Let us know your favourite ‘Where I’m From’ poems

There’s £900 to be won in our poetry competition on the theme of ‘Where I’m From’ – open to everyone, nationally and internationally, young and old. Enter here.

In the meantime, why not let us know your favourite poems by someone else on the theme of ‘Where I’m From’ and we’ll publish them here (or an extract if they’re out of copyright). Tell us why you like the poem and a little bit about you too. Email us at poetrycompetition@yahoo.com

To kick off, here’s Jackie Kay’s poem ‘In My Country’ of which Ruth Padel said in The Independent:

“Where do you come from? – is like the line of an old song, suggesting some unspoken answer (say, faeryland, or Hell, or Africa). But the last line shifts us into modern gear. In its understated way, the poem is about the claims of change. Songs have changed, Scotland has changed. It is “my country” too. Claiming the right to “these parts” – to punctuation, identity, capitals, an “honest river” not archaic “waters” of Babylon where exiles once wept – the poet is reminding you that poetry has moved forward, can play with folk form and move out of it, into new shape.”

In my country

walking by the waters
down where an honest river
shakes hands with the sea,
a woman passed round me
in a slow watchful circle
as if I were a superstition;
or the worst dregs of her imagination
so when she finally spoke
her words spliced into bars
of an old wheel. A segment of air.
Where do you come from?
“Here”, I said, “Here. These parts.”

Image result for we're i'm from jackie kay

Jackie Kay is Scots Makar and Chancellor of the University of Salford.

The Waltham Forest Poetry Competition is… OPEN!

Tweet about us on #WFPoetryComp


Our competition – this year’s theme is ‘Where I’m From’ – is open to everyone (UK and international) and there also separate prizes for people who live, work or study in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, and a Young Poets (under 18) section. Even if you don’t win, any poem that references a location in Waltham Forest has a chance of appearing in our poetry anthology ‘Where I’m From’ alongside the winners and Commended poems. We’ll also have an award ceremony where all winners and Commended poets will be invited to come and read their winning poem/s.

Theme: Where I’m From

Judge: Graham Clifford, published poet and head teacher in Waltham Forest. His latest collection is called Well, published by Against the Grain. grahamclifford.co.uk

Graham Clifford
Graham Clifford

Closing Date: Monday 7 October 2019 (midnight UK time)

Click here to enter online by Submittable (you’ll be asked to sign up if you haven’t used it before), but you can also enter poems by email or post – see below.


Entry fee: 1st poem £3, subsequent poems in the same submission £1 – up to 6 poems in total. Poets who live, work or study in Waltham Forest will automatically be included in the Local prize for no additional fee. 

  • Main prize: 1st £300, 2nd £200, 3rd £100. The overall winner will also be offered the choice of Poetry Society Membership (if they are not a Member already) or feedback on their poems via The Poetry Society’s Poetry Prescription/Poetry Surgery service.
  • Local prize: 1st £50, 2nd £30, and 3rd £20. The top 3 will also be offered a paid reading opportunity in the London Borough of Waltham Forest.
No entry fee. Send up to 6 poems. Poets who live or study in Waltham Forest will automatically be included in the Local prize.
  • Main Prize: 1st £50, 2nd £30, 3rd £20.
  • Local prize: 1st £50, 2nd £30, and 3rd £20. The top three in the Local Prize will also receive Waterstones book tokens.
‘WHERE I’M FROM’ anthology: The top three poems in each of the Adult and Young Poet categories, plus a number of Commended poets as decided by the judge, will be published in our ‘Where I’m From’ anthology and on our website.
In addition, poems that reference specific locations in the London Borough of Waltham Forest will be considered for our ‘Where I’m From’ anthology even if they aren’t among the winning or Commended poems.

Awards Ceremony: Prize winners will be notified as soon as possible after the closing date and invited to read their winning poem/s at the award ceremony at One Hoe St, Walthamstow, London E17 4SD on the evening of Thursday 14 November.


2019 Waltham Forest Poetry Competition – coming soon!

Graham Clifford

After the success of our first ever Waltham Forest Poetry Competition last year, we’re doing it again! Our lovely judge this year is local poet Graham Clifford.

Graham lives in Waltham Forest with his partner and two daughters. As well as being a poet, he is a Head Teacher. His first book of poetry was Welcome Back to the Country, published by Seren, followed by The Hitting Game, in 2014, again published by Seren. His latest, Well, was published by Against The Grain in March 2019. grahamclifford.co.uk

Once again, there will be prizes for adults, young poets and local poets and our Awards Ceremony will be held at One Hoe Street, Walthamstow, on the evening of 14 November 2019.

We’re putting the final touches to the competition rules and will be announcing the launch very soon.

26 April 2019

Come and join us at the Waltham Forest Poetry Competition Prize-Giving ceremony

On Monday 29 October, from 7.30pm, join Meryl Pugh and the winners of the inaugural Waltham Forest Poetry Competition.

There will be readings from Meryl as well as winners and commended poets, plus an open mic on the competition theme of ‘A Bright Future’ – or just bring your poems. If you would like to read, sign up on the night.

Prize-winning readers expected to include:

Main competition prize-winners Jane Wilkinson and Jenny Mitchell
Local prize-winners Tim Scott, Angelena Demaria and Sarala Estruch
Young poet prize-winner Kate Lucas

Free event. No need to book.

Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre Pub
53 Hoe Street
E17 4SA

Waltham Forest poets: John Drinkwater


An occasional series where we spotlight poets who live, or lived, in what is now the borough of Waltham Forest.

John Drinkwater was born in Leytonstone in 1882. John Drinkwater Road and John Drinkwater Close in Leytonstone (near the Green Man roundabout) are named after him!

Drinkwater was a poet, playwright, and actor. Working first as an insurance clerk and then as a theatre manager, he wrote actively in a variety of genres throughout his life. Besides being part of a literary group whose members included Robert Frost, Edward Thomas and Rupert Brooke, he wrote a number of successful plays based on the lives of historical figures. In 1918, he scored his first major success with his play, Abraham Lincoln, which caught the mood of the day and even found success in America. He went on to found the theatre company which became the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. His much anthologised poem ‘Moonlit Apples’ appeared in his collection Tides in 1917.

Moonlit Apples

At the top of the house the apples are laid in rows,
And the skylight lets the moonlight in, and those
Apples are deep-sea apples of green. There goes
A cloud on the moon in the autumn night.

A mouse in the wainscot scratches, and scratches, and then
There is no sound at the top of the house of men
Or mice; and the cloud is blown, and the moon again
Dapples the apples with deep-sea light.

They are lying in rows there, under the gloomy beams;
On the sagging floor; they gather the silver streams
Out of the moon, those moonlit apples of dreams,
And quiet is the steep stair under.

In the corridors under there is nothing but sleep.
And stiller than ever on orchard boughs they keep
Tryst with the moon, and deep is the silence, deep
On moon-washed apples of wonder.

Find out more about John Drinkwater

My favourite poem, by Danny Marsh

Do you have a favourite poem? If you would like to tell us about it in about 100-200 words we’ll feature it here. Email poetrycompetition@yahoo.com with a brief biog (couple of sentences).


Sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds by William Shakespeare

116 is perhaps, after 18, quite an obvious choice to pick from Shakespeare’s canon. There is a reason for that though.

Love, the most written about subject through out history, can be a strange, complicated, and wonderful thing. For me personally, it is something I have struggled with from an early age to understand, give and receive (particularly to receive). I rediscovered this poem at a point in which I was truly beginning to give myself to somebody else for the first time; showing more of the real, inner me. It made everything seem to make sense.

Shakespeare talks of the strength of love (“it is an ever-fixed mark”) and how it cannot be altered even if it finds flaws (“Love is not love, Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove.”)  Love cannot be moved or destroyed by events and not even time can destroy it (“Love’s not Time’s fool”).

The most strikingly simple image is the idea of the lighthouse or the beacon and love being “a star to every wand’ring bark”.  That’s it, Shakespeare, I thought, that’s exactly it.  Here I am in the middle of this sea amongst these waves not knowing whether I can make it and scared of drowning and there in the distance is my love, guiding the way offering support and direction.  Providing a reason to keep going.  But, crucially, realising that the reverse was also true and that I was prepared to be a beacon for somebody else.

When people choose this to be read at their wedding or at a similar occasion, it is because it creates a beautiful image of love.  It reminds us to remember the positives of love.  Sure, things can and will be difficult at times but love conquers all (“bears it out even to the edge of doom”) is the ultimate message here and what better message is there than that?

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
  • Danny Marsh is a trainee dramatherapist who works with children on adaptations of Shakespeare; he recently wrote and recorded a song based on Sonnet 116. He writes poetry and comedy and performs to audiences that sometimes listens. @SIANdrama

My favourite poem, by Pauline Drayson

Do you have a favourite poem? If you would like to tell us about it in about 100-200 words we’ll feature it here. Email poetrycompetition@yahoo.com with a brief biog (couple of sentences).


Sonnet 129 by William Shakespeare

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

In giving in to lust Shakespeare expresses self-directed hatred and shame in its gratification. The poem is an expression, he states, of what everyone feels regarding lust but no one is able to resist – leading them to hell. Thus a bitter conflict is raised in this sonnet expressed in such violent and forceful language, particularly the first eight lines, where such words as ‘murd’rous, bloody, full of blame, / Savage… cruel,… / ‘…past reason hunted’ indicates an extreme reaction to his having given in to lust. Lust indicates a ‘mad in pursuit and in possession so’ and then one is made mad again by its very consummation.

In some respects, the opening line gives the pertinent picture of his feeling, and the ‘expense of spirit’ can be seen as both his semen and the higher side of his nature, that of the ‘spirit’.  Although before the consummation he reasons ‘a bliss in proof’ it later proves ‘a very woe’.

I like this sonnet because nowhere in English Lit has anyone expressed so clearly and strongly the feelings that are protracted by Lust. The hatred of the act makes ‘the taker mad’ and his openness to the feelings he expresses in language one might feel was more relevant to war, is in essence such an indicator of his self-loathing that it is impossible to leave the sonnet  without knowing  the memory of it will be with one forever.

My favourite poem, by P R Murry

Do you have a favourite poem? If you would like to tell us about it in about 100-200 words we’ll feature it here. Email poetrycompetition@yahoo.com with a brief biog (couple of sentences).


It’s no go the merrygoround, it’s no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crêpe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with heads of bison.

from Bagpipe Music, Louis MacNeice

This is my favourite poem. As MacNeice himself admits, on one level it’s bollocks but very rhythmical bollocks. It could even be read in a cockney accent and although MacNeice says it’s supposed to mimic a bagpipe tune, it sounds more like a jig to me. I also like it because it takes the piss out of mysticism, twee Celtic folksiness and materialism simultaneously.

An added bonus that in the era of climate change, fake news and climate change denial the last verse seems incredibly prescient.

‘The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.’

P R Murry was a founder of Apples and Snakes, and has worked with Wortheless Words and Ragged Trousered Cabaret. He has been an active Trades Unionist and is a Green Party activist.  He has lulu’d one book Son of the Glowing Nightsoil of the Concealed Emu.