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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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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Prizewinning Poems


The Flowers of Madagascar by Anthony Lawrence

I pulled over in a wave of heat where he'd made a shelter
from strips of bark and a map like fold-out insulation.
As we drove into the sun, he said he'd been waiting
for a ride since dawn. I forget his name. His body had

a smell that troubled definition. I could summon
the after-rain scent of a horse just in from working
with cattle, or wheat sheaves stacked in bristling lines.
His name might have been Edwin or Colin. Whenever

he spoke, he tapped his front teeth with a fingernail.
By the time we reached the turn-off to the salt flats
I learned he'd been working as an emergency doctor
in Washington, where gunshot wounds were common.

When he said the word wound, sunlight sparked off
the callipers of downed wires either side of the road.
When the air conditioner rattled and died, I pulled over
to show him the raptor frames conservationists

had bolted to the tops of telegraph poles. As he stood
looking into the silent explosion of a nest, he began
intoning the names of resident eagles and hawks
on Chesapeake Bay, then paused to say the only time

he'd been in love was with an ornithologist who had
held his hand as she traced the outline of his thumb
and told him it was over. Over he said, as though
signing off on a handset. His name sounded like Orrin.

He spoke softly, about unusual things, like how to make
negroni cocktails using blood oranges and splinters
of vanilla bean. He explained that drinking his version
while listening to Van Morrison's No Guru, No Method                        

No Teacher could lead to a welcome form of catatonia.
Are you a religious man? he asked, as we drove under
a sign printed with KING WAVES KILL. A tsunami
warning siren crossed with a shark alarm began

in the shore break of my head and got louder the longer
I took to answer. Where the ocean meets limestone
as capped breaker or the low-fi turn of the tide, he did
not mention God. Instead, he went to the ragged edge

of the cliff to where a gull was holding its position
in upwellings of wind. When I joined him, he said I swear
I can smell the flowers of Madagascar. The gull angled away.
A wave stood up on the reef and broke over us.

SECOND PRIZE:Jenga Blocks by Natalie Whittaker


Fuck / Sunflowers by Inua Ellams


Pilgrims by Judy o’Kane

They’d been on the road
for weeks when they passed, pilgrims
tooting high-pitched horns, hanging out windows,
waving from white vans festooned with flowers, like wedding cakes

on wheels.
The boatman lit
incense and we drifted
in its wake, past men shaving

in slow,
deliberate movements.
At the temple, couples set their firstborn
into brass scales, fed their first solid food into

shaped mouths. 
On Christmas morning we climbed into canoes
that carried us into birdsong; we followed footprints that came to nothing.

Rapid Water Treading by Elvire Roberts

grebe bubbles through water
grebe is bubbly and grievously so
wears greaves on grebe legs black
greaves like a sexton a soldier tho
grebe is not serious not grimful
not po grebe is grebeful which is
plashful is panacheful is grebe
groove grebe dance grebe preen
reardash grebe do headyshake
grebe fluff tuftyruff grebe skim 
and dip and duck and suck for
weed is grebes side dish but grebe
loves to fish and fish love to grebe
because grebing is diving and jiving
and flapping of fins in tangos thats
twogoes tight between stones
now to grebe is a verb in hubburble
of fishlish where grebesent is joy
in a muddyful moment and mud is
grebesome delight is the matter of
grebery and so grebe and grebe on
into grebous night while grebe and
herringsue dive down to fishdelish
shlishlip shlub hubber hslush hlup

Dead Man’s Fingers by Graham Burchell

(Decaisnea insignis, Dead Man’s Fingers, growing in the University of Oxford Botanic Garden.)

but some may see moth pupae, bunched, bloated,
apposite in shades of twilight blue: faux-leather amnia,
guardians of the secrets of inner process
and their gluten cushions working a spell
to summon antennae, proboscises
and compound eyes.
                                      Hideous beauty
from body-bags of self-digestion, imaginal discs
in which may lurk the plan for wing pattern,
that mimicry of woodland shadow, bark,
shed corners or chapel-stone ghosts.

Given seasons, the chinsed seams would crack.
Some base need should push the oakum out,
break open these follicles like purses to reveal
black flagella legs coming, and heads still hair-gel wet,
wary with feathered probes to taste the air?  First taste.
                           First clawed-grip on the outer casing,
one hoisting itself. First uncertainty about breeze,
        the universe and that springboard sway.

The Natural History of Fireflies by Pamela Job

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Competition Results




We are pleased to announce the results of our Open Poetry Competition 2020, judged by Carrie Etter. The competition attracted over 1300 entries, and the prizes have been awarded as follows:

FIRST: “The Flowers of Madagascar” by Anthony Lawrence

SECOND:   “Jenga Blocks” by Natalie Whittaker

THIRD:   Fuck/Sunflowers” by Inua Ellams

FOURTH:              “Pilgrims” by Judy o’Kane

 “Rapid Water Treading” by Elvire Roberts

 “Dead Man’s Fingers” by Graham Burchell

 “The Natural History of Fireflies” by Pamela Job


“Skitter of Wings” by Marion Ashton

“In the Distance” by Kerry Darbishire

“Vacation” by Lesley Saunders

“The night someone threw a brick …”
“I watch Jurassic Park …”       both by Natalie Whittaker

“She says I have nothing to declare” by Elvire Roberts

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Carrie Etter and Open Competition Results 2020


Unfortunately this means we will not be able to hear the winners of our 2020 Open Competition, nor hear Carrie Etter reading from her own work, as planned.

However, we will post the winners’ names and their poems here on the website. (Winners have already been informed.)

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Jump, by David Smith

David Smith is a member of the Society and this poem was selected by our external judge for Folio #72, published in 2018.  A writer and poet, David is also a perennial local performer, and a driving force behind Voices.


Caught in that half-moment between sky and gravity
I am weightless.
I bubble-wrap that moment to keep it forever,
Locked in a place where no one can steal it.
It is mine, and mine alone.
I am the child thrown in the air.
I feel the hands slip away, the wind in my hair.
I am the fledgling blackbird
Taking that first leap of faith from the nest,
Unfolding my wings for that first freefall,
The ground rushing up towards me.

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Explaining Snow, by Susan Wicks

Susan Wicks is one of the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society’s most widely published poets, with collections from Faber &Faber and Bloodaxe. This poem won first prize in our Folio competition in 2018, and is collected in her forthcoming Dear Crane, due from Bloodaxe Books in June 2020.

Explaining Snow

Don’t cry, darling. It does that,
falling on a skylight flake by flake
until the topmost balcony is blotted out,
the ash tree all but gone. It falls like rain
but white, opaque – and bit by bit
the grey goes black, so when the sun comes up
it’s shining through a wad of white
that melts to tears and slowly
slithers down the slate. But what it also does
is fill the holes, the pavement underfoot,
cover the rot, the criss-cross footprints in the mud,
the shit, the chewing-gum, the polystyrene cup,
the weeds, the blackened flower-buds
and highlight each recessive twig.
Between this square eye and its lid,
look there’s a trapped leaf, and green in it.

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Open Competition

The competition has now closed. Thanks to all who entered. JA.

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Martin Hayes in February 2020

Martin Hayes was born in London in 1966 and has lived in the Edgware Road area all of his life. He played schoolboy football for Arsenal and Orient, and cricket for Middlesex Colts. Asked to leave school when he was 15, he has worked as a leaflet distributor, accounts clerk, courier, telephonist, recruitment manager and a control room supervisor. His other books are Letting Loose the Hounds (2001), When We Were Almost Like Men (2015) and The Things Our Hands Once Stood For (2018).

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Winter Gardens, by Phil Vernon

This poem by our Treasurer Phil Vernon  was placed in fourth place in our 2018 members’ competition, and published in Folio #72.   

Winter gardens

You see your gardens in the space between
the plants, raze every weed without a trace
lest it disturb the balance of your scheme,

deadhead each stem before its flower fades,
lift every labelled bulb to plant again,
and prune your trees and shrubs as each dictates.

I grow my plants so close they all complain
they’ve insufficient room to breathe, or sun
to drench their leaves, or share of summer rain,

let young weeds grow to be what they become,
and poppy stems and seed heads twist and dry –
then rot, when frost and winter rainfall come.

I watched you tend your silence constantly,
then found a careless way to nurture mine:
we’ve made our different landscapes home, and still

we touch each other’s quiet awkwardly.
But looking now, when winter’s worked its spell
of levelling, our gardens seem as one.

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