John Donne Dreams his Still-Born Son Lives, By Rosie Jackson

Third Prize in our Open Competition this year was awarded to Rosie Jackson (Twitter: @_rosiejackson)

John Donne Dreams his Still-Born Son Lives

You arrive in a season of mallow and love-in-a-mist,
swim between worlds like a swordfish, eat little,
whittle wood into birds.

Like all kids, you break things – teeth, bones,
your mother’s heart. You like swimming in icy water,
retrieving almost-dead things under stones.

You talk to angels, know the exact hierarchy of cherubim
and seraphim, the pecking order from St. Michael down.
At night, I fancy your footsteps sound on bare boards

where you tread back and forth, reciting my poems.
I am a little world made cunningly Of Elements, and
an Angelike spright… You’re my twelfth and last child –

I hesitate to say my favourite – but it’s your face,
grown into manhood, riddled with sorrow, that I see
praying in the garden of Gethsemane. I like to think

you’ll intercede for me. When I hear your voice, I hear
my own warm vowels, the same firm passion, faithful
consonants. It’s strange how things are handed down,

like seeing yourself poured out again in a pitcher
of next year’s water. But you move quickly, while I
stumble after you, not yet one of the immortals.

Many times in dreams I lose sight of you. You have my
slightly hooked nose, slender frame, long-fingered hands.
You’d make a good thief. As you did when you stole

your mother from me, your tiny face so unguarded,
raw, forlorn, she had no choice but to come with you.
If I could but love our three-person’d God with one shred

of the hunger I have for you and your mother. See how
I fall to my knees each morning, yellow with prayer
as the ivory gates close behind you once more.

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Loch Coruisk, by Caroline Heaton

Second prize in our 2022 Open Competition was awarded to Caroline Heaton.

Loch Coruisk

The legends hang a variable pall:
flung peat-broth from a witch’s cauldron
or hollow carved from the black crags
by a giant’s furiously hurled boulder,
haar simmering above the water,
which whispers, sings you forward
to test your mettle on the shifting
slippery scree, till ripples clasp an ankle,
instruct you deeper in. Now shed
your many borrowed skins, let water
ring your limbs, inch by silken inch
initiate of the depths and inky chill.
Each slow stroke through cloud-reflecting currents
translates you and a rising wind urges: Begin.

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First Prize: I Still Dream About My Ex-Lovers, By Fern Beattie

Our 2022 Open Competition first prize winning poem, by Fern Beattie Twitter: @fernbeattie

I Still Dream About My Ex-Lovers

My heart is a wooden doll’s house
and in the top right chamber I’ve set off an alarm,
so now I’m sleeping in the left ventricle downstairs
hiding from the incessant ring of your accent.
It woke my parents but they’re not trying to turn it off
and my girlfriend hasn’t noticed though she suffers
from sleep paralysis, and I wonder how you’ve managed
to get away with this for so long, hiding up there
behind a locked valve like Mr. Rochester’s wife in the attic.
Although it isn’t Mr. Rochester you’re married to,
and when I open my eyes to compound my disbelief
that you’re still safe here, I see you sneaking up to my atria
with your husband. I think that if he is allowed entry
then I can’t be such a bad person. In 5 minutes
he will realise where he is, where his wife has been leading him
all this time, into the thing that pumps love around the woman
who stole her from him temporarily. In 5 minutes
he will smash a lilac vase over my bed, china shattering everywhere;
will set off a bomb inside my chest that kills only himself
because you’ve always known to leave me right on time,
green sweater slipping out amongst the blast.
My parents and girlfriend will rush down the grand stairway
in their silk nightgowns like middle-class guests of the Titanic
and I’ll follow, though for a moment I won’t know if it’s them
I’m following or you. It isn’t this that haunts me most,
though it does, so much that I wake up.
It’s that for all the ways I’d imagined him, in the split second
before he recognised me, he looked at me and smiled.
Genuinely. He must have had shards of glass for teeth –
the monster – or maybe just a mirror in his mouth.
But in that moment I saw what I had done.

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2022 Open Competition Results

Here is the report written by our Judge, Richard Skinner, with his general thoughts on the poetry he read, and then announcing the seven awards. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Richard, congratulate the seven winners, and thank all the poets who entered their work this year. We will be posting the seven winning poems here over the next few days.

Kent &Sussex Competition – Judge’s Report

The 1,440-odd entries for this year’s Kent & Sussex Poetry Competition were made up of an incredible and impressive array of poetic forms (villanelles seemed especially popular!) as well as a lot of short and long poems in free verse. It’s tricky to get long, free-form poems right, but it was heartening to see so many poets try their hand. As you might expect, the spectre of COVID haunted a huge number of these poems. Many of them were a celebration of personal freedom after brave struggle; many others mourned the passing of loved ones. No one in the UK has been left unaffected by the terrible virus and this was naturally mirrored in the entries for this year’s K&S competition. On a happier note, a lot of poems were anecdotes or accounts of funny situations, eccentric family members or strange encounters/journeys. Lots of nature poems, too. Many birds! I came out of a six-week period of reading all the entries with a shortlist of around 40 poems. When I looked through these 40 again, the seven winners made themselves quickly apparent. They all have that certain je ne sais quoi. Congratulations to them all.

1st Prize: I Still Dream About My Ex-Loversby Fern Beattie

I love this poem for many reasons. One is how skilful it is in building its world. The opening image of a heart as a wooden doll’s house is brilliant, but then Beattie expands and explores it as a beautiful metaphor. The poem charts the alliances and allegiances that love promises and then takes away. People move around the house, entering and leaving rooms, and the poem temporarily opens out onto the deck of the Titanic. Love is still in the air, though just around the corner, or lingering in a room like perfume… At the poem’s close, the lover and vengeful husband share a moment of genuine terror and the poem ends with a hard-earned gleam of self-awareness. Just wonderful.

2nd Prize: Loch Coruiskby Caroline Heaton

I’m a sucker for a good nature poem and they don’t come much better than this. But, of course, this is more than just a ‘nature’ poem; it is a poem about fusion with landscape. As the narrator gradually treads and sinks into the titular loch, so she sheds a skin, renews herself, finds a new way forward that is commanded by that final imperative: “Begin”. I can feel the energy in the poem – it’s all there in the choice of verbs like “flung”, “hurled”, “clasp”, “translates”. There are also some moments of lovely alliteration running through the poem: “pall/cauldron/hurled boulder”; “skins/silken/inky chill”. This poem is a great example of how, as writers, we should be physicists, not photographers.

3rd Prize: John Donne Dreams his Still-Born Son Livesby Rosie Jackson

The title of this poem says it all. John Donne speaks to his son, imagines what his life would have been, imagines him “reciting my poems” at night. The son grows older, John Donne older still, “not yet one of the immortals”, until finally John Donne loses the last sight of his child in his dreams. We learn that Donne’s wife also died in childbirth, making his loss doubly hard. A clear poem striking all the fine high notes. Heartbreaking.

4th Place Winners (in alphabetical order): On glassby Mike Farren

A wry, touching meditation that uses sentences, texts and songs containing the word ‘glass’ – Paul Auster, Blondie – and glass objects to trawl back and through the poet’s life. The poem uses glass in its primary metaphor as a reflector, but these memories are coloured by different hues as the poet moves through life. As the poem reaches its end, it takes on a more poignant, melancholic tone as the poet lists the people he has lost.

4th Place Winners (in alphabetical order): how to spell your nameby Mary Mulholland

This poem is a joyful, wildly imaginative and, in places, slightly sinister set of 12 instructions as to how to write your name. It variously involves chocolate, sparklers, balloons and fire. It seems to me that this poem is a kind of hymn to life. Some of these lines present ways of confirming identity to oneself, while others are far more mysterious. Others still seem like tasks that would be impossible to finish. All together a wonderful creation.

4th Place Winners (in alphabetical order): Night lightsby Helen Scadding

This poem is a beautiful night flight across the globe, alighting five times in different places – lawns, parties, rooms, baize, a caravan. The poem is a kind of ‘state of the nation’ address, with each stanza representing a loss or at least an acknowledgement of powerlessness. It is filled with light – blue screens, fire exit signs – and vast spaces, ending with a striking, almost apocalyptic image of orange curtains that “fly into the night”.

4th Place Winners (in alphabetical order): Gill Sans in the institutionby Harriet Truscott

I have read this poem a number of times and it remains as inscrutable as when I first read it. It will not give up its meaning easily. There is a play on Gill Sans being an actual person, perhaps incarcerated. There is an address of some kind, perhaps a meeting. There is a mysterious lily pond with its sinister safety grill. Apart from that, I can’t say much else about it, other than I will be reading it again a number of times. Wonderful.

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2022 Competition Results with Richard Skinner

Always an evening we look forward to, because it highlights the winners of our Open Competition and presents us with a variety of new poems and poets to enjoy, this year’s Judge, Richard Skinner, will be announcing the winners and we will hear the winning poems. Richard will also read his adjudication report, to help us all to gain insights into the criteria on which his decisions were made.

The second half of the evening will focus on Richard’s own reading from his poetry.

Richard Skinner

Richard Skinner is a writer working across fiction, life writing, essays, non-fiction and poetry. He has published three novels with Faber & Faber, four books of non-fiction and four books of poetry. His work has been nominated for prizes and is published in eight languages. As well as appearing regularly on the UK literary festival circuit, Richard has also delivered key note speeches and workshops at festivals and conferences in Brazil, Turkey, Greece, Spain, France, Germany and Ireland.

Richard’s poetry first appeared in the Faber anthology First Pressings (1998) and since then he has been published widely in print and online. He has published four books of poetry with Smokestack. His most recent book of poems is ‘Invisible Sun’ (‘Breathtaking.’ Roy Marshall). His next book, Dream Into Play, is forthcoming. 

Richard is a longstanding member of the music collective Pablo’s Eye, for whom he supplies texts and titles. His collaboration with Pablo’s Eye began with all she wants grows blue (1998) and has continued with their most recent releases: southlite (2017),  Tentative d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien (2020) & A Mountain Is an Idea (2022). 

In 2011, Richard started Vanguard Readings, a monthly live platform for new writers and established authors that to date has hosted more than 80 events. #VanguardOnTour started in 2016 and has so far made stops at Grasmere, Birmingham, Hay-on-Wye, Margate, Norwich, Leeds, Ludlow, Manchester, Salisbury, Brighton, Harlow & Frome.

In 2014, he founded Vanguard Editions, a not-for-profit press that receives no funding or financial support of any kind. So far, Richard has edited and published three poetry anthologies and eight original single-authored books of poetry, essays, stories, translations and art-writing. Richard is also the current editor of the annual poetry magazine 14. Vanguard Editions has an ACE-funded Social Action imprint that publishes books to support and promote marginal voices.

Richard is Director of the Fiction Programme at Faber Academy, for whom he teaches a variety of fiction and Life Writing courses. 

We are in store for a cornucopia of poetry. Join us on April 19th. at 8.00 pm.

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Aaron Kent

Our March meeting will have the usual Open Mic (one poem, max 40 lines), followed by a reading by Aaron Kent. 

Aaron is a poet and publisher from Cornwall, though he currently lives in Wales with his wife, Emma and their two young children. He is a graduate of Falmouth University’s School of Writing and Journalism and runs the poetry press Broken Sleep Books. He has recently finished his debut novel.

Aaron is a working-class writer, and particularly wants to advocate for more working-class voices in literature. He has had several poetry pamphlets published, and his debut collection, Angels the Size of Houses, is available from Shearsman Books. He has had work published or forthcoming in Poetry London, Poetry Wales, Blackbox Manifold, Butchers Dog, 3:AM, BAX (2020), Wild Court, Prototype, The Scores, and Prelude among others.

Join us at 8.00 pm for an exciting evening of poetry.

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Anthony Anaxagorou.

On Tuesday 15th February, the day after Valentine’s Day, it will be our regular monthly meeting, with an Open Mic (one poem per person, max 40 lines), and then a reading from the admirable Anthony Anaxagorou.

Anthony Anaxagorou is a British-born Cypriot poet.  Those of you who joined our workshop that he tutored last year will recall how impressive he was then, and if you haven’t heard him before you are in for a treat. Back in 2002, Anthony won the inaugural Mayor of London’s Respect Poetry Slam (now known as SLAMbassadors UK, the national youth slam championship). In 2015 he was awarded the 2015 Groucho Maverick Award for his poetry and fiction. His most recent collection, After the Formalities (Penned in the Margins) is a Poetry Book Society recommendation, a Guardian poetry book of the year, and was short-listed for the TS Eliot Prize.

Join us for an 8pm start for another exciting evening of poetry.

Anthony Anaxagorou

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Three Members

At 8.00pm on Tuesday January 18th., we are celebrating as usual three poets from among our own members.

This year, we feature Charlie Bell, Peppy Scott and David Smith, who were the prime movers behind the 2021 Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival, and have all appeared regularly in our annual folio.

Charlie Bell is a poet and writing tutor. He chaired the Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival and runs his own one-man shows locally, raising money for charity.

David Smith has also been active locally for many years, performing in many spoken word events.

Peppy Scott also reads and performs from her poetry and in 2020 was the winner of the Sir Philip Sidney Poetry Prize.

We hope to see you to start off the New Year of poetry with these varied voices.


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Christmas Scoop – Luke Wright

Luke Wright (poet)

This month we close the year with a reading by the wonderful Luke Wright. Those who saw him read as part of the Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival in the summer know just what a great poet and performer he is. Luke won the 2021 Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Performer. The Guardian said “His performances rumble with rage, passion and humour. You will leave his show brimming with energy, heart-pounding and brain whirring”.

Luke Wright was born on 14 January 1982. He is a British poet, performer, publisher, curator and broadcaster.

Raised in northeast Essex, Wright started to write poetry at age 17, while a student at Colchester Sixth Form College. He was inspired after seeing Martin Newell and John Cooper Clarke perform.

He formed the poetry collective, Aisle16, with Ross Sutherland in 2000. Aisle16 created three poetry/theatre shows uses video and projections.

In 2006, Wright began creating solo shows of his poetry. By 2015, he had created nine. He is the author of several books and pamphlets.

In 2009, Wright set-up Nasty Little Press, an independent publishing house focusing on poets better known for their live performance work.

Luke’s latest collection ’The Feel-Good Movie of the Year’ is from Penned in the Margins.

Join us in celebrating Luke’s poetry on Tuesday, 21st. December at 8 o’clock. The reading will be preceded by a short Open Mic so you can hear what our members have been writing.

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Jennifer Wong

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is jenniferw.jpg
Photo credit: Tai Ngai Long)

November’s guest poet, on the 16th., Jennifer Wong will be opening up our narrowed worlds to her different experience. Jennifer will be reading to us from her work after a short Open Mic session, starting at 8 o’clock.

Jennifer was born and grew up in Hong Kong and is now living in the UK. She is a writer and translator. Her new collection, 回家 Letters Home, published by Nine Arches Press in 2020, has been named a Wild Card choice by Poetry Book Society. She is also the author of Goldfish (Chameleon Press 2013) – which won the Hong Kong Arts Development Council Young Artist Award (Literary Arts) and a pamphlet, Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl (Bitter Melon Poetry 2019).

Her works have appeared in WasafiriWorld Literature Today, Under the Radar, The Rialto, Magma Poetry, The North, Oxford Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Finished Creatures, Harana Poetry, Asian Cha, Voice & VerseStand and others. Her translation has featured in Poetry Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, Washington Square Review and Pathlight.

Her poems have been included in anthologies such as Wretched Strangers: Transnational Poetry anthology (Boiler House Press, 2018), Project Boast anthology, The Birdbook: Saltwater and Shore (Sidekick Books, 2016), Eight Hong Kong Poets (Chameleon Press, 2016), Lung Jazz: Young British Poets (Cinnamon Press 2012), World Record: An Anthology (Bloodaxe Books 2012), Outloud Too (MCCM Creations 2014) and Becoming Poets: The Asian English Experience (Peter Lang 2014).

She has reviewed poetry and fiction for journals including Poetry Review, Poetry London, Asian Review of Books, Cha, Magma Poetry, and Sabotage Reviews.

She was the runner-up in the Bi’an Writers Awards in 2018. In 2014, she received the Young Artist Award (Literary Arts) from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.

Wong studied English at University College, Oxford and received an MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia (UEA). She has a PhD in creative writing from Oxford Brookes University where she is an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing. She teaches at Poetry School and also works as a tutor. She has worked as writer-in-residence for Wasafiri magazine in 2020-21. 

(Photo credit: Tai Ngai Long)

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