2021 Poetry Competition winners

Main Competition  winners 2021


Overall Winner  – Kathy Brown

Unfortunately Kathy was unable to be at the Festival to receive her prize, but sent us this photo of her with her cheque for £1000.

It Could Have Been Worse

‘I’d love to bend you over,’ he says from a few paces behind me while I walk.
I manipulate keys between fingers in my pocket and mentally claim a house round the corner as my own.
I wonder how beautiful the world would be right now if I could lose myself to the depths of it: if I could be
alone in it and think only of how the leaves are dancing.
I wonder how beautiful the world would be right now if hungry eyes weren’t putting the weight of it
on my shoulders.
It could have been worse, I think, once he is gone.
He could have grabbed my crotch, like that guy did to my friend in a bar last year, grotty fingers rummaging
into her as if she were nothing more than a bag of crisps.
He could have held his dick in his hands and smirked at me, staring intently, like my neighbour did
when I was 12.
He could have abducted me, worse: raped, killed me.
It could be me on the front pages,
out too late,
showing too much thigh,
too drunk,
too audacious,
too willing to simply exist in her own damn life
and walk home.
‘It could have been worse’:
a short story about the poison spilt on these streets,
in this society where being told how much a stranger,
a few paces behind, would like to bend you over
is an actual fucking relief.
I wonder how beautiful the world would be right now if I could lose myself to the depths of it: if I could be
alone in it and think only of how the leaves are dancing.
I wonder how beautiful the world would be right now if hungry eyes weren’t putting the weight of it
on my shoulders.


Second place – Jenny Mitchell

Poetry 21-Jenny Mitchell and Jackie Kay

A History of Attacks

The first against my uncle when a child,
around his age but white, stopped on a road
near Kingston town. Perhaps it was torn clothes,
no seat to hand-me-downs my uncle wore
when young that made the child send out a fist.
My uncle says it was a manly punch.

It seemed to mark him out, that single punch,
as even though he grew in height, another child,
this time at school – a wooden shack – used fists
to knock my uncle down, climbed on his back, rode
like a horse. Long trousers were soon frayed.
His dad beat him for spoiling the new clothes.

In time, my uncle trained to be a tailor. Clothes
meant more to him than friends. He almost thumped
a stranger who stroked a brocade coat worn
to a dance, my uncle’s coming out. Such child-like
glee to join the Commonwealth. He led the way –
a wild conga – till the touch, his body a clenched fist.

Coming to the mother country, cold felt like a fist
right in the face. My uncle says his clothes
were too thin for the house, much less icy streets.
Friends from the US, black queens, made hot punch
at Christmas time, given as a gift. One said, Child,
you have to learn to hold your drink. Be warned.

He meant the Teddy Boys who roamed, wore
clothes to fascinate my uncle but used fists
to knock blacks into the next week like children
being punished by a dad. My uncle’s clothes
contained bright sun, made him a target for a punch.
When drunk, he staggered on the road.

But having been attacked out in the road
too many times to count on both his hands, he wore
a knuckle duster, kept this metal punch
deep inside a pocket, firmly on his fist.
One young Ted yelled Poof, pointing at the clothes,
bore down to beat my uncle as if he was a child.

He scanned the open road, ran at the youth,
began to curse, punched with his shielded fist,
wore out a face, took a breath, fixed up his clothes.



Third place – James Carson Lee

Poetry 21- James Carson Lee


Are you always late? Can’t make a deadline?
Do you always lose things, including your mind?
Is life generally harder than you expect?
Think you’re ADHD? Well then pick up this pamphlet.

Inside you’ll find out about your genetic power,
And stop your mind racing one hundred miles per hour,
Turning what’s considered an ailment to the normal and strait laced,
Into your new journey of the superhuman race,

Freaks, mutants, anarchists, the anti-hero,
All the above please apply, this is your ground zero,
For this handy guide will tell you how to unleash,
The unique gifts inside you, Welcome to the ADHD niche,

Superpower 1: Hyper-Focus
Cost of use: you take no notice
A psychic? Perhaps. A Cyclops, in fact,
Mind laser is locked, loaded, weapon cracked,
It needs a long charge before it’s activated
CAUTION: choose targets carefully to remain motivated

Superpower 2: Hard to Kill
Cost of use: addiction to the thrill
No matter how hard you get hit, body or head shot,
You keep moving forward, eating the lot,
Rocky Balboa, Deadpool, John McLean,
Welcome to the party pal, you’re Wolverine,
The amount of pain you withstand is obscene,
CAUTION: you’ve only got limited dopamine

Superpower 3: Mind Control
Cost of use: a piece of your soul
Naturally possessed with high emotional IQ,
Becoming Charles Xavier is easy for you,
Nudge theory, influence, charisma – full tilt,
CAUTION: clean up the mess or the milk you have spilt

Superpower 4: Berserker Mode
Cost of use: can’t turn back on this one-way road,
A Viking John Wick, all Hulk – no Bruce Banner,
As you become the personification of a loose cannon,
Easily vanquish your enemies whilst you’re enraged,
CAUTION: friendly fire engaged

Superpower 5: Flexibility,
Cost of use: guaranteed to look silly,
Creative thinking is easy your mind is elastic,
The mental embodiment of Mr Fantastic,
Sail over your next Teenage Mutant Ninja Hurdle,
CAUTION: stretch too far you’ll snap like a pizza eating turtle

You have questions, no doubt more than a few,
So, here’s our helpful FAQ:

I don’t have these powers how do I make them appear?
Hit the gym EVERY DAY, put down the beer,
Try everything you can – find a new hobby,
When you lose yourself in it, then you’re a somebody

My mind is hellish chaos? How do I fix this allegory?
Meditation, 20 mins. Mandatory.
This is the brain gym – start slow but get to work
Then brain dump in a note pad – go berserk.

If I’m a superhero what’s my weapon of choice?
A smart phone with no social media of course,
You’ve got a map, a calendar, and a notebook in hand,
Don’t forget a power bank as second in command

What if I do all this but fail and feel blue?
Always give something to look forward to,
Be kind to yourself, simple things are best,
Always reward yourself when pass a small test

God’s speed and good luck using your new ability, but remember with great power, comes great responsibility.


Runners up:

Hazel Rogers

Poetry 21- Hazel Rogers

The Calm Sea

It looks calm out there, I think to myself.

It is not cold, it is warm, and there is a soft breeze blowing on stones unmoving.
Suck, slap, suck, slap goes the water.

I disrobe, robe in Lycra, and forge ahead to the dip where the water sucks and slaps.
I look long and hard at the waves.
There is a whooshing rush that echoes with each suck, and I wonder…


I enter.

I am sucked in.

I become one with the suck and slap and suck and slap
and I am whirled and spun and flung like a feather on the wind,

I emerge onto the calm sea.
But it is not calm.

Beneath my naked feet I feel the growling underbelly of current, and I swim away,
away, away –
but all feels wrong here, in an ocean that seems calm yet is not.
I swim and swim and swim,
and my heart bubbles and churns and writhes like the water below my shaking body

I turn back.

I am inches from the suck. I am scared, so very scared.

I inch forth into the anxious shore, and I am taken once more.
She drags me under and I suck and slap and whirl and churn and spin and carousel
like a feather on the wind and I fear I may die under the warm sun where the breeze
blows softly and the sea appears calm but is not.

I feel alone.

My breath begins to break –
I break onto the stones unmoving.
I climb up the falling rocks on my belly, and weep.

A woman passes by with two excitable pugs. I tell her to keep them from the water,
for pugs cannot swim.


Marcia Morgan 

Poetry 21 Marcia Morgan

Let Me Be a Man

I heard my son say.
Let me breathe!
Let me be me.
Let me be a man.

Don’t remind me
I’m black.
I know it’s a fact.

My teacher
The policeman
Even the shop keeper
Tell me I’m black and I’m bad.

Stopped and searched all day long.
I question my thoughts.
My palms are white.
Are they stolen?

I am English.
No, you’re not.
Your African-Caribbean
No, I’m not.

Why can’t I decide?
School, uni, my boss
Label me BAME.
When I’m not an acronym.

A minority ethnic
What! Is white not an ethnicity?
Or is this white privilege talking?

I’m sick to death
Of this social construct.
This straight jacket
Straps like stereotypes.
Restrained by negativity.

Is my skin colour that significant?
To make me so different.
That others want to destroy my individualism?

What is a black man?
Is he, we different to white men?
Are we measured against them
To keep us beneath them.

This racism is sickening
It wont emasculate me.
I’m a man.
No prefix with black
Or suffix with bad.

A man
A man
A man.

Mama are you listening
Don’t be sad.
I’m a man
I’ve got this.
Let me stand.


Peter Wellby 

From Chalvington to Ripe

We walk the familiar walk
from Chalvington to Ripe
from Ripe to Chalvington
and I try to conceive the void
of you not here.

When swallows still will
stitch the shroud of the sky
with inexplicable joy
in loops and stalls
over the tremulous grass.

When yolk-eyed marguerites by the church
still will wave in bewildering radiance between graves,
when camomile stipples the field
with herb-apple scent and snow
as the west wind bowls over Caburn’s shoulder.

And your Downs will
undulate still to the south
from Firle to Windover Hill,
with a permanence we only played at.
And what does it matter now?

And the dog will falter and check,
stop and look back for you.
And we will quicken together
for the breath of your passing.


Jenny Abura

The Tiger Within

On the green in East Dean
Hundreds of marble eyes
Size us up and down
We are an apparition

‘Yes! We are Black Women!’
Femi’s Tiger roared out from

But its not over
Another disclosure
A chance remark
Invisible dart
Hit the mark

‘I didn’t know it was going to be
this busy today ‘

Neutral coated poison
Cast in our direction
Slips out his lips
No greeting,
eyes not meeting

Indiscernible crumble
Imperceptible tumble
Strong fragile Chalk
Head up, Walk


Catherine Redford 

Catherine was not able to be present.

Between Women Just Grown Up

In memory of Rebecca Marsland (1985-2019)

We travelled to Berlin that first summer.
You led me through the backstreets like a native
and at night, in an undivided city, no longer tourists,
you taught me the meaning of the word home.

I returned with a piece of a wall to nestle like a talisman
in my bedside drawer between turquoise scarab beetles
and a plastic Eiffel Tower. Now all these years later,
I find myself exiled, keeping souvenirs of you.
Your hairbrush, appointment diary, a half-used
reel of thread. A pair of boots, scuffed, shaped by
the feet that paced the roads
we walked together –
retrieved from under the hospice bed
when I left you behind.

It’s Berlin I turn to when I need to find you again,
the day spent at the market eating fruit
from brown paper bags; you bought a skirt
too bohemian for real life. My memory peers
over that riverbank – entered
through an untrained violin,
a breeze of notes becomes the score
across the fragile peach skin in your palm.
We thought we had the indulgence of rehearsal.

Those phrases sit with me now; movements
gently gathered and preserved.
Your warm cheeks in an afternoon sun
Your hand momentarily in mine
Flowers plucked from the dry grass with an absent mind
and sent slowly spinning down stream
A hope that felt still and rooted
The waive of a kiss
This is Sehnsucht, you’d tell me
if you could.



Student Competition


Florence Unwin

Ribcage Oberver

Sometimes I am shrunken small enough
That I can perch on a single rib
Sitting inside of myself.
I can watch my lungs as they swell and wither
Expelling with each squeeze whatever words are flung together
By whoever it is that chooses what I say –
What I say in the day to day.
I can see how gruesome
How grotesque
I am from the inside out
Pulsating, writhing, beating on and on
Packed tightly into myself like luggage.

Although at times it all dissipates
The rhythm of the heart, somewhere behind me, fades to a dull roar
And I am in cavernous space
An echoing hall of bones
Clutching for the substance that, only moments ago,
Pressed in on me with all its bile and life
Waiting for more than a whisper from Her without.
Turn your beady eyes inwards
To me sitting here
Finally recognising you
And how little you’ve become

Are you feeling this?
Do words still leave your lips, you pretender,
While I scratch at the inside of your skin
While I pummel you and press my face to the surface
Force you to see me.

And who’s writing this?
Me? Or you, the one who only thinks she knows
What she meant as she wrote it.

Joint Second place Chris Gates

Star Talk

Your old apartment block came down today;
A controlled implosion, it’s safer that way.
Gone your half-home,
Your silent sickbed;
Your unhappy cell reduced to rubble, rock.

Do you remember, lover-friend,
When I came to see you there?
You were a ghost
And I, a vulgar, living thing,
Held your frail and graceful frame.
I felt for our fires.
And found them gone.

Some stars, you said, have sad and certain ends.
Those lucky to be large
Will one day shed their shells,
(Supernova, noun and verb)
Where lesser lights will just blink out,
Fall inwards, and grow cold.

There’s a whole other world, you said,
A mere dimension-fold away,
Where you were well
And were telling my twin of this colder place,
Where all talk was gone.
All starlight gone.
Lost in television static.

And we lay on the bed in your halfway house,
The one I saw come down today,
Our gravity gradually giving out;
A controlled implosion, it’s safer that way.


Joint second place

Rosalie Nickerson

This is a poem I was inspired to write after reading the evocative play

SwarnaBoal (GoldenCatfish) by Selim Al Deen ( Bangladesh)

I have a cat,

But I haven’t got a fish,

So, I haven’t got a catfish!

My daughter wanted a goldfish

But I knew the cat would want to catch it.

She cried when we found it,

But we didn’t feed the fish to the cat,

Nor did we eat it for tea.


My father used to fish for salmon & trout in the Scottish waters,

It was his retreat; he was a pisces on the high seas,

I used to stand by and watch him throw the line out,

He would wade in deep,


Always proud of a catch.

His fathers before him rode out on the smacks in the north seas,

Their livelihood thrashing in the drawn up nets.

Eating fresh cod & haddock was a regular treat .

My grandmother always told me to eat some soft bread if ever I had a bone stuck in

my throat. It always worked.


The other day, down at the beach,

We found a pale blue transparent fish on the pebbles;

Never before have I seen such a beautiful dead fish on Brighton beach!

It felt so dream – like,

So, I started thinking about the symbolism of fish in a dream.


The sea is our history.

The ocean our eternity.

The waves are our constant renewal.

Sai Sath Slat

Sai Sath Slat