William Bedford’s The bread horse


Very pleased to be reading William Bedford’s book published by Red Squirrel Press, an independent press based in Northumberland and run under the editorship and keen eye of its Founder Editor, Sheila Wakefield.

I have long admired Bedford’s work and by pure happenstance chose his poem, Then as winner in the 2014 Roundel Poetry Competition. As it doesn’t seem to appear in either of these collections (and I love it) I’d like to share it with you here.



for Alison Brackenbury (North Lincolnshire: 1959-1963)

I had to kill them when it was time to go,
take my leave and catch the stopping train.
Rhode Island Reds they were,
kept for the eggs and kitchen table.
We tarred the wounds of the flock’s victim,
locked the hutch at night with twined wire.
If we left the gate open, two followed us
up the garden. One dared the kitchen,
sitting for a photograph on my shoulder.
I had to kill them when it was time to leave.
The one sitting on my knee was the tamest,
used to pecking seed from warm hands.
She seemed surprised, finding no seed,
not worrying I was going to break her neck.
My father had to fetch the farmer. I cried.
All twelve were gone in a heaven’s blink,
a grubby fiver, then biscuits and a cup of tea.
We sold them for the table. Our own stood empty.
Too poor a food for us in pheasant season.

Like this poem, Bedford’s others are haunting, his collections richly detailed, poignant and at times heart-breaking. He captures our history, our ancestors’ histories and the landscape inhabited by generations.

The Bell

They couldn’t afford to buy you a bike,
so bought the bell instead, a Christmas present
wrapped in last week’s newspapers. It still rang.
You clanged it round the house for hours,

then up and down the cobbled yard outside,
excited by all the promise a bell implies.
They never managed the bike. Lost interest.
Forgot it then said you were too old.

You kept the bell instead of photographs.
Photographs can tell lies, those summer smiles
on Sunday School outings, picnics with no cider
and sandwiches of bread and margarine.

You did buy a bike, the year you married,
and kept a promise nobody else knew,
riding the long clouds of purple heather.


I recommend you delve into Bedford’s world, be it the Fenlands of Lincolnshire, Mam Tor or Derwent Dam. I can assure you the journey is worth it.

For more information about William visit his web page here.

To order his book visit Red Squirrel’s site here

The Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre International Poetry Competition 2016


The Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre is delighted to launch its 2016 International Poetry Competition to celebrate the power of poetry across the world!

There are two stages to entering the competition:

1) Please visit the Brookes Shop and click on ‘Book Event’. Then you can register as a new customer and pay for your entry/entries.

2) Once you have paid, please e-mail your poems as separate attachments to poetrycomp@brookes.ac.uk You will receive an automatic e-mail in response, confirming that we have received your poem/s.

Please note that there is no entry form for this competition. We will match the details you submit via the Shop with your e-mailed poems. You can find further details about entering below.

This year’s judge is Daljit Nagra , the first poet to win the Forward Prize for both his first collection of poetry, Look, We Have Coming to Dover!, in 2007, and for its title poem in 2004. He is also the author of Tippoo Sultan’s Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!! (2011) and Ramayana: A Retelling (2013). Shortlisted for numerous prizes, including the T.S. Eliot Prize (in 2012 and 2014), Daljit was also selected as a ‘New Generation Poet’ by the Poetry Book Society in 2014 and is Radio 4’s first ever Poet-in-Residence from October 2015-October 2017.

The competition is open to both new and established poets aged 18 and over from across the globe, and has two categories:
◾ESL category (open to all poets over 18 years of age who write in English as a second language
◾Open category (open to all poets over 18 years of age).

The winners of each category will receive £1000 and both runners-up £200.

The competition deadline is midnight on 31 August 2016. There is a cost of £5 to submit one poem or £4 per poem for more than three entries. Entrants may submit as many poems as they wish, following the instructions in the Oxford Brookes Shop, but all entries must be unpublished work. Please read the full competition criteria and terms and conditions before entering.

To enter the competition, you must register and pay for your entries via the Brookes Shop, and then e-mail your poems as separate documents to poetrycomp@brookes.ac.uk

Kerry Darbishire Featured poet



Army Blanket

You’ve wheedled your way back in again haven’t you
like storm silt, coarse as Herdwick (and almost as old)
from the pile of linen bound for recycle on the landing.

Each time I pass I fold you like a lover’s jumper determined
to let you go – for someone else to hold, entrench new memories.
I squeeze the heavy weave and read again

the white and red hand-stitched label – a name
ricochets distant fields, comrades, mud-swamped
their night blood un-rationed to these dark threads

but I only guess at this. I know my father carried you home
to keep me safe from winters, and I smuggled you out in summers
to lie under pines held in the palm of a brilliant sky.

Into the starless vacuum of black plastic I stare, now wondering
why instead I wanted to buy a fluffy synthetic bed-cover
that weighs nothing in the scheme of things.

1st Prize – Grey Hen Comp. 2015




This morning’s sky steers me back
like a boat to harbour, a summer
of rain, board games boxed in.

I hunker down under makeshift sails,
weave a trail of long necked birds
beating yellow wings loud as waves.

Arrows inch to a musty tangle –
tweed jackets, stiff shirts, wood smoke,
brooched lapels, buttons clear as the bay.

A clock ticks, chimes four
wakes the hall tired as walking sticks –
a jetty where Granny scrubs blue china

with soap suds made from thinned pink bars
stuck together in a white sink. On a cliff top
moustached men and women in black hats

murmur a turning tide. I’m stranded
in mud-brown moquette counting
wishing my sister was only hiding.

Published in Ver Poet’s Anthology 2015


Kerry Darbishire was a songwriter in the 1980s (covers with Elkie Brooks and Hazel Dean) and now writes poems. She grew up in the Lake District and continues to live in a remote area of Cumbria. Since her mentorship with Judy Brown, the poet in residence at the Wordsworth Trust in 2013, her poems have appeared in anthologies, magazines and she has won several competition prizes. Her first full poetry collection, ‘A Lift of Wings’ was published in November 2014 by Indigo Dreams Publishing, and her biography ‘Kay’s Ark’ published in September 2016 by Handstand Press. http://www.handstandpress.net She is currently working on a second collection of poems.

Jill Munro reviews The Skin Diary

First published in the wonderful poetry journal The High Window


The Skin Diary by Abegail Morley. Nine Arches Press. 2016. £9.99. 978-1911027041.

The Skin Diary, a new Nine Arches Press collection from Abegail Morley, is the work of a poet with a blistering imagination and deftness of linguistic touch. These poems explore the thinness of the layers which protect us from the outside world and proves to be a journal of both the ordinary and extraordinary; the corporeal, the physical, the human, the mortal, the tangible and the intangible. It is a collection which lays the poet’s and our own ‘inner workings bare’ (The horologist and the body clock).

Quite rightly, the poet has chosen an absolute stunner for the opening poem – the Cinnamon Single Poem Prize Winner of 2013 – Before you write off your imaginary sister; an emotionally charged work which is worth the book’s cover price alone. Morley is expert in writing the world beyond the frame, what is not in the picture – a world which can include imaginary sisters or invisible friends to console her, where a woman can be stitched into being and a photograph that was never taken becomes a reality. The use of the trope of ‘what didn’t happen’ – as in … sister – ‘Memorise how she didn’t cuddle close for those stories’, ‘she’s not at your wedding, //taking the posy from your nervous hands’ emphasizes the emotion of these lines to an extreme level and for anyone who has lost a sister this is an unbearably empathetic, heartbreaking poem. However, this opener is only one of the collection’s multitude of excellent and innovative poems and sets the bar admirably.

Morley relishes writing on the body – and the strength of her imagery tattoos the mind. These are poems of fists, hands, fingers, palms, shins, organs, necks and knees both in the everyday and imaginative versions: in Summer ‘sun scalds // our scalps, necks’ and in The Archive of Lost Lives we ‘See stained fingers of childhood, no longer // mitten-warm, map worlds on sugar paper’. Rooms and buildings are personified, have bodies ‘as if wind sucked the room’s air till its ribs collapsed’ (‘Losing Elena’) and ‘This is the house he built, not of straw, but guts, blood,//sweat’ (‘Discovery’).

The speaker in these poems is often rendered voiceless: ‘Her voice, huddled in her throat, lets out only the slightest sound’ (‘Nesting in the wardrobe’), ‘Sometimes I phone her up for a chat, but a shriek sticks // to the back of my throat as it if has nowhere else to go’ (‘Losing Elena’). The wind in ‘After the Funeral’ ‘sounds like you breathing. // It’s cluttered, deep-throated, clatters somewhere//in your trachea’. The poems themselves, however, don’t ever suffer such a fate, with their lyrical flow and ease ensuring there are never any ‘rigid hidden vowels, // consonants scratching like lichen in her throat’ (‘Wrong name’).

The Skin Diary’s title poem appears to give the key to its essence:

…This stretch of skin loses itself
to things it’s felt, traps them below
downy hairs, tangles its dream in a web
of veins it’s carried all its life, never let go.

These are often poems of heart – of loss, broken relationships and death amongst other things – and of literal hearts, as in ‘The Cabinet of Broken Hearts’. This features both bodily and metaphysical hearts which are ‘Unwrapped, laid out // they resemble withered peaches, cracked // wintered-stones’, all for the reader’s inspection.

Other themes ripple through the collection producing a sense of cohesion to its contents: often water (some of the poems being drawn from the pamphlet, The Memory of Water, which arose from the author’s residency at Scotney Castle in 2015), childhood, time, birds and eggs amongst others. There is also a varietal tone to the collection which startles and layers, preventing any sense of creeping complacency. In ‘Paddock Wood to Charing Cross’ the protagonist daydreams in a playful way about a constantly spotted male train passenger: ‘I imagine you being Gavin or Brett, bounding down // stairs for a greedy run to the gym’, layering this playfulness against a tender ending where the poet imagines themselves at the passenger’s funeral ‘wondering what name they’ll grind // on your gravestone’ that it would be ‘rude not to go after all we’ve been through’ turning a whimsical poem into one which leaves the reader contemplating the many passing lives we touch on our way through.

Morley herself touches the reader in many ways with this vivid collection: with imagery, emotion, empathy, embodying (in every sense of the word) what it means to be alive, what touches the skin’s surface and what is below the skin; the beginning of the poem ‘Jacket ‘illustrates to a would-be reader what to expect from this striking poet:

I touch his sleeve
and it comes to life,
like it’s full of swallows.


jillIn 2015 Jill Munro had two poems long-listed for the National Poetry competition, was short-listed for Canterbury Poet of the Year, highly commended in the Sussex Poets’ Competition & the US Princemere Poetry Prize and had her first collection, Man from La Paz published by Green Bottle Press, London. So far in 2016, she has been short-listed for the Charles Causley International Poetry Prize and won the Fair Acre Press Pamphlet Competition.

Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry takes centre stage for poetry festival



Contemporary and unexpected twists in store for UK’s longest running poetry festival

– Readings from acclaimed actors Paapa Essiedu and Natalie Simpson

– Hip-hop poetry by Birmingham rapper, Juice Aleem

– Shakespeare in Space, an intergalactic musical poetry workshop for all the family

– Unexpected encounters with our poets-in-residence

The UK’s longest running poetry festival returns to Stratford-upon-Avon from 18 – 25 September with an exciting line-up of readings, performances and workshops featuring world-class poets and artists.

Organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the 63rd Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival celebrates 400 years of Shakespeare’s creative legacy with an enthralling programme of contemporary, diverse and inspirational poetry.


Launching on 18 September, this year’s highlights include readings from acclaimed Shakespearian actors Paapa Essiedu and Natalie Simpson, an experimental evening of Hip-hop, poetry and performance with Birmingham-based rapper Juice Aleem, bookbinding and creative writing workshops, a poetry choir with a programme of classical and contemporary choral work, an open-mic night, and a cheese and wine evening with a reading of Venus and Adonis in Shakespeare’s Schoolroom – the very place where he probably first thought of one of his most witty and sophisticated works.

Children and the young at heart can also join in the fun, with a lively, ‘intergalactic’ musical poetry workshop featuring Shakespeare in Space!

Poetry can happen anywhere, at any time. This year ten, world-class poets have been invited to be poets-in-residence at venues across Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the Unexpected Encounters programme. Supported by Arts Council England and the Danish Arts Council, Unexpected Encounters features a diverse range of distinguished poets including Jo Bell, Matt Black, Roy McFarlane, Gregory Leadbetter and Arjunan Manuelpillai, taking inspiration from observations and interactions with people and their surroundings to produce compelling new pieces. Special guest poet-in-residence (in partnership with the Hosking Houses Trust) is Danish poet Cindy Lynn Brown, who will be writing poems inspired by Hamlet. At the end of the festival the poets will perform their work and share experiences at a special showcase evening on 24 September.


Dr. Paul Edmondson, Poetry Festival Director and Head of Research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust said, “We’re really excited by the variety and diversity of this year’s programme, bringing a fresh, contemporary approach to poetry for the enjoyment of people of all ages. Featuring works by established artists alongside plenty of new writing from up and coming talents, there will be plenty of opportunity for people to take inspiration and try their hand at creative writing. We look forward to welcoming people from near and far to enjoy this fantastic celebration of poetry in the hometown of one of the greatest poets of all.”

The 63rd Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival runs from 18 – 25 September 2016. For the full programme and to book tickets, visit www.shakespeare.org.uk/poetry-festival.

Fugitive Colours – Liz Lochhead Scotland’s Makar 2011-2016




Liz Lochhead’s tenure as Scotland’s Makar from 2011-2016 is celebrated in the publication of a new poetry collection, Fugitive Colours. Poems written for public occasions during her time as Scotland’s national poet sit alongside poems about people, places, and relationships. Previously unpublished work is also included.

Fugitive Colours, Liz Lochhead’s stunning new poetry collection, begins with an intensely personal journey inscribed upon Scotland’s familiar landscape. The poem ‘Favourite Place’ recounts a habitual journey from Glasgow to Lochaber, made joyfully for years, now undertaken as a pilgrimage in the shadow of grief. This powerful, deeply felt beginning to a collection of poems from the years of her Makarship is a testament to Lochhead’s knack for the unflinching and the unexpected. These are not bland poems about public occasions, they reflect a life and honour its places, enthusiasms, loves, fears, and friendships.

‘An inspirational presence in British poetry – funny, feisty, female, full of feeling’ – Carol Ann Duffy

Befitting its celebration of her tenure as Makar, the collection joyfully invokes the poetic tradition. The most affectionate and attentive treatment is for the Scottish pantheon: the tables are turned on Robert Burns (and on Lochhead herself) in ‘From a Mouse’, for example, but poets as diverse as Ben Jonson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Lowell, and the Romantics en masse are all drawn into Lochhead’s referential scheme. Her reflections on the samples from other poets’ verse are incisive, invigorating both their work and her own.


Lochhead has long been a bold commentator on the Scottish cultural scene. Many poems in the collection pose the question of their own efficacy: again and again, particularly in the section of ‘Makar Poems’ on public life, the discrepancy between speech and action is interrogated. ‘Open’, written for the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 2011, concludes with the exhortation to, ‘close the gap between what we say and what we do.’ The sense emanating from Lochhead’s pages is that ‘getting it right’ on paper is to do something by saying it in the best possible manner.

Throughout her career Lochhead has been described as a poet, playwright, translator and broadcaster; she maintains that, ‘when somebody asks me what I do I usually say writer. The most precious thing to me is to be a poet. As a playwright, I’d like to be known as a poet in the theatre.’ The collection reflects this with aplomb; the corner devoted to the theatre contains a celebration of the reopening of Glasgow’s Theatre Royal, a tribute to David MacLennan and Òran Mór, and a rendering of Shakespeare into Scots, ‘Nick Dowp, Feeling Miscast in a Very English Production, Rehearses Bottom’s Dream.’

Graham Clifford featured poet


Plastic Jesus

A plastic Jesus is showing me
his cartoon heart.
He is crying dryly and smiling,
opening the flesh like curtains.
There are no ribs in there,
just his plump, playing-card heart
made of plastic.
It doesn’t matter to me
that it is Jesus.
It could just as well be
the woman in the park
who can’t stop running. Who runs
in a coat and cheap work shoes;
she could be opening her plastic shin
to display an injection-moulded vignette
of what it was that happened
that makes her run all the time.
Or it could be a simplified stray stood up
bearing his insides with two paws,
looking in with us at
some mess from bins
and a yellowing organ.

If it was me I would be
uncovering my throat.
It hasn’t even been niggling
but just seems
more there,
giving the impression that
in the dark moistness where words come from
something to do with
the rest of my life
might be about to begin to begin.


Graham Clifford’s book, The Hitting Game, is published by Seren, as is his prize winning pamphlet, Welcome Back to the Country. Plastic Jesus is taken from his forthcoming pamphlet, Computer Generated Crash Test Dummies, published by The Black Light Engine Room, a brave and innovative small press based in Middlesbrough. Graham is a head teacher in East London.

Helen Harrison Featured Poet


Glad I can’t mould sea, like land,
It just seeps into my soul, through
My fingers –

Out of my hands. Poems like
Broken shells; fragments of
A person’s life;

All weakness, and strengths –
Exposed to the bite….


Helen Harrison was raised on the Wirral, seven miles from Liverpool, by Irish parents, and has lived most of her adult life in Co Monaghan, Ireland, where she is married with a grown-up daughter.

She has had poems published in A New Ulster, North West Words, Mad Swirl, The Galway Review, The Bray Journal, and Poethead blog.

Her first collection of poetry ‘The Last Fire’ was published during 2015 by Lapwing.

Helen has been Guest Reader read at venues in Ireland including O’Bheal Poetry Readings in Cork, and The White House Readings’ in Limerick. Some of her poetry can be found at: http://poetry4on.blogspot.ie/

Behind the Curtain: A poetry challenge with the V&A










For this brand new poetry challenge with the V&A Museum, Young Poets Network is asking you to step away from the bright stage lights, and go backstage into the murkier world behind the curtain. This challenge is open to poets up to the age of 25, from anywhere in the world. Prizes: publication on Young Poets Network, a sought-after YPN notebook, and other assorted poetry goodies….

How to Enter

This challenge is open to poets up to the age of 25, from anywhere in the world. The deadline for all entries is 12 August 2016.

You can send a page poem written down, or a performance poem as a video or as an audio file. Send as many poems as you like.

Entry details here: Behind the Curtain

The V&A’s Curtain Up exhibition is a free and immersive theatrical experience taking visitors from the stage, to the design workshops and through the history of the awards to the red carpet. For more information, visit the exhibition’s website.







Cornwall Contemporary Poetry Festival Open Poetry Competition 2016

Cornwall Contemporary Poetry Festival

Open Poetry Competition 2016

1st prize: £600    2nd prize: £150    3rd prize: £50



Judge: Alison Brackenbury

Entry fee: £5 per poem, £3 per poem thereafter

Closing date: 3 September, 2016

Alison Brackenbury was born in Lincolnshire in 1953 and studied at Oxford. She now lives in Gloucestershire, where until recently she worked, as a director and manual worker, in the family metal finishing business. Her collections include Dreams of Power (1981), Breaking Ground (1984), Christmas Roses (1988), Selected Poems (1991), 1829 (1995), After Beethoven (2000), Bricks and Ballads (2004) and Then (2013), all published by Carcanet. Her poems have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4, and 1829 was produced by Julian May for Radio 3. Her work recently won a Cholmondeley Award.

Rules and instructions for entry

1   The competition is open to anyone aged 16 or over.

2   Poems should be in English, must not have been published either in print or on a website, nor be currently submitted or accepted for future publication. They must not have been awarded a prize in any other competition.

3   Poems must be your own original work and may be on any subject.

4   Poems must be typed and no longer than 40 lines.

5   If sending poems by post, each poem must be on a separate sheet of paper, which must not bear your name or any other means of identification. On a separate sheet of paper, you should give your name and address and the title(s) of the poem(s) submitted. Please include a cheque in payment for your entry/entries (see below) or, if you have paid by PayPal, the receipt number(s) for your payment(s). Please let us know where you heard about the competition.

6   If sending poems by email, each poem should be in a separate Word document, which must not bear your name or any other means of identification. In the text of your email, please include the PayPal receipt number that you received when you paid for your entry/entries, and please give your name and address and the title(s) of the poem(s) submitted. Please let us know where you heard about the competition.

7   Any number of poems may be submitted on payment of the appropriate fee, which is £5 for the first poem and £3 for each additional entry. Cheques (in sterling only) should be made payable to “Falmouth Poetry Group”.

8   We regret that we are unable to return poems, or amend them after entry.

9   The closing date is 3 September 2016. Results will be sent out in mid-October. Eight finalists will be invited by phone or email to read their poems at the festival, where the winners will be announced.

10  Copyright remains with the authors, but Falmouth Poetry Group reserves the right to publish the winning poems on the festival website.

11  Entries by post should be sent to:

The Competition Secretary, Cornwall Contemporary Poetry Festival, 33 Church Street, Helston, Cornwall TR13 8TD

12  Entries by email should be sent to: cocopocomp@gmail.com

13  The judge will read all poems submitted to the competition. There will be no sifting of entries.