• Binsted Arts Poetry Competition 2016


        In the 2016 competition, two hundred and sixteen original unpublished poems were submitted on the theme:

        A way through the woods

        The winners received their prizes at the poetry evening during the Binsted Arts Weekend, 
        in Binsted Church, West Sussex, BN18 0LL, on Saturday 11 June at 7.30.  

        The Winners and those with Commendations read out their poems,
        supported by a commentary from Maggie Sawkins.

        The competition judge, Maggie Sawkins, won the Ted Hughes Award for
        New Work in Poetry 2013, 
        for her Live Literature production ‘Zones of Avoidance’.



        First Prize: 

        Rose Bray, from Steyning, West Sussex, for ‘Raising the Bowman’

        Second Prize:

        Margaret Jennings, from Waterlooville, Hampshire, for ‘Bramble

        Third prize:

        Ken Sulllivan, from Reading,  for ‘Congo Boy



        Michael Langrish, from Walberton, West Sussex, for 'Song Thrush'

        Phil Vernon, from Tunbridge Wells, for '1955'

        Sue Davies, from Fareham, Hampshire, for 'Wytham Woods'

        Dana Littlepage, from Exeter, for 'A Way through the Woods'

        ‚ÄčGeoffrey Winch, from Felpham, West Sussex, for 'Lignivores'

        Jenna Plewes, from Alvechurch, Worcs, for 'Private Woods. No Trespassing.'

        Claire Pankhurst, from Brighton, for 'Island'

        Mark Haworth-Booth, from Swimbridge, Devon, for 'Trespass'

        Pat Murgatroyd, from the Isle of Wight, for 'Return to the Forest'

        Malcolm Watson,  from Hull


        The Poems

        First prize


        Raising the Bowman   by Rose Bray


        If her father had not fancied mushrooms for breakfast

        she would not have gone into the woods at Binsted

        to forage for the pink gilled treats

        between the fallen trees.


        If the early sun had not been shining

        on the clearing where she knelt,

        the archer may not have seen

        her simple grace

        and sought her hand in marriage

        and she would not have borne his son.


        If he had not been middle aged

        he may not have been so patient with the child,

        making a small bow for his play

        as soon as he could walk,

        bending, shaping each yew branch

        as he outgrew the other.


        If the boy had not grown so tall

        and become a master bowman,

        he would not have been a chosen one

        to serve on Henry’s flagship.


        His mother would not have stood on Portsmouth’s Hard

        waving off her firstborn son

        as the Mary Rose sailed on the morning tide.

        She could not have guessed,

        amongst the nit combs, the wooden bowls

        beside his scattered arrows,

        her son would lie

        five hundred years

        rocked gently on his bed of sand.


        Second prize


        Bramble by Margaret Jennings


        ( Blackberry brambles can be stripped of their thorns and used to fashion baskets and other useful artefacts)


        The first man clips off her thorns one by one,

        turns her placid and tractable,

        cuts her off close to the roots,

        twists her into something useful,

        something of his own making.


        The second man threads her through a hole

        in a tin which tears off her thorns,

        shreds her pristine flesh.

        This task makes a sound like a strimmer,

        reshaping, remoulding, destroying.

        He puts string in her carcass.


        The last man leaves the thorns that defend her,

        allows her blossom to feed the bees nectar

        and helps her grow the fruit

        that might bloody his fingers,

        applauds as she strives for the tops of trees,

        rejoices as she waves at the sun,

        becoming all she was meant to become.


        Third prize


        Congo Boy   by Ken Sullivan


        Seep of wet through toes and sound

        of breathing, heavy as night, no dipping

        stars or wind to warp.


        The forest listens, Mother said.

        I am sweet and the soot black waits

        for me, a hungry, singing mouth.


        I take the forest road.

        Sliding mud to the river and then, like a tree,

        I listen to the men talk.


        Planning, joking me with threat of

        teeth, guns at a cocky

        jaunt and glowing tobacco tip.


        I try to remember. Oh Mother!

        They beat it from me if I don’t

        make it up good and quick.


        A slow walk to freedom,

        a way through the woods,

        sliding mud red to the river.


        Ducking lights of the camp

        fires, across the field of rice

        and buffalo bird.


        Under the eyes of the dead,

        the night owl cries to the crocodile.

        Snap of bean sticks.


        Old man of the river, I hear you.

        Mother, I hear you.

        Mountains, you are calling. I hear you.


        Onward the red path, the slow way

        through the woods, listening

        like a tree, inching a way to freedom.


        Commended poems


        Song Thrush     by Michael Langrish


        In the woods alone

        - or so I thought -

        until, upon a stone,

        my eye was caught

        by a memory of childhood:


        a thrush

        upon a bush.


        Bright of eye,

        head cocked,

        his gaze upon mine

        was locked,



        upon what I meant;


        the snail within his bill,

        half housed already

        by relentless steady flicks

        against the wall -


        his dinner



        Later it is not my eye

        that knows he’s near

        but now I hear

        his song, his sigh,


        his flute’s

        repeated note.


        Always shy,

        as, when a boy, was I;

        and now - so rare  -

        even more a thing of joy


        in that cool



        1955    by Phil Vernon

        i.m. Richard Langridge * 


        Magpies love a rabbit halfway dead

        to peck its weeping eyes, disdain the rest

        then nonchalantly pause and lift their heads,

        hop down and pick their way along the vale

        of pain to blind and leave undead, the next.


        Romans loved rabbits, too: their settlers sailed

        with does and bucks, as well as laws and peace.

        We love them less we've placed them on a trail

        where gun-green birds glint in the April sun,

        imperious at their casual charnel feast.


        We met the halfway dead, half hidden among

        the dead, as we advanced towards Berlin.


        I lift the stricken rabbits one by one,

        take cover from their blank and aimless stare,

        then break their necks and set them down within

        the shadowed margins of the coppice, where

        last autumn's leaves lie cold and half decayed.


        The magpies scatter but they reappear.


        I'm tired of asking if this horror show

        would have me save or kill, or kill to save,

        and – as I watch myself deal every blow –

        if Romans' clearer view of dying made

        them kinder. Perhaps the feasting magpies know.


        * Lt. Langridge helped liberate Belsen concentration

        camp in 1945. Mixomatosis was introduced to Britain

        on his farm in Kent in 1953. Two years later,

        he shot himself, by which time the number of rabbits

        in the country had declined by 95%.


        Wytham Woods    by Sue Davies


        We left Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds playing

        on the turntable, the music splintering


        to jazzy riffs of songbirds, stepped out barefoot

        on tussock grass and took the gentle path


        through the woods. Tilted forward, you toddled ahead,

        pale as a wild orchid just sprouted from the earth


        not yet made solid by light, unlike the throng

        of small creatures – ants staggering, bundles in pincers,


        earwigs, and stag beetles, the trees skiddling

        their leaves.  Your insistent This? This?  - a revelation


        that everything is given a name – tried patience.

        But you gave generously, gubs for celandines,


        and skitty-skits for bluebells, my borrowed Pussy-

        willow and Catkins on your breath nevertheless


        charmed against the silence of dark hollows.

        Pockets lumpy with woodland relics, we climbed


        the hill lording over the meadows, the roads like

        mourning bands wavering to the troubled


        island of Cyprus where finely turned to little else –

        neither the squint of sea through the olive trees,


        nor the Bee-eater’scry on the wire, but the deranged

        ram of clouds, enemy planes swooping low

        when we ran for cover in the lemon grove.


        A  Way through the Woods   by  Dana Littlepage


        My parents wait by windows,

        watching deer shape-shift

        the leafless space between the trees.

        Taupe grey, the forest walks.

        We wake. Sip coffee, eat eggs

        off old maple planks

        my father planed. Forty years

        go by: the woods, our witness.

        Water moccasin, cicada dreams.

        When my parents leave

        the oaks bear down,

        Acorns drum on slate.

        The blue owl sings.


        I go back to find the house

        enclosed by sumac, pines.

        By my parents’ bedroom window

        a doe and buck sleep.

        I kneel in leaf meal, touch

        the earth, still warm. Fragrant

        with furred rain, the sweet radish

        whiff of something I cannot name.

        Their lives. The mystery of red moon

        rise. Maples’ winter arms snow-sleeved.


        Tonight I find my parents out

        in the cold for one last walk.

        A neighbour has laid boards

        down through the woods.

        My father’s wheel chair sinks.

        My mother’s knees are stunned

        by fallen trees.

        Her heart cannot bear---


        And so they leave. Again.

        Back in their city flat,

        my father googles whippoorwills.

        They listen to bull frogs mate,

        fall asleep in chairs, the woods

        alive inside them.


        Lignivores    by Geoffrey Winch


        we harvest trees  

        and re-shape their wood

        to feed our exotic desires 


        we rank as waste

        broken branches and twigs in bud   

        then consume these with our fires  


        we burn the fingers of the gods

        who planted trees in our

        progressive ways    


        while creatures

        of another breed

        cultivate a hundred million seeds


        these friends of trees 

        as if noble g

        replace the trees on which we feed


        their trees are promissory notes:  

        future generations will inherit 

        woods through which to walk 


        yet as we walk

        through our woods

        of grubbed-up roots and ashes


        we have a clear view

        of where we’re heading 

        while the friends of trees


        have no clear view

        of the future or understanding

        of our intentions 


        Private Woodland. No Trespassing     by Jenna Plewes


        No Access – black letters on a lopsided gate,

        unhinged, padlocked, chained shut.


        No-one will follow her here, a woodpecker

        drums a broken heartbeat, a thin rain roll

        off the needles of hemlock and pine.

        There is no path, animal tracks meander,


        double back, disappear. Fears

        burrow under bramble wires, thoughts


        step-change, root where they land, wildlings

        rustle the dry leaves of her days, wood anemones


        thread small white beads through her sleep.

        She places one foot in front of another,


        waits for light to break through the canopy

        guide her back to the gate.


        Island by Claire Pankhurst


        a bracelet of rocks

        circles the forest with charms

        of heron, seal and otter

        surrounds the green melt

        of moss and pine needles

        gashed with red cedar


        in the silence

        fanned by the eagle’s wing

        there is always something falling

        or poised

        ready to fall


        snow still fastens to bark and pine cone

        but a startle of buds

        interrupts the comfort of frost


        branches push against the sky

        break the light into fragments of

        grey glass just the right size

        for birdsong to fall through

        to seep into bracken

        settle under stones

        a coded message

        its letters dissolved in leaf stain


        Trespass     by Mark Haworth-Booth


        OK, if I get stopped

        I’ll just point to my binoculars

        and say I think I’m lost.


        Whoever owns this land

        must be selling the logs

        in that old shed beside


        the dead quadbikes

        and the full-length bath –

        woodland bric-à-brac.


        A barrel swings in the breeze –


        now a bin for pheasant feed.


        Further up the track,

        a little tunnel shelter.

        Inside it a spring trap.


        This old quarry is a dump

        for plastics, white goods,

        cisterns, oil drums.


        What’s at the top of the field?

        A video-den in brown

        and green – camouflaged –


        but the roof is off. TV,

        kettle, gameboy, torch,

        pillows, microwave.


        Squeeze through a wire fence.

        This place has an earth mound

        about the size of a horse


        topped by a china book –

        In loving memory of someone

        and wilted roses in a crock.


        There’s part of a lavatory stand,

        the bulbous white piping –

        there’s always a lavatory stand.  


        This is owners’ nature.

        We do what we like here.

        Our property. Our affair. We can.


        Return to the Forest    by Pat Murgatroyd.


        Long before, they’d drained the blood from the last black boar

        over centuries of beech nuts on the forest floor.


        Ferns unfurl, a man approaches the forest asleep,

        crossing meadows where he used to holler home sheep.


        Round his neck a tusk, a trophy claimed by grandf'er Dan

        when the men beat a path, when they ran


        chasing squealing piglets through the wood,

        sharpened poles to spike suckling sows. Smear their blood.


        The silvered tusk protects the youngster in an ice-bound land

        where cold grips men's thoughts with an iron hand.


        Day after day he flays flesh, soused in oil-stink, hardly breathes,

        hears night screams of glaciers, dreams of light through leaves.


        He scrapes his dreams into scrimshaw tales where bear and boar

        cavort with whales on the woodland floor.


        Ferns unfurl, a man wanders forest paths in his sleep.

        Hollering for home, he dreams and weeps.


        He craves the truffle-scented moss, grass verges where once more

        in a scatter of what might be fallen trunks appears a bristled boar.


        It snouts the ground with the lopped smile of a broken tusk

        like the one round his neck that he grasps for luck.


        Maggie Sawkins comments on the competition:

        A Way through the Woods

        'Tread softly because you tread on my dreams,' wrote W B Yeats in his beautiful poem, 'Had I the Heavens Embroidered Cloths'. Judging a poetry competition is an onerous task. So firstly I would like to thank the 140 poets who submitted a total of 216 poems.  I want you to know that I became acquainted with all of them.

        I imagine there are as many ways of writing a poem as there are of navigating one's way through a wood.  The poems that grabbed my attention were those that dared to stray from the well-trodden path, the ones that dared to sprout wings and fly.

         It was fascinating to see how the theme was tackled.  Little Red Riding Hood and wolves appeared in various guises. There were poems that used the theme to explore mental states:  the labyrinthine worlds of dementia, mental ill health, and sexual  abuse. Others addressed ecological issues while some used mythology and folk lore to find a way in. There were many interesting settings from Binsted itself to Austria and Sweden and even the Congo.

        The poet Douglas Dunn advised his students that 'a good poem should work in the mind, in the heart and in the ear.' I would add that a good poem should also work on the eye.  The process of judging, especially of poetry, can never be entirely objective. But I believe there are some givens.  Firstly, does the way it's been laid out on the page appeal? Secondly, does the title provide a hook - did the writer even give it a second thought? And, thirdly, what about that vital first line - does it entice you to read on?

         I ended up with three piles. The last was the one I took with me to bed. These were the poems that entered my dreams, the ones I didn't mind waking up to. After a process of close reading and reading out loud the pile had whittled down to 20. I was left with the question: which were the ones I could spend my life with?

        What I was looking for was an element of surprise, some clarity of thought, a poem with the ability to move me.  Most importantly, did further readings reveal at least another meaning?

        The winning poem, 'Raising the Bowman' intrigued me with its gripping first line: 'If her father had not fancied mushrooms for breakfast ...' The following three stanzas continued in the same questioning vein allowing the narrative to unfold slowly. The ending made me want to read the poem all over again. 'Raising the Bowman' succeeds because it creates its own believable world.

        I settled on 'Bramble' as a runner up because of its clarity of diction, the way it skipped logically from stanza to stanza, and because subsequent readings offered up another meaning. Like many of you, I imagine, I've been following the saga of Rob and Helen in The Archers. For me this poem captured the zeitgeist of domestic abuse in an original way.  That 'Bramble' of the poem could have been Helen!

        Choosing the third prize winner was more problematic, and all of the commended poems were strong contenders.  The one that won me over was 'Congo Boy'.  It was a joy to read out loud and the imagery was surprising. To be honest there were bits of the poem that I wasn't quite sure of, but in the end, I believe, it's what works on the heart that matters.

        Click here for a printable PDF of the Entry Form and Rules

      • South Downs National Park footer