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Elegy for two placentas, by Vanessa Lampert

Elegy for two placentas, by Oxfordshire poet Vanessa Lampert (@nessalampert) was awarded Second Prize in our 2021 Open Poetry Competition, by the judge Rishi Dastidar.

This is what Rishi had to say about Vanessa’s poem:

The second prize goes to ‘Elegy for two placentas’ by Vanessa Lampert, attention grabbing from its title – I can’t ever recall seeing a hymn to the body part. The poem makes its case elegantly, with grace (“Made to be lost / when your work was done”), wit (“I should have said thank you, / though you could not have pleased me then.”) and a keen sense of the humdrum strangeness that bodies are: “Oh unlovely fate of the unlovely. Oh strange trees / of purple flesh and red.”, before resolving to an image that is a prayer of a quiet, intense loveliness, the ‘humble female servants.” This is poem as magic spell, efficient in conveying wonder and rapture, reminding you that the every day is actually quite special.


Elegy for two placentas

You were the image of one another.
Made of me, by me, two years apart,
entirely unearned. Made not for me,
in this body’s hidden wet, no thought of mine
was required. No gesture of praise
did I offer the two of you, that came through me
into the dry lit world. Made to be lost
when your work was done. Cast into light,
when I was blind to the miracle,
that circled back to give itself once more,
and found me yet still blind. Forgive me
for how it was, when the world was only baby,
and baby again. My only boy, my girl,
the world and every star. I swear, even the sun
seemed mine when you were all and softly done.
I was lost to him, and after lost to her.
How unpresuming you were.
Slipped into the room after they had come.
Quiet finale, no commentary nor ceremony.
I should have said thank you,
though you could not have pleased me then.
Oh unlovely fate of the unlovely. Oh strange trees
of purple flesh and red. Oh trees
that bore a single human fruit.
I know someone held you, someone else
the other of you, two years on.
I know they found you both complete and spent.
I had no questions. My body merely gave me
what I wished for. I didn’t want to eat you
or bury you beneath a moon laden with light.
I wanted to forget you, humble female servants.
Loyal other mothers that came from dark.





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The Mundane Borders on Evil, by Ryan Murphy

Congratulations to Ryan Murphy of Gorey, County Wexford, Ireland, who won First Prize in our 2021 Open Poetry Competition.

This is what the judge, Rishi Dastidar, had to say about his first choice.

The first prize goes to Ryan Murphy for ‘The Mundane Borders on Evil’. This is a startling poem of which takes as its jumping off point a simple cliché – a line in the sand – and then proceeds to explode and twist it, as it becomes an exploration of who is an insider, who is excluded, who is allowed to belong, the violence implicit or otherwise that is threatened to those who cross that line. All of this is achieved through its full-throated embrace of repetition of the word ‘sand’ – it becomes punctuation, but also revelatory as it swirls in and out of focus. The sound, of that word, and the ‘lions’ too, keeps jolting you, and you can feel the energy and tension building as the lines run into the tight constraint of the form, a single justified column, meaning when the poem explodes towards its end – “we shall make our stand and draw our lines for the sand is ever ours and ours alone” – its force is stunning.

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2021 Open Competition: Judge’s Report by Rishi Dastidar

When I said yes to judging this year’s Kent and Sussex Open Poetry Competition, I had an inkling that there might be a higher-than-average number of entries than the contest normally receives: after all, it would not be a huge surprise that many people have spent the last 13 months writing poems as a way of thinking about and understanding what we have all experienced through the pandemic.

As you might expect, the virus, lockdown and loss featured heavily as subjects; what was also striking was the number of poets who chose to write in forms such as sestinas and villanelles, in most cases deftly and successfully; perhaps the ability to place a pattern on words provided some solace while the world outside was so chaotic.

My prize-winning and highly commended poems have emerged from almost 2,500 entries, and while they are wildly diverse in themes, tones and styles, all share three things in common: that they gave me a tingle when I first encountered them; continued to do so on repeated readings; and have lodged in my memory successfully, and thrillingly so.

The first prize goes to Ryan Murphy for The Mundane Borders on Evil. This is a startling poem of which takes as its jumping off point a simple cliché – a line in the sand – and then proceeds to explode and twist it, as it becomes an exploration of who is an insider, who is excluded, who is allowed to belong, the violence implicit or otherwise that is threatened to those who cross that line. All of this is achieved through its full-throated embrace of repetition of the word ‘sand’ – it becomes punctuation, but also revelatory as it swirls in and out of focus. The sound, of that word, and the ‘lions’ too, keeps jolting you, and you can feel the energy and tension building as the lines run into the tight constraint of the form, a single justified column, meaning when the poem explodes towards its end – “we shall make our stand and draw our lines for the sand is ever ours and ours alone” – its force is stunning.

The second prize goes to ‘Elegy for two placentas’ by Vanessa Lampert, attention grabbing from its title – I can’t ever recall seeing a hymn to the body part. The poem makes its case elegantly, with grace (“Made to be lost / when your work was done”), wit (“I should have said thank you, / though you could not have pleased me then.”) and a keen sense of the humdrum strangeness that bodies are: “Oh unlovely fate of the unlovely. Oh strange trees / of purple flesh and red.”, before resolving to an image that is a prayer of a quiet, intense loveliness, the ‘humble female servants.” This is poem as magic spell, efficient in conveying wonder and rapture, reminding you that the every day is actually quite special.

The third prize goes to Kit Radford’s ‘california’. This essays, in language by turns sparkling and yet freighted with darkness, a sketch of why the world’s eyes turn to the American state, its attractions and lures – especially the sense that it is where the future is made – and why this could be problematic: “every reckless teenage boy / now dreaming / of how he might destroy the world / with a single touch”. It is an immigrant story too, and this strand is exquisitely expressed, as are the costs of all this chasing after hope: “suffering quietly in meditations / and ugly carpeted prison cells / (disguised as san francisco real estate)”. The poem is powered by some deft line breaks which provide the platform for the gorgeous light-filled images that mean that, when the undercutting of them comes, we are left deliciously unmoored.

In no particular sense of order, my four fourth place winners start with ‘We have put him in the cellar for safekeeping’ by Rowan Lyster, in which a – perhaps misguided? – family have decided that for his, and the nation’s, benefit, David Attenborough must stay with them… whether this stay is willing or not is never made entirely clear, which gives the poem its unsettling power, and an opportunity for its bathos to paint darker shades: “Day 10, and somewhere behind the buckets / and deflated footballs, he has found earwigs.” That the poem is also a witty reversal on ideas of how we capture nature to preserve it only adds to its attractions.

Also in fourth place, Marion Tracy’s ’Impossible Titles’ is a bravura piece of conjuring, taking as it does a list of 23 potential titles for different poems, and leaving us as readers to piece together what a narrative might be when they are put together. That the titles in of themselves are so brilliant means there are multiple stories lurking here: ”6 Altercations  6 Consolations / The Extraordinary Laughter of Women” could be taken as something breezy or darker depending on taste, for example, and juxtapositions like that are to be found all the way through the poem. Each title has had ferocious attention to its sound paid to it, and overall it positively revels as it hits the air.

The next fourth placed poem, Mark Harrison’s ‘The Magical World Of The Strands’, in five delicate stanzas takes us on a musician’s journey through Liverpool and its past, and their struggles to write and record a new album, while trying to pay sufficient and lasting homage to their heroes: “Arthur Lee and Nick Drake / Take turns to whisper in his dreams.” The hazy air is shattered by the final two lines, which I found devastating – not least because the story is a true one, and some of you will recognise the musician who inspired the poem.

And in joint fourth place, ‘Jimmy’ by Deborah Thwaites is a morality tale of a mother trying, on Sports Day, to try to introduce her son to the fact that life is not fair: “’Everyone cheats in this world Jimmy it’s / dog eat dog out there.’” And yet Jimmy discovers himself – and maybe even happiness – in rejecting this deal. It’s an English Cool Hand Luke if you will, and the poem pulls off the enviable trick of being simple, relatable and funny.

Finally, I wanted to mention two commended poems that just missed out on prizes, and not that it is much consolation but I really didn’t want them to pass without some sort of notice. ‘Ghost’ by Claire Collison pulls off the remarkable trick of saying something new about the dead, with both a simple yet timeless observation, and tangible descriptions of scents. And Alex Toms’s ‘Etiquette for Living with Angels’ provides a beautiful description of how life with them might be both ordinary and yet not.

Thank you to the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society for both the invitation to judge, and the seamless and diligent organising of the process. And even bigger thanks to everyone who entered. I am always in awe of those poets who are courageous enough to submit their work to a competition, so thank you for your bravery and generosity in doing so. You’ve provided me with much companionship over the last few months.

Rishi Dastidar
Nine Elms, London
April 2020

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Prizewinners in our 2021 Open Competition

We are very happy to announce that the prize winners in our 2021 Open Competition, judged by Rishi Dastidar, are as follows:

FIRST PLACE

  • The Mundane Borders on Evil by Ryan Murphy

SECOND PLACE

  • Elegy for two placentas by Vanessa Lampert

THIRD PLACE

  • california by Kit Radford

JOINT FOURTH PLACE

  • Impossible Titles by Marion Tracy
  • The Magical World of the Strands by Mark Harrison
  • Jimmy by Deborah Thwaites
  • We have put him in the cellar for safekeeping by Rowan Lyster

The judge also wanted to recognise two poems as Commended

  • Ghost by Claire Collison
  • Etiquette for Living with Angels by Alex Toms

We’d like to thank Rishi for judging the competition, which entailed reviewing 2440 poems entered by 1093 poets. Thank you to all who entered, and congratulations to Ryan and the other prize winners.

We’ll be posting his report, as well as the prize winning poems, on this website in the following days.

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Competition Results with Rishi Dastidar

Rishi Dastidar

Rishi Dastidar’s poetry has been published by Financial Times, New Scientist, The Guardian and the BBC amongst many others. His debut collection Ticker-tape is published by Nine Arches Press, and a poem from it was included in The Forward Book of Poetry 2018. A member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, he is also chair of the London writer development organisation Spread The Word. Rishi wrote and judged the meme poetry challenge on Young Poets Network. He has also edited The Craft – A Guide to Making Poetry Happen in the 21st Century. Rishi’s latest collection, Saffron Jack, is published by Nine Arches (£9.99).

We are delighted to host Rishi on Zoom for the highlight of our year. He has been the judge for our 2021 Open Competition and we are excited to be able to hear him announce the results on Tuesday 20 April 2021. Our meeting starts at 8.00pm and will begin with the competition. Rishi will read his report and the winners will read their prizewinning poems. The winners will be published on the website after the event.

In the second half of the programme, we will hear Rishi reading from his own poetry. A cornucopia for poetry lovers! Do join us! (Open to non-members on payment of £3 at the PayPal link on the right of this post.)

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By Water, by David Smith

This poem by Society member David Smith was published in Folio #74, in 2020.

By Water

It’s lovely at night when the light shines through,
when the white of the page reveals itself
between the black ink waves
and you see, in the gaps,
the story unfolding.

It’s hard sometimes,
so many ripples, so much white noise,
to see the strands.
But you know they’re there. Waiting.

You could take a boat, row for the islands.
trailing a net to trawl the gaps
for their treasures.
They slip through
but leave a residue:
slick as oil, slippery as eelskin,
but the tang of it is enough
to get things rolling.

Come morning the tide is out,
the boat beached in a nest of pebbles,
but the gaps are still there,
shining through the blue,
and the light of the dawning day
makes sense of the darkness.

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Disposal, by Peppy Scott

This poem by Society member Peppy Scott appeared in Folio #74, published in 2020.

Disposal

‘Hold her dearly in your arms
And do not merely call her “baby”;
Say a name to calm your grief –
This leaflet will explain it clearly.’
(How, I wondered, could she ever need her own name now?)

This child I had failed to gift with life
Here lifted to my hollow heart,
A scrawny, wasted scrap of sorrow,
Never known before we part.
(And where, I wondered, will this little body be abandoned?)

Embarrassment – ‘We’ll see she shares
A coffin prepared for Christian burial –
But we cannot recommend
That you attend a stranger’s funeral.’
(Why, I wondered, would they tell this tale of bland duplicity?)

For that’s the sterile way they spoke,
A still-born story spun for my sake.
I assume she went in a plume of smoke
With the rest of the clinical waste that day.
(And anyway, I wonder, what difference could it make?)

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My Cat Nugget, by Martin St Clere Smithe

This poem by Society member Martin St Clere Smithe appeared in our Folio # 74 in 2020.

My Cat Nugget

My cat Nugget
When he sees one
he just has to go for it.
That mug. It’s
Empty.
Drained of tea
By me
I shout
‘No Nugget, no Nugget, no Nugget, no’
All pre-remptory.
It’s pavlovian
When Nugget sees mugs
He cannot abide
Not getting inside.

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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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