. I am not violent. I can help you. I could be one of you, if only you will let me. Will you let me join you? Maybe, when you trust me. I think you will trust me soon.

I feel your swaying movements so close to me now that the air moves across my skin. My body tingles and my hairs lift as if to dance with your aura. I move in closer to see your faces. Did I see a smile just then? Are you starting to accept me? I will study your form and your movements. I can hear you breathing. I can hear your movements on the gritty texture of the floor of this dreamy dance. Why do you suddenly march or run or roll? These are things I need to know. Let me know your secrets. Let me escape this world in the day and stay with you. I want the same purpose you have as you move together in harmony.

Yes, I think you smiled at me; just for a fleeting moment, but it was a wonderful moment. It means so much to me. Maybe, you are starting to accept me, after all. I will wait: I can’t go anywhere. I am trapped here by day and have this chance to be spirited away with you. At least, I hope so. Hope is all I have in this god forsaken prison of inhumanity. Why am I trapped in this den of evil? Do you know the answer, my dancing spirits? If you have the answer, please tell me. I can tell the others in the day life, if you could just tell me. I need to know. We all need to know.

There, I think you smiled again! You did, didn’t you? We all know you definitely smiled at me that time. Oh, thank you for that smile of smiles.

Perhaps, if I stand here, right in your path, I will feel you connect with me. Here you come, you are going to connect. I feel you passing straight through me. My whole body shudders with the essence of your dance.

This time, I’m going to stay with you as I feel you pass through me again. I am keeping up with you. Can you see? I am doing as you do. I can feel you in me. I can feel you breathing with my breath. I am turning. I am lifting with you. I am keeping up with you in this world in which you live.

I feel your arms around me as we sway together, and I feel my arms around you too, as we lift together. Now I hear my gritty foot falls as well as yours. It feels so good to be free with you all; so good to be away from my captors of the day world.

Now that you allow me to join with your existence, I thank you for helping me to rejoice in the dance of the night.