Monthly Archives: March 2019

Fiona Moore and Results of Folio Competition at the Vittle & Swig

Head and shoulders colour photo of poet in profile, smiling and relaxed and looking to the right of the page. She is wearing a blue and white top, and behind her is a bank of wild flowers.

Our guest judge and reader for April is Fiona Moore.  Based in Greenwich, Fiona Moore has an MBA  in organisational culture and a degree in Classics. In 2004, she left her Foreign Office career to write, working part-time for Excellent Development, a sustainable development charity specialising in sand dams.

Fiona served as an assistant editor for The Rialto for several years and is currently on the editorial board for Magma. She reviews poetry (Saboteur Best Reviewer in 2014).  Her debut pamphlet, The Only Reason for Time, was a Guardian poetry book of the year and her second, Night Letter, was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets.

Her first full collection, The Distal Point, was published by HappenStance in 2018.  It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2018, and shortlisted for the T.S.Eliot Prize.

We are moving back to our Vittle & Swig venue for the time being, after feedback from members.  We will begin our meeting at 8.00pm.  Fiona will announce the results of the Folio Competition, with readings of the selected poems from the members who contributed them.  In the second half of the evening, she will be reading from her own work.

See you then!


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Open Competition 2019: Prizewinning Poems

FIRST:            “August” by Alex Porter


History, of course, will fail to record
the drift of your breast to my hand
and the arc of your pale shoulder
through the sifting half-light of that last dawn.
Nor the cursive loops of our avid tongues
and the warm simoom of your breath;
not our giving and taking done –
nor your keening song to the rising sun.

Prudish to a fault, it will not set down
how you donned my Sam Browne and cap
to clown, naked, around the room –
teasing the sap in me until I spilled.
Or how you snatched back the shade and caught fire
then stopped, suddenly, as if stunned.
Stone-deaf, it cannot hear you say –
is not Sarajevo too far away?

SECOND:      “The Waiting Time” by Simon French

The Waiting Time

We apologise that an earthenware sky
floods meagre light into the booking hall.
That no luggage will burst

with anticipation. Grass of the runway
is currently unruffled by tyre.
You are not permitted to take a turn

around the time zone clocks, see your face
ticking in each city’s distant hubbubs.
Foreign languages

won’t be cluttering your ears, your mouth.
Should you decide to sit and wait
we’d like you to be aware

this is not an airport. This is something else.
No matter that you may wave
your passport or dream of sipping tea

from bone china of Boeing or de Havilland,
our customs and excise officers
have been unavoidably detained. Are unable

to explore you.
If you find yourself believing in arrivals
and departures, we would remind you

that the Ray Ellington Quartet
are providing musical enlightenment
in the control tower.

We do not sell Capstan or Pall Mall
should you contemplate inhalation
to steady your nerves.

May we take this opportunity
to disclose to you that starlings circle.
Our propellers are blooded.

We recommend
you leave by the nearest available daylight.
This is not an airport.

THIRD:           “Amy – Locked in” by Liz Eastwood

Amy – Locked in

Exminster lunatic asylum 1944       locked in


Blazing Trails Nursing Home 2018

locked in dementia

I stroke my dementia cat as the band

plays My Way I joke

with Elvis        he kisses my hand


I see tracers glide      bombs going off in


destroying my home in New Street

dog fights       ash snows down       I hide with

G.I. Joe


this home is hell                    I cry

take me to my bungalow

don’t make up those lies

I’m very well                           please let me go


Joe courts me                        dies on D Day

there’s this boy                      in the next town

Tom’s mother advises                try Amy

I have his kids                       I mix up then down


at the home                I try  and try

to recall                      the man’s name

he cries Oh Mum      cries and cries

who are you               I fall in to my scream


I discover that Tom’s first love

has his baby               I fall in to hell

I wish the child well              he moves

our whole family       to his nurse in Cornwall


in the home I know the worst

I was always a meek girl      not brave

I would never speak up or go first

so that is how he managed to have

his nurse woman                  all our life

I slash out with war trench knife


I am a child                around eight years old

I drive needles through my hands

see the scars?                        nurse falls cold

blood red

because father comes to my bed    his



give me my pills         the drug trolley rolls away

I must be ill                my mind is locked for

another day


FOURTH:      “Hiraeth”  by Jan Norton


Sometimes he dreams of that village by the sea
that clung to the cliffside, bruised by winter swell and wind,

rainbow doors, windows muffled  by lace curtains,
scoured doorsteps, the stony chapel on the hill

that frowned down on the yawning morning streets,
the suck of surf on sand, the harbour’s open mouth,

the hiss of waves, thunder clouds loud on the horizon,
his father’s fishing boat, shrinking out of sight.

FOURTH: “Why We Did What We Did When We Did” by Ian Royce  Chamberlain

Why We Did What We Did When We Did

because we could
swing through trees
sail against the breeze
take our chances in the dark
not having heard of consequences
broke down fences
started fires in silly places
like that party where the girl
got pregnant in the bathroom
tied the knots but cut the rope
came crawling back to say our sorries
and tomorrow
did what we did all over
strayed like tomcats
dead-end tracks to not-quite-glory
swallowed everything on offer tasted nothing
thank you Leonard for that line
your wisdom wasted on us
made our beds and lay on them
in silence but not listening
scratched our stories in the sand
accepted that the tide would wipe them but
never guessed how soon
and now the beach is emptying
while those of us who’re left
in charge of everything we’ve learned
are somehow caught unprepared
to find the sun going down


FOURTH:  “The Sea Children” by Madeleine Skipsey

the sea children

speak; hush child;
the waves will see you now.
an azure blanket offers
you more than just sleep.
it will whittle you down carefully,
lay you to rest
in a place we have yet to ruin

you, drowning
in a counterfeit suit
her, pushing your body
anywhere upwards
go, my love, go

the priest tells us that we will be forgiven
that it’s enough to be forgiven
he tells us the men in pressed shirts
talking on the television
mean well, are Christian at heart
if not on paper
and so amen to that

in the days before these
you could say there was peace

some days I am still waiting
for the funerals of people
who, in unison, danced
acrid smoke circles.
and now, konjo,
where are the bodies;
held hostage by sirens and seaweed.


FOURTH “A Lead Pellet”  by Harrison Collett

A lead pellet

A lead pellet
pierces the wing
of a starling on the power line
and the schoolboys cheer
from an A-frame window
of a hay barn

they play Vietcong
with their B.B. guns
where the birds are
black bombers
and bales of hay
the musty underbrush of Saigon

the bird tumbles
from its perch
to the asphalt below
to the schoolgirls
skipping with tight pigtails
their gazes skyward

another shot rings out
and pierces the other wing
the beast now
barely visible beneath
the dust and shadow
of its brothers taking flight

and the boys gallop
in tidy squares
to the beat of
a rope slapping
against the hard earth
and the feeble cries

of fallen zipperheads,
or rather bombers,
or rather simply
a bird into which
a little town
has poured its anxieties


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March 20, 2019 · 9:36 am

Open Competition 2019 Judge’s Report

The Judge’s Report – Ruth o’Callaghan

The Kent and Sussex Poetry Competition proved to be a hugely challenging task: to select one winner from one thousand seven hundred and sixteen poems which covered the whole gamut of emotion and experience. What was evident in each of the poems was the desire to share the thoughts, the philosophy, the learning from life – whether good or notso-good – the social concerns, ecological concerns, the warmth of a mother’s/ grandmother’s love, the rejection by friend or lover, an ekphrastic response to a gallery visit, a world viewed through surrealistic eyes or a simple description of a common garden flower…. A Herculean task indeed.

Approaching it necessitated re-assessing all that had been taught to me over the years, whether within workshops attended or workshops I lead – am always surprised how much there is to learn from the poets participating in our workshops. The different publishers’ advice amassed over a long span – both my own, those I work with through the venues we run and the course undertaken with the poetry editor of Faber over a decade ago – all were reflected upon, notes re-visited.

Poetry appears, when one is beginning, to be littered with ‘rules’. Basic instructions are given to every novice poet e.g. if possible do not use adjectives or if you have to employ an adjective make it memorable, flew into one’s mind only for that, too, to be questioned. Yes, too many predictable adjectives can destroy the poem as too many cheap sweets can destroy one’s gustatory perception. However, if one imagines the poem as a dish which reveals its different layers of herbs and spices, subtle sweetness balanced by a certain sharpness, and one is able to utilise an adjective, or even adjectives, in a similar manner then each one will justify its place within, and indeed, enhance the poem.

Similarly, an adjective need not be unusual to be memorable – a single, simple adjective, well-placed, can transform a line. This is the joy of poetry: the unity between language, resonance and the confounding of expectation.

And joy was in abundance in the reading of the poems in The Kent and Sussex Poetry Competition. I’d like to thank all the poets who submitted their precious words – adjudication of them taught me so much, furthered my own poetry horizons, made me a privileged member of this planet in ‘working’ with you all. Hopefully, we will work together again in other circumstances.

Thanks also to members of the Poetry Society Committee for the advice and guidance as to the rules of the Competition. Finally, I would like to say how mortified I am not to be able to attend the prize-winning ceremony on March 19th. I would particularly have like to meet with all the poets who produced such outstanding work. Unfortunately, I had a prior commitment which I must honour.  I sincerely hope that you understand.

All good wishes

Ruth o’Callaghan 25th January 2019

First Prize: August by Alex Porter

The casual, matter-of-factness of the opening line both mirrors and heightens the sensuality in the following line. The reader is drawn gently into the precursor of love-making seen through the sifting half-light. Here, perhaps, is an example of two adjectives enhancing the noun. (Although half-light may possibly be deemed to be the noun) Had the poet merely written half-light, it would have been acceptable but rather ordinary. The additional sifting conveys the dream quality as their passion is aroused – eloquently conveyed through the graphic description of their tongues’ movements. However, consummation will be forestalled and the life-force left to spill uselessly – as, indeed, the last line reveals, that so much else will also be wasted.

Throughout, the poem hints at a certain darkness – there is keening and a Sam Browne and cap – associations with death and war – yet because she is dancing naked, teasing, we, on first reading, may overlook their import. Similarly, although line four states that last dawn, this may be attributed to the final days of a holiday – the impact muted by the description of their increasing intensity and the introduction of that wonderful word simoom. Nothing prepares us for Sarajevo.

Once given this information, further reading emphasises both the above clues, the significance of the title and the role of History – throughout the poem it is the dispassionate observer: in war it remains merely a chronicler of events. A cleverly constructed warm/chilling poem. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Second Prize: The Waiting Time by Simon French

Kafka-esque is the only description for this intriguing poem. The scenario is so familiar – that long drawn out wait in the airport lounge where we try to calm our nerves or not demonstrate impatience by raiding the duty free. However, the poet has twisted the usual perception of airport angst just half a notch transporting the reader to a strangely recognisable reality firmly embedded within the surreal.

The poem opens with a familiar/unfamiliar apology. It is, superficially, delivered to re-assure but reveals a world of menace which is rooted in the seeming adjustment of all that about which we have previously complained. Not only will our luggage remain intact but neither will we, islanders that we are, be bothered by foreign tongues – cheers from Brexiteers? – and those tiresome customs officers have themselves been detained and Are unable/to explore you.

There are no cheap cigarettes but there are bloody propellers caused, presumably by circling starlings – those augurs of the Roman gods – but whether the blood is human or bird is not specified. Feel for Charon’s coin in your pocket if you are unable to execute the final advice to leave but above all believe This is not an airport. This is something else.

Thank you for a riveting read.


Third Prize. Amy – Locked in by Liz Eastwood

From the very first reading this poem haunted me. The beginning is stark: a life locked in from childhood by ECT only to end in dementia. The dates give a seventy four year span wherein other destructive elements/events have pinned Amy as securely as the proverbial butterfly to a board every time she attempts to spread her wings.

Each episode and the circumstances surrounding them are sparsely, but pitilessly. recorded. Ironically, her one hope, perhaps, of happiness/normality was shattered on D-Day – the liberation of France results in further incarceration of Amy in a loveless marriage, betrayal and manipulation into living in the mistress’ house until I slash out with war trench knife

Visually this poem is judged exact allowing space for the – disregarded? -screams between the facts, the self reflection. The structure, moving as it does between past and present, in conjunction with the well-considered line breaks, emphasises the final shocking revelation

because father comes to my bed his hands

The poem ends on a disconcerting note – the enigmatic insight after the final pill of the day has been administered:

I must be ill my mind is locked in for another day

Fourth Prize. Hiraeth by Jan Norton

A stark contrast to the previous poem. This simple, short poem, executed in one long sentence, encompasses a man’s memory of his childhood, the village, the way of life and expectations of a small community that displays lace curtains/scoured doorsteps and is governed by a stony chapel….frowning down.

Whilst all sentimentality is cleverly avoided – despite it being a ‘picture postcard’ village. One slight observation: although the yawning streets are to be vaunted – placing that adjective in such close proximity to morning is a tad too reminiscent of Dylan Thomas’ description of Llareggub. However, the ordinariness of the following line redeems it somewhat whilst the unspecified threat within the penultimate line leaves the reader to ponder upon the relationship with the father and whether or not he is still alive. The final line takes the reader beyond the horizon – not simply regarding the father but the reader also. Thank you.

Fourth Prize Why We Did What We did When We Did by Ian Royce Chamberlain

Why did I choose what I chose when I chose it? Because I could Because the lack of punctuation forces all forward – there is no time for pauses in these lives Because it is a summation of an era, a generation who rebelled against post war austerity, fifties morality, explored sixties sexuality tied the knot but cut the rope/came crawling back to say our sorries and then did it all over again! Because it has the exuberance and the desperation of those who swallowed everything on offer tasted nothing Because it has Leonard Cohen Because it tells it as it was, is and captures the bleakness of what it will be as we are caught unprepared/to find the sun going down Because I really want everyone of a certain era to read this poem. Thank you. I do not know which generation you are but I have a suspicion!                                                                                                

 Fourth Prize the sea children by Madeleine Skipsey

Lower case can be construed as a quieter form of text and it seems very appropriate for this this five verse poem beginning, as it does, with two contradictory commands speak; hush child;. Continuing with references to blanket, sleep, rest, one is in the land of nothing louder than a whisper. However, these are waves that are lulling you, drowning you. The chilling last line of verse one in a place we have yet to ruin firmly underpins that the root of all disaster that is to come is solely of our own volition.

Each verse is a vignette culminating in the return of the poem to its opening scenario – yet it has seemingly moved us once more to a different place with konjo – perhaps to Ethiopia, reminding us of the tragedy of that country. Thank you

 Fourth Prize A lead pellet by Harrison Collett

One assumes that the setting of this poem is America with its references to Vietcong, Saigon and even the barn’s A-frame windows seems to uphold this impression. Together with schoolgirls who have tight pigtails and skip on asphalt, we are in the era of the Vietnam war which straddled two decades 1955-1975, the throes of which took son after son from grieving families.

Little wonder then that it is apparently an everyday incident for boys to enact what their fathers and elder brothers are enduring by taking potshots at a starling. Through the pain of this unfortunate bird, we are given the devastating agonies of a small town. The ingenuous fifth verse provides the volta and the reader ‘hears’ the beat of the war drum as the boys/soldiers crowd into the square to claim their victim – the principal victim being. of course, the townsfolk.  Thank you



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Open Competition Results 2019


                                        KENT & SUSSEX POETRY SOCIETY



We are pleased to announce the results of our Open Poetry Competition 2019, judged by Ruth o’Callaghan. The competition attracted over 1700 entries, and the prizes have been awarded as follows:

FIRST:            “August” by Alex Porter

SECOND:      “The Waiting Time” by Simon French

THIRD:           “Amy – Locked in” by Liz Eastwood


“Hiraeth”  by Jan Norto

“Why We Did What We Did When We Did”  by Ian Royce   Chamberlain

“The Sea Children” by Madeleine Skipsey

“A Lead Pellet”  by Harrison Collett

Thank you for entering.  Best wishes in your future poetry endeavours.

Competition Organiser.

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Open Competition Celebration and Janet Sutherland

Janet Sutherland


On March 19th. we will be celebrating the announcement of the 2019 Open Competition results!

The evening will begin with a reading of Ruth o’Callaghan’s  adjudication report and the prizewinning poems.  The presentation will be made by our 2017 winner, Janet Sutherland, who will be reading from her own work in the second half of the evening.  She has a new collection out this year, her fourth full collection published by Shearsman Books – Home Farm –  and has also been published in a wide range of magazines and appeared in several anthologies.  She is a co-founder of the Needlewriters cooperative which organises quarterly poetry events in Lewes.  She received a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2018.

Janet was raised on a dairy farm and is now settled in Lewes.  She is a full-time working poet, editor, freelance workshop provider and mentor.  She studied at Cardiff and Essex Universities and has an MA in American Poetry.  Janet makes use of a great variety of lyrical forms, with off-rhymes, sonnets, ballads and historical narratives.  We are in for a very special evening.

Our  venue is The Bedford Vaults, underneath the Bedford pub, which is located opposite Tunbridge Wells station, and we start at 8.00 pm.  See you there?

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