Temporary suspension of monthly meetings

In the current situation, we will not be able to hold our monthly celebrations of poetry in the Vittle and Swig, but we will be holding them remotely by Zoom, for members only. An email will be sent out to members with the details ahead of each meeting.

Meantime, we are also going ahead with our monthly workshops on the first Tuesday of each month, also by Zoom. Members interested to take part should contact Eileen Morrissey at lobbed@btinternet.com

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Hastings Sojourn, by Charlie Bell

Charlie Bell is a writer, poet and creative writing tutor. He has written several local history books, a distance learning course on Creative Writing for the Regent Academy, and authored or edited 25 books for Hodder & Stoughton in their Beginner’s Guide to Literature series. His poems have been widely published. He is also Chair of the Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival (sadly now cancelled for this year due to COVID-19). Hastings Sojourn appeared in our Poetry Folio #73 in 2019.

Hastings Sojourn

I went to be alone, but you were everywhere.
In the very pebbles where we often walk,
in the fishing boats, and net shacks,
in Love Café and the Kino,
in the crying gulls and the whispering wash.
You were in the multi-coloured underground car park
and the smugglers' caves and castle.
I found you at the Jerwood and in George Street
and at the crazy golf.
The kids and grandkids were there too,
their memories threaded with ours.
Wherever I went you were imprinted there,
countless years of pleasure and escape
wrapped in chip paper, marked by endless cups of coffee.
I walked and walked, and the more solitary I became,
the more you kept me company and eased my pain.

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Anna’s Party, By Clive Eastwood

Each year we hold an internal competition for Society members, in which an independent judge selects poems for our annual Folio magazine. This year’s judge was well-known poet Judy Brown, who chose Anna’s Party by our long-time member and ex-Chair, Clive Eastwood as the winning poem. Clive is thus the 2020 recipient of the lovely Keith Francis vase. Folio #74 will be printed in the autumn.


It goes wrong at the front door:
the woman who answers isn’t the one
who invited me. I explain who I am
but she’s still unsure, watches me
over the threshold then disappears.

I admire the brace of pictures
plus the space between them, guess
at the hallway’s considerable height
then put my coat on the naked table
and choose a door. On the other side,

amongst the beautiful people,
a man with wine in both hands
tells me he shoots, adding “films”
with a practised laugh. He owns
“a little place in Umbria” and a few

is that so‘s and really‘s keep him going
through a double refill. Twice
the door-opener walks past
and I make as if the shooter and I
go back a long way – but her nostrils

tremble like a suspicious dog’s.
When il direttore takes a breath
I excuse myself, scribble “To Anna,
it was fun, shame I missed you.”
and leave unseen so the welcomer
can worry all night where I am. 

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Mona Arshi on Zoom

So we can’t meet up at the Vittle & Swig, but some of us can get together with Mona Arshi on Zoom on 19th. May 2020 at 8.00 p.m., with an Open Mic session at the beginning. This meeting will only be open to members, unfortunately, and you will need to register your interest in reading a poem in the Open Mic with our Chairman, who will be running the meeting. He will be in touch soon.

Mona Arshi is a poet and human rights lawyer. She won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection with Small Hands (2015), and her second collection, Dear Big God, was published in 2019.

Mona was born in 1970 to Punjabi Sikh parents in West London and grew up in Hounslow. She worked for a decade as a lawyer for the human rights charity Liberty UK, acting on many high profile cases, including that of the ‘right-to-die’ campaigner, Diane Pretty, asylum destitution cases and death in custody cases.
She began writing poetry in 2008 and then went on study creative writing (Poetry) at the University of East Anglia (MA Creative Writing, 2010). Whilst she was studying for her masters she won first prize in the inaugural Magma poetry competition for her poem ‘Hummingbird’. She then went on to become prize winner in the Troubadour International Competition in 2013 for her poem ‘Bad Day in the Office’. In 2014 she was joint winner in the Manchester creative writing competition with a portfolio of five poems. Her collections “Small Hands” (2015) and “Dear Big God” (2019) are published by Pavilion Poetry, a new poetry press from the Liverpool University Press under the editorship of Deryn Rees Jones.

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Turkeys, by Lydia Hill

Lydia is a member of the Society whose poem Turkeys was selected for the 2018 Folio, Number 72.


A flock of fussing aunts,
heads swivelling, they cross the yard,
suspecting something.

The killing pen is draped with black
in the dark the turkeys are quiet;
one by one he takes them,
in his hands they do not flap. 

Head first plunge into padded cone
peashooter shot, slash, thrashing,
his last service, to hold the upturned feet.

He hangs them on hooks
we pluck quickly, before they cool,
feathers every shade of bronze, gold
the breast beneath sensuous,
quill like wing feathers require pliers
pores ooze juice onto sore fingers
speck-of-pepper mites crawl.

Before we fetch the next batch
he takes down the plucked,
they must not see, he says.

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Near the Footpath, by Geraldine Cousins

Geraldine Cousins is a member of the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society who lives in Hampshire. This poem was selected for Folio #73, published in 2019.

Near the Footpath

Dividing Hamlyn's fields from Day's
among a rank growth of cornstalks
sweet clover and stubble
one of the boys saw metal
sticking out from the earth
like a whale's fin.

With their feet and sticks and stones
they gradually unearthed
a large mound of mud-caked mystery.
A dead weight to carry home.

Again in my mind, I saw the field
as once it had been - packed with people.
Go and stuff your plough
you stingy old scoundrel
someone shouted at me
in my working clothes all darned and patched
my hopper round my neck for a scrip
with a bushel of rye inside

All afternoon 
the two brothers sat on the grass in the sun
their voices murmuring through open windows
as they chiselled away at leaden clay
to find at last a hundred-year-old 
iron ploughshare.

The kingdom of heaven is like unto
a treasure hid in a field.

Quotations from: Piers Plowman, William Langland. 

Matthew chapter 13. v44

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Adjudication Report on 2020 Open Competition from Carrie Etter

Carrie’s report is reproduced in full below. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank her for judging the competition this year, and also Marjory Caine and Chris Renshaw who put so much work into organising the competition, which attracted over 1350 entries.

When I was invited to judge the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society competition, I was delighted. Aware of the competition’s reputation, I knew I would receive not only many poems to choose from, but many strong poems in the mix. I also appreciate how much validation and encouragement such awards give poets, as in high school, I received a poetry award for young writers that gave me encouragement and sustenance for a long time to come. I hope all the poets mentioned here, prizewinners and highly commended alike, will feel encouraged when they think of their poems as the strongest out of over 1300 entries. That is a notable accomplishment.

          The first prize goes to Anthony Lawrence’s compelling, skilful poem, “The Flowers of Madagascar.” The first line efficiently establishes the situation: the speaker is a driver offering a lift to a man sheltering from the heat. Where the opening line presents a casual tone, the second enriches it with a degree of specificity that shows the speaker as an attentive observer. The fourth and fifth lines complicate the poem with a rich ambiguity—the speaker can’t remember his passenger’s name, can’t define his smell, and this uncertainty with the speaker’s reaching after fact continues throughout the poem: “His name might have been Edwin or Colin,” he muses in line 8, and in line 24, “His name sounded like Orrin.”

          Reaching after the speaker’s name proves part of trying to articulate the immensity of this experience, how vividly the speaker experienced another person’s humanity during this single journey. Distantly, the poem reminded me of Raymond Carver’s story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” in which two of its characters try to explain their understandings of love through personal anecdotes, struggling to make plain to another what they so deeply recognise and feel. Lawrence effectively conveys the pace of event and memory with his masterful use of line and stanza, and the precision of language and suffusion of imagery result in a consistently vivid, evocative poem.

          In second place, Natalie Whittaker’s prose poem, “Jenga Blocks,” created a comparably powerful while quite different immersive experience. Where Lawrence evokes the physical journey the men share, Whittaker takes us into a consciousness that feels distinctly urban. By using long spaces between the speaker’s thoughts, Whittaker recreates the thought patterns whereby ideas unfold and shift. In the second half of the poem we begin to learn more about the speaker and see their self-consciousness and anxiety, especially when they regard a girl in “an orange faux fur jacket” (so brazen and unexpected the detail recurs), “leopard print skirt,” and “black DMs” who appears “so confident     and real,” pointing up the speaker’s own lack of confidence and sense of irreality. Everything the speaker sees contrasts unfavourably with their own situation, increasing the feeling of unease, and the image of the conclusion underlines the distinction poignantly when they wonder, “where are the pigeons walking      with such purpose.”

          In third place comes Inua Ellams’ moving, world of a poem, “Fuck / Sunflowers.” In this narrative prose poem employing slashes that heighten the tension and contribute to the feeling of dissonance, Ellams tells the story of Tyrone, an inner-city black boy whose experience of the natural, rural world both uplifts and destroys him. By the poem’s end we appreciate not only why “Kelechi hates sunflowers”—whoever Kelechi is, they must have loved Tyrone, but also why Kelechi and the speaker would curse, “Fuck sunflowers.”

          The four fourth place winners are equally strong contenders. Graham Burchell’s poem, “Dead Man’s Fingers,” is linguistically and musically rich in its exploration of the strange plant, and I enjoyed the whimsical trajectory it takes as it imagines the seeming sacs as possible pupae, harbouring life. The quality of precision in the language and the imagery create a wonderfully evocative poem.

          Elvire Roberts’ joint fourth place winner, “Rapid Water Treading,” delights in the play of words and their music as it inhabits the life of a grebe. By using the prose poem form and eschewing punctuation and capitalisation, the poem creates a joyous, vital energy. Implicitly an ecopoem in its appreciation of non-human life, it makes all the more sense that by the poem’s end, human language becomes animal sound: “shlishlip shlub hubber hslush hlup.”

          Judy O’Kane’s joint fourth-place winner, “Pilgrims,” uses shaped quatrains to give a sense of the pilgrims’ lengthening journey and its pace. What’s particularly interesting about this journey is how communal it is, with walkers, car drivers, and boat travellers all making their way, it seems, to Christmas. When “footprints” at last “[come] to nothing”, the word nothing opens with multiple, simultaneous possibilities: the unimportance of the destination in balance with the importance of the journey; the seeming nothing that suggests a completeness, for nothing further is needed.

          Pam Job’s joint fourth-place winner is a prose poem sequence, “The Natural History of Fireflies.” It implicitly relates facts about firefly behaviour to a human couple’s, and that originality resides not just in the poem’s conceit, but also in the unpredictability and specificity throughout.

          I also wanted to commend highly Marion Ashton for “Skitter of Wings,” Kerry Derbishire for “In the Distance,” Elvire Roberts for “She says I have nothing to declare,” Lesley Saunders for “Vacation,” and Natalie Whittaker for her two untitled poems. As I narrowed down the stack of the poems I thought strongest, these persisted, impressing me again and again.

          My thanks to everyone who submitted to the competition and to the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society for the invitation. Reading these poems enriched me, and for that I am always grateful.

Carrie Etter

Bath, England

March 2020

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