Kent's vibrant poetry scene

PUBLISHED: 16:07 18 September 2009 | UPDATED: 16:13 20 February 2013

Phillip Woodrow

Phillip Woodrow

For most of us, poetry is something we left behind at school, along with isosceles triangles, oxbow lakes and the periodic table. But if you did want to learn more about it, you're in luck, as Kent possesses a vibrant poetry scene...

Christopher Hobday Canterbury Poets

One of the most recently established projects is Canterbury Poets which, as founder Christopher Hobday explains, was set up in 2006 to provide an outlet for the city's increasing number of poets. "I created the Canterbury Poets website to provide local poets with an online space where they could showcase their work. The site lets poets publish a small selection of their work, together with an image of themselves and a brief biography. Out of this, and following discussion with local poets Luigi Marchini of Save As Writers Group and Gary Studley of the CornerStone Writers initiative, we realised that there was a demand for a regular poetry night in the city, too. We approached the Orange Street Club and, with their support, Canterbury Poets now has its own regular poetry night every second Sunday of the month, usually followed by live music.

"Our events give people the opportunity to perform and also offer the wider community the chance to come and see poetry performed live. Many events over the past few years, including street readings organised by the city's first Laureate, Patricia Debney, have raised the profile of poetry, placing it very much back into the public sphere, where it belongs."

According to Christopher, one of the attractions of poetry to many of those involved is the freedom it gives people to express themselves on any subject. "We have a huge variety of topics covered by our poets during readings. They could be about politics and be quite forceful and direct, but equally they can be about a person's personal emotional state, which generally produces a very different kind of poem."

The Trojan Horse Speaks

I'm not sure what happened that night,
but it was a sort of disgorging
and I was left feeling like a wineskin
squeezed out over a ceremonial bowl.

All those tapping feet and whispering
voices were voided out of me.
Gone too was the occasional poke
of sheathed sword and spear-butt.

Then there were the motivational speeches
which had echoed in me,
suddenly out of the dark recesses
of my gullet. They also were no more.

The many voices left me:
cowards, comedians, stalwart thugs
and the odd celebrated slaughterer
with sage-like wisdom and a smart tongue.

The weapons left me, and the clamour,
and I could hear them outside,
and the screams, the creaking
of blazed timber, the city's alarum.

Now I am empty and abandoned.
The weather is eating my joists.
I am hunching into a darkness
shaking with the sound of heel on rung.

Graham Mummery Kent and Sussex Poetry Society

So why do people start writing poetry? Like many people actively involved in the county's poetry scene, Graham Mummery of the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society, which holds readings and workshops at the Camden Centre in Tunbridge Wells, began his love affair from a young age.

"I really got interested in my youth, going on holidays in the Lake District and going to Wordsworth's houses there," he says. "It established an awareness that there was something called poetry. The next step was at my secondary school in Bromley. An English teacher made me aware of poets such as TS Eliot and William Blake. For A-Levels, I switched schools to Judd in Tonbridge and my English course included poetry criticism. Judd encouraged writing poetry and over the years, I wrote poetry as a journal of my feelings. On enrolling at my first creative writing class at Tonbridge, I began reading my poems to others and sent them out to magazines. I found poetry the

best way of getting at my thoughts, feelings and what I had to say. The poems just kept coming."

Graham feels that where you live can play a role in what you write. "When visiting places, it often strikes me that some writings could only have come from that environment. Famous examples include Wordsworth and the Lake District, Ted Hughes and Yorkshire. When sharing my work with London poets, they seem unappreciative of nature and countryside and want to focus on crisp packets, cinema and the streets in their poems. Their work differs from mine and I think this has something to do with where I live in Sevenoaks."

An unexpected ruin

The house shivers ready
to wrap itself round
the wrecking ball.
Tiles scale from
naked roof slats.
Past combs off.
Whirled furrows stand
in what was once garden
to seed the myth
on a plywood fence:
Bespoke Five Bedroom
Five Bathroom Houses.
I passed this place many times.This unexpected ruin,
not a stone memorandum
but a clay remnant
from my past
its spirits rising
to swill the clouds with
my memories:
walks to school
trips to the newsagent
that vital rendezvous
I no longer quite remember
all fading into dark clouds,
their prophesies of rain
while at the gate
a sign warns Private Property
and future ghosts gather
rattling the padlock
that echoes back
not quite yet, not quite yet.

Susan Pope, Medway Mermaids Writing Group for Women

The beauty of poetry is that, despite its difficult and often dusty reputation, it is in fact very accessible. Anyone can get involved, and this is exactly what

Susan Pope of the Medway Mermaids Writing Group for Women suggests people do.

"Writing poetry is a talent which seems to come easily to lots of people who would not ordinarily write in any other style. My advice to anyone with even a passing interested in poetry is just do it! If they want to improve their work, join a local poetry or writing group," she says.

"Poetry competitions are a challenge and act as a barometer against which a budding poet can judge the merit of their own work. Another option is to publish. I have recently produced a booklet containing nine of my own poems. I sell this by donation to my nominated charity, The Special Trustees of Moorfields Eye Hospital, for just £1.

"With a computer and a printer, this is something anyone can do (I learnt by trial and error). It is something I would recommend anyone with a small collection of poems to do, for charity, or just for friends and family to enjoy.

"Poetry can be a wonderful medium to become involved with, so why not give it a try?"

The Ghosts of Medway

Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham never will be the same again,
The garrison towns have vanished in everything but name.
As you walk the streets of Medway you will surely find
The living ghosts of history are never far behind.
"Give us one more chance," they call, "One more pint of ale."
"We'll give you one more dance and one more ship to sail."

The busy River Medway, ships passing up and down
Cargoes from around the world unloaded in our town.
Quayside work for stevedores, dockers, drays and men,
Traders, taverns, prostitutes, and the hidden opium den.
Nelson, Gordon and Kitchener bade the bugler call
For men to fight in foreign wars and defend the garrison wall.

Once there stood gun batteries and firing lines and forts
Protecting the King's Dockyard and the Royal Naval port.
Soldiers trooped along Dock Road parading guns and cannons
Sailors piped aboard the ships and passed the bull-nose fathoms.
The Royal Marines of Chatham marched the barrack line
The sound of brass and drums rolled out, black boots in perfect time.

Children ran about the streets and stood to watch in awe
Pageant scenes that filled their world right outside their door.
They say you do not cherish what you have until it's gone,
So much destroyed in haste to try to build a modern town.
Let us save what still remains of good and old and grand,
We'd build a better Medway and give history's ghosts a hand.

Phillip Woodrow Thanet's Own Poets

Although currently vibrant, Phillip Woodrow of Thanet's Own Poets is concerned that in the future the number of local poetry groups could decline.
"While numbers for the groups I run are encouraging (mostly six to 10 people, a comfortable number for discussion), there have in the past been many more groups and events in Thanet," he says.
"I know of many writers who join virtual groups via the internet, and poetry has recently achieved a higher profile on radio and even television, so probably there is less demand for events than previously as people have found alternative outlets for poetry. Many other arts and social groups have disbanded over the last decade, and locally the last independent bookshop in my area closed last year."

Dark Legacy

There's no romance in coal. It's been a living,
A dying, for many, for years. The same
Black diamonds bringing wealth to owners, benefits
To children, furnished palaces of nouveau rich,

Blackening the countryside, spreading insidious smog
Into the lungs of miners, and miners' sons,
Like ghosts, scarring their breath with bronchitic rales,
Angels of death clawing at every door.

Slag heaps lie landscaped, hiding their jet-black hearts
Like widows' crosses, hacked into Whitby jewels
That weeded the mourning suns, while children play
Carelessly on green hills, forgetting their past.

Generations have watched their burning coals
Reveal pre-human fossils, glimpsed merely for moments
Before fading forever, raked into glowing ashes.
It helped pass their time. There's no romance in coal.

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