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John McCullough

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John McCullough

Reckless Paper Birds won this year’s Hawthornden prize for literature, awarded for overall best UK book of the year.

On March 16, our Zoom guest is John McCullough. His poems have appeared in Poetry Review, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Poetry London and Best British Poetry. John’s first collection, The Frost Fairs (Salt, 2011), won the Polari First Book Prize. It was a Book of the Year for The Independent and The Poetry School, and a summer read for The Observer. His second collection, Spacecraft (Penned in the Margins, 2016), was named one of The Guardian’s Best Books for Summer 2016, and was shortlisted for the Ledbury-Forte prize. Reckless Paper Birds was published with Penned in the Margins in May 2019. It was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award.

When he is not writing, John teaches creative writing courses at the University of Brighton, the Arvon Foundation and New Writing South. He grew up in Watford but now lives in Hove with his partner Morgan Case and their cats.

The evening will begin with a short Open Mic, followed by John’s reading. What better way could you spend an evening? Join us for an 8 o’clock start for more poetry!

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Blind Surgeon, by Chris Renshaw

This poem by our member Chris Renshaw was published in the 2020 annual Folio, no. 74

Blind Surgeon

Don’t fret, I know my way around a body
after all this time. I’ll cut a straight line
from navel to collarbone, as smartly
as if I was using a ruler and red pen.

I remember the gleam of a sharp steel scalpel,
the tonal contrasts of the organs,
their bulk and form,
the pink and cream of healthy tissue and bone.

I’ll probe for the stone by feel, have it out in a blink
of my mind’s eye. You can keep it if you like.
The nurse will be ready with the dish, the swabs
and a needle.

We’ll stitch you back together,
seal it all back in.
You’ll find I make the neatest sutures.

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Free Range, by Sonia Lawrence

This poem by Sonia Lawrence was selected for and published in our Folio #74, in 2020

Free Range

Triumphant in success leaving a warm brown egg on the turn
of the stair clucking her joke and hopping six one-by-one
steps down with flapping wings squawking past the startled
woman and out through the back door into the farmyard still
noisily trumpeting her achievement until with a soft shoe
shuffle she scratches soil pecks a morsel as hens always do.
My mother twinkle in her eye cheeks everso slightly rosy
puts a box of eggs and the weighed apples and carrots into
the woman’s basket takes the money and thanks her warmly
but offers no other word.

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A Child in Spring, by Paul Hodges

This poem, by Society member Paul Hodges, appeared in Folio #74 in 2020.

A Child in Spring

A child in spring, radicalised
by the ferocity of flowers and driven
to something like God, by
a broken bird, folded and put away
in the long grass,
                                kept for later.
That same child, waking
among houses, discarded
like debris, shaping bombs like birds,
a detonation of starlings
                                     in a head
full of the memories of the ferocity
of flowers. That child wakes late
and lazy, turns over, itching,
cannot go back to sleep, balances
God like sunlight on his face, on his tongue,
Shapes words, rests hands
                                          like a gun
on his gut.
                         This morning, urgent with love
there is work to be done.

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Ruth Padel

On February 16th. 2021 we are fortunate to be hosting the extraordinary Ruth Padel, the award-winning British poet. She was at first a classicist, studying Ancient Greek and spending much of her life in Greece.

She now lives in London and has published twelve poetry collections, seven non-fiction works and a novel.

Ruth is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and Professor of Poetry at King’s College London where she hosts a popular series of Poetry And events, combining poetry with other areas of life and learning.

In 2020, Ruth published Beethoven Variations – Poems on a Lifeand also We are all from somewhere elsea paperback edition of her migration book The Mara Crossing, updated to 2020 to include the worsening migration crisis everywhere, and the effects on it of the climate crisis.

 In February 2021, Beethoven Variations comes out in America from Knopf. 

Our meetings begin on Zoom at 8.00pm and Ruth will be reading following an initial Open Mic opportunity. A fantastic reading is guaranteed.



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Eye to Eye, by Clive Eastwood

This poem by Society member Clive Eastwood was selected for our Folio #74 in 2020.

Eye to Eye

There have been many things for which
I didn’t weep, but latterly
all it takes is a stiff east breeze,
a few degrees of frost and tears flow
– down one cheek at least

for only the left eye cries: half is sad
or overjoyed whilst the rest mooches on.
Age perhaps, though is that anything
to cry about? As if, going for a paper,
I’m weeping for the pigeons, the grubby

redness of the pillar box
or the puddle I have to step over.
I dab at the eye with a glove
so the young woman in the shop
won’t feel obliged – though of course

she’ll smile the same perfunctory Hi!
whichever side I present. Walking back
the watery eye still waters whilst the right,
reminded of the woman’s untouchable
auburn hair, now too begins to grow moist.

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Google Scans, by Charlie Bell

This poem by our member Charlie Bell was selected for and published in Folio #74 in 2020.

Google Scans

The chambers of my heart,
the channels of my bowel,
the highways of my blood –
intricate, detailed, ghostly shadows.

Body turned inside out, flesh and bone
Revealed in street view.
Rotate 360°, no-one is at home.
Click and zoom in.
I am in the gaps you cannot see.

On a map you can’t smell the grass,
sense the mud, feel the cold,
or appreciate a stunning landscape.
You don’t see the badger killing the hedgehog or the hawk
catching the mouse.

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Kent & Sussex Poetry Society on the BBC!

A few days ago, our treasurer Phil Vernon was invited onto BBC Kent’s Dominic King Show, to talk about our Open Poetry Competition, about the Society, and about the role of poetry during these strange COVID times. If you’d like to listen, the segment is from 2 hours 11 minutes, to 2 hours 24 minutes in the BBC Sounds clip here.

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Sevenoaks Graffiti, by John Arnold

This poem by member John Arnold was selected for our 2020 Folio # 74.

Sevenoaks Graffiti

It had all gone awry…
Down the street, I stopped
to refuel and have a piss.

The graffiti above the urinal told me:
There’s nothing for you here in Sevenoaks.
Leave now!
So I took the A21,

drove south on autopilot
down the length of a late summer’s evening,
till road ran out – as always – in Hastings:

its cliffs, its flint-faced cottages,
its tubby fishing boats, its gentle sea
basked in a dwindling light.

I bought fish and chips and a Coke,
without being sneered at, shunned
or turned away;

and knew at once that somewhere
in this achingly beautiful world
was a place I would not have to leave.

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Still Life with Peaches and Avocado, by Mary Gurr

This poem by Mary Gurr was commended in our members’ competition in 2020, and published in Folio #74.

Still Life with Peaches and Avocado

In memoriam Maurice Weidman

Cross-hatching their ripeness,
dimpling the rugged pear rising
like an island, a hardened hill of lava
ominous and black amid the peachy lush.
Remembering Mr Weidman, eyes sharp
for the structure of a curve, the countless
still moments that make up a line.
            I drew him once, engrossed
in someone’s apple, picked out the light
reflected on his arm and on his brow
against the dark white studio wall in shadow,
and his face, eyes fixed forward, hand raised
in full engagement with the fruit,
in his element, harvesting.

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