Monthly Meetings: Some still on Zoom, but increasingly face-to-face

As COVID-19 seems to be receding, we are gradually moving back to holding live events on the third Tuesday of every month, after two years of zoom. However, some of the meetings that were already arranged, will still be on zoom. Details of which events are on zoom, and which are live, can be found on the Meetings With Major Poets page of this website. The details are also added as a short post to this page of the website, usually a week or two in advance. Most will be held at the Royal Wells Hotel at 8 pm (but please check here first as occasionally they will be held elsewhere.)

If you are not a member and would like to attend a live meeting, simply turn up on the night, and pay £3 at the door.

Meantime, we are also continuing with our monthly peer-to-peer workshops (for members only) on the first Tuesday of each month, also by Zoom. Members interested to take part should contact Marjory Caine (

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Poet John Greening at the Royal Wells Hotel, 20th June at 8 pm

Our next event features John Greening. John will read from his poems at the Royal Wells Hotel in Tunbridge Wells on 20th June, starting at 8 pm, following an open mic.

John is a multi-award winning poet, critic, playwright, teacher and editor with over 20 collections to his name, most recently The Interpretation of Owls, Selected Poems, 1977-2022 (Baylor University Press), and last year’s Omniscience (Broken Sleep Books).

John received the Alexandria International Poetry Prize in 1981 and a Scottish Arts Council Award. He has also won the Bridport Prize and the TLS Centenary Prize, and he has received a Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors. He is the recipient of two Hawthornden fellowships and a Fulbright teaching fellowship. He has also been one of the judges for the Eric Gregory Award. His poem “Sibelius” was chosen by Carol Rumens as her “Poem of the week” in The Guardian, 4 January 2021.

Do come along and hear John read his work on 20th June. Entry is a mere £3 for non-members, and the open mic is open to all (a single poem each, up to 40 lines).

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Judge’s report: our 2023 members’ (‘Folio’) poetry competition

Here is the judge, David Herd’s report.

It has been a great pleasure to judge the 2023 Kent and Sussex Poetry Folio Competition. I opened the file of poems not knowing what to expect and was delighted, intrigued and educated by what I found. The work submitted covered a wide range of tones, subjects, forms and approaches to language, and the overall impression was of a community of poets engaged in serious and committed inquiry.

Reading the sequence of submissions right through was a moving experience. The poems here are frequently dealing with difficult subject matter – with loss, with ageing, with processes of transition. Quite a lot of poems were elegiac in tone, and of course elegy is one of poetry’s great modes. Equally acute, however, were those poems which capture a sudden and drastic change of fortune, poems of job loss, of food banks, of economic precarity. These were plainly poems of lived experience and spoke strongly to the times we are living through.

At the same time, and as there should be, there are many poems here that take consolation and pleasure in the act of writing itself, in the poem’s capacity to summon memory or to open space or just to catch the world at work and play. I read the poems with pencil in hand, annotating as I went, noting effects and expressions that were particularly captivating.

It took quite some time to whittle my longlist of poems down to 24 and as I undertook the difficult task of selection I wasn’t thinking of the final portfolio that would emerge. On reading back, however, I am really pleased to see the range of work on show, from serious engagements with history, through delightful re-tellings of fairy stories, to ekphrastic poems, political poems, poems of loss and poems of nature.

If I missed anything across the sequence as a whole, it was perhaps the desire to really test the language, to find out through form or syntax what new things can or need to be said. But certainly some poems in the submission took on this challenge and I very much liked a number of pieces that worked more by accumulation and collage than by narrative and story. This is not an either/or situation, but there is certainly room for poems that leave the reader to make – or not make – connections between things.

What I most enjoyed about the judging process was the opportunity to engage with and glimpse the many different worlds the poems articulate. The winning and highly commended poems are especially strong, but across all the work submitted I had the pleasure of encountering singular angles of vision and perspective. I am grateful for the privilege of reading this body of work.

First Prize: Lüneburg – Michael Maltby

‘Lüneburg’ is a beautiful meditation on the complexities of place. The lines carry deft observations which cut in and out of history. Topography and politics are interwoven to present a setting partly haunted by its role in the period immediately following the war. The reference to Jan Wagner situates the poem in confident dialogue with a significant contemporary and opens the writing to another realm of reference. What really distinguishes the poem, however, is the care with which its tonalities are handled, allowing the lines to register the gravity of historical events. This is serious, measured, ethically complex work, a powerful act of poetic reflection.

Second Prize: Hansel and Gretel: Prologue – Amelia Dowler

This is an intricately developed and a formally highly accomplished poem. As narrative, the poem is a captivating re-telling of the Hansel and Gretel story. We are immediately arrested by the speaker’s voice, as the poem catches the reader’s attention with its quietly intriguing opening line. The glory of the poem, however, lies in the way the building itself is presented, the way it emerges from the forest environment itself. This is writing that gathers force as it accumulates detail, layering image upon image until the house has appeared. The poem’s defining tone is skilfully achieved and sustained throughout. This is beautifully crafted and highly impressive work. 

Third Prize: The Execution of Lady Jane Grey – Veronica Beedham

‘The Execution of Lady Jane Grey’ is a highly accomplished ekphrastic poem. The intersecting relations between speaker, painting, poem and reader are deftly handled. I love the way we are immediately in the painting from the beginning, Auden-like perhaps, and the way the poem moves subtly and seamlessly between the artwork and its composition. Across the nineteen lines of the poem we are given several histories: the history of Lady Jane Grey herself, of post-Revolutionary France, of realism as a painterly mode. But all the time we are in the moment, looking on like the speaker, and like the speaker we are left in a moment of historical suspense. This is elegant, thoughtful, arresting writing that catches art in its instant of appearance.

Highly Commended: Lighthouse – Martin Cordrey

‘Lighthouse’ is a quietly urgent and formally accomplished poem. The strength of the writing lies in the seamlessness with which it shifts from safety to danger. The transition through the act of colouring from therapy to abuse is powerfully managed. It is a compelling image of the way male violence enters and re-enters a life. The poem is an eloquent and important act of witnessing.

Highly Commended: The Buzzard and the Raven – Steve Walter

I very much like the way this poem is constructed through a series of discrete images. Each scene is meticulously presented and across the sequence as a whole we are given a sure sense of the force of nature in a human life. The phrasing is impressive at every turn and in each scene the poetic line is handled with confidence and precision. The overall effect is of images pressed in memory. This is skilful and affecting writing.

Highly Commended: The Sands of St. Ouen – Amelia Dowler

‘The Sands of St. Ouen’ is a beautifully narrated poem that presents both a vividly rendered scene – the beach of childhood memory – and the difficulty of a sibling relationship. I very much like the subtlety of the phrasing, the way metaphor shapes and enhances visual imagery, for example ‘the five-mile embrace of the bay’. The poem is skilfully comparative in its presentation of two angles of vision, the speaker and their more outgoing sister. But where the poem lands is in the shared space of the day and in the shaping hand of the mother’s telling.

Highly Commended: Rue Signoret – Clive Eastwood

‘Rue Signoret’ works by a series of glimpses. Through those glimpses – each one an episode in itself – the poem conveys a sure and arresting sense of the uncanny. The result is a kind of ghost story in poetic form, where we never quite know what sits behind the haunting. The poem is highly distinctive as an act of imagining and is confidently shaped at the level of form. This is singular and intriguing poetic writing.

Highly Commended: Dreams – Lydia Hill

This is a genuinely affecting poem of loss and grief. The power of the writing lies in the way the images accumulate across the poem’s couplets, and in the willed play of illusion and reality. The fact that the speaker invites the dreams to continue is the measure of the poem’s emotion. The closing lines, with the departed looking in, are deeply moving.

Commended poems for inclusion in the Folio

Smothering Blankets – Amal Garnham

January ­– Ann-Frances Luther

Dry – Clem Henricson

Persephone Rises – Graham Mummery

In the Dark – Clive Eastwood

Sussuration – Graham Mummery

Octopus Energy Saving Sessions – Jill Munro

Guitars in Ecuador – John Arnold

Little Fish – Mara Bergman

My Son at Cuckmere Haven Canoe Club – Mara Bergman

How to Read Water – Marion Hobday

The Fear of Dr Syn – Martin Cordrey

Joie de Vivre – Peppy Scott

The Farm – Satya Bosman

The Gallery, Trinity – Steve Walter

Unknown – Veronica Beedham

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David Herd awards this year’s Folio Prize

Last night we were privileged to hear David Herd read from his most recent collection, Walk Song (Shearsman Books, 2022). David’s poems are both poetically and politically charged, and he read them with appropriate passion and verve. Before that, David had announced the results of our annual members’ poetry competition – the poems that will be included, alongside the winners of our Open Poetry Competition, in Folio #77 to be published later this year.

First prize was awarded to Lüneburg by Michael Maltby. Michael is pictured here alongside David, receiving the Keith Francis Bowl, which he will retain for a year.


“I lived for half a year in Lüneburg and worked on a series of poems about the city 
without achieving a single satisfactory result. Obviously I can’t write poems about Lüneburg: 
so much seems certain.” – Jan Wagner

that evening when the poem
failed, there were traces of salt
on the dining room floor. 
even after our sweeping, grains 
clung to our soles.

they have given up mining for salt
in lüneburg – where the salt was worked
you can now visit a supermarket
and a salt museum. 
after a millennium of excavation everything stands
on still sinking ground, the senkungsgebiet,
where hollows and depressions
are carefully tracked
and wrought iron gates
have collapsed in on themselves
with interlocked bars.

we wash our feet and think of lüneburg 
– the belsen trial.
the salt is gone but not the wounds
the ground is too uneven for words.

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David Herd at the Royal Wells Hotel, Tuesday 16th May 2023

David Herd will announce the prize winners he has chosen in our member’s only Folio Competition at our next meeting on 16th May at 8 pm, along with the other poems he has selected for inclusion in Folio #77, to be published later this year. After this, he’ll read from his own poems. Come along and join us at the Royal Wells Hotel, Tunbridge Wells.

David Herd is a UK poet, literary critic, and Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Kent. He has published widely on Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Literature and for the past ten years, his work has focused on the intersection between literature and human rights.

Since 2010, David’s poetry has addressed the language of the ‘hostile environment’ and in so doing has sought to create spaces in which solidarities can form. He has been invited to read his work in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, India, Italy, Poland, the USA and the UK and his collections include All Just (Carcanet 2012), Outwith (Bookthug 2012), Through (Carcanet, 2016), and Walk Song (Equipage, 2018). He is also the author of John Ashbery and American Poetry (2000), Enthusiast! Essays on Modern American Literature (2007), editor of Contemporary Olson (2015), and series editor for Palgrave of ‘Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics’ since 2017.

David’s most recent book, Making Space for the Human: Non-Persons, Persons, Movement in the Postwar World, explores the history of the juridical non-person with particular reference to the period 1948 to 1958. Concentrating on The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Hannah Arendt, Charles Olson and Frantz Fanon, the book traces and explores the postwar discourse of non-personhood, drawing out models of thought from which a contemporary politics of human movement can learn.Making Space for the Human builds on David’s work as an organiser of the Refugee Tales project, on which he collaborates with Anna Pincus and colleagues at the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group. Through that work he has helped articulate the call for an end to the UK’s policy of indefinite detention. Refugee Tales makes that call by sharing the stories of people who have experienced indefinite detention. Stories are told as part of large-scale public walks and have been published in two volumes by Comma Press. Using the books as arguments for change, Refugee Tales has engaged directly with policy makers towards a change of law.


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Joint 4th Prize: The Old Hundredth, by Andrew Robinson

Joint 4th prize in our 2023 Open Poetry Competition was awarded to The Old Hundredth by Andrew Robinson.

Here’s what our judge Jonathan Edwards said of it:

This is a poem of sophisticated lyricism and emotional impact. Its opening section strikes the tone of a writer like Mary Oliver, as we get to share dawn with a speaker who’s observant and alive to his surroundings. I loved the description of the deer as it ‘jump-started,’ and the way the reflections on nature are set alongside the religious echo of ‘all shall be well and all shall be well.’ All of this is beautifully deepened by the revelations of the poem’s last third, which sends us back to the start to feel everything the poem offers us again, in this new knowledge. The poem wonderfully understands the intensity of direct address, and is a brilliant meditation on the nature of life and death.

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Joint 4th Prize: Apunda, by Ben Rhys Palmer

Joint 4th Prize in our 2023 Open Poetry Competition was awarded to Apunda, Ben Rhys Palmer. @BenRhysPalmer

This is what Jonathan Edwards, our judge, said about this poem:

Simply put, this poem made me laugh louder than any other in the competition. It gives its own unforgettably unique spin on the work of writers like James Tate and Caroline Bird, offering us the narrative of a unique relationship between an ostrich racer and an ostrich. What I love about this poem is its understanding – rare in poetry – that tenderness and comedy complement each other beautifully. The sentence which really gets me, every time, is this: ‘We had just two working legs between us, and as we lay there in a jumbled heap, I wasn’t sure which was hers and which was mine.’ I love this writing for its celebration of the imaginative power of poetry, and for its brilliant management of tone.

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Joint 4th Prize: My Life As A B-List Movie Star, by Emma Simon

Joint 4th Prize in our 2023 Open Poetry Competition was awarded to My Life As A B-List Movie Star, by Emma Simon. @simplesimonemma

This is what our judge Jonathan Edwards had to say about it:

This poem offers us another wonderful title and a highly original idea. It’s full of language for the reader to enjoy, real formal refinement, and I love the way the fantastical is smashed up against the everyday. Best of all, the poem uses its idea to get to emotional importance, asking the big questions of life from a striking new angle: ‘Is everyone freaked/by a spidery sense they picked the wrong part?’ By thinking through the real-world implications of a B-movie star’s life, the poem illuminates nothing less than our emotional relationship to our own lives. There are very few ideas out there which haven’t been done, and even fewer writers who can steer them in the direction both of linguistic inventiveness and emotional punch. This poem is a joy to read.

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Joint 4th Prize: Teaching English, by Andrew Jamison

Joint fourth prize in our 2023 Open Poetry Competition was awarded to Teaching English, by Andrew Jamison.

Here’s what our judge Jonathan Edwards said about it:

Few things obsess me as a writer more than the relationship between sentence and line, and this poem won me immediately by the energy and life of its single-sentence opening stanza. Drawing from The History Boys and Dead Poets Society to look at movie representations of teachers, that opening stanza zings and excites. The question then is whether the poem can shift us into new emotional territory in its sestet, and it manages that wonderfully, with its squirrel viewed through a window and its gorgeous last sentence. Teaching is absolute glory and absolute sadness, and this poem pours it all into fourteen wonderful lines.

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3rd Prize: ‘Da!’, by Owen Gallagher

Third prize in our 2023 Open Poetry Competition was awarded to ‘Da!’, by Owen Gallagher.

Here’s what our judge Jonathan Edwards said about it:

I trust my body when judging poetry competitions, because it knows better than I do. An involuntary punch in the air or laugh or word spoken aloud in response to a poem can usher it out of the pile of entries and into the prize winners. It happens in this poem for me every time I get to the last stanza, and a shiver in the back of the neck accompanies the speaker’s calling out to a stranger. This poem’s depiction of work, class and family reminded me of the work of Philip Levine, and the directness of this writing is hugely impactful, managing to express the emotional landscape of entire lives in single sentences. But oh, that ending, and how my heart is there!

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2nd Prize: Listening To Two Workers Laying Insulation In Our Bungalow Loft, by Roger Hare

Second prize in our 2023 Open Poetry Competition was awarded to Listening To Two Workers Laying Insulation In Our Bungalow Loft, by Roger Hare. @RogerHare6

This is what Jonathan Edwards, our judge, said about it:

I loved this poem from the moment I first saw the way its wonderful title runs into its first line. It’s a great example of a distinctive sustained metaphor, which is so well-realised through detail, offering us a powerful and compelling way to address an important and still under-discussed subject. I loved the way the imagery of snooker was used to describe the speaker’s emotional journey. Best of all I think is the really gorgeous last stanza, which beautifully describes a return to good health. Like Lawrence’s ‘Song of a Man Who Has Come Through,’ this poem movingly tells us that it’s been there too, and that it made it through to the other side. We all need songs like this one.

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