Most people associate Kent, and in particular Canterbury, with Chaucer and his parcel of pilgrims. But even though technically he doesn't belong to us (he was born in London), we don't mind granting him honorary Kent status. However, Caxton is ours (born in Tenterden around 1422) and it was his press that printed the first English book published in England, as well as two editions of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. So Kent's poets come from good stock.
However, many people think of Kent as an idealised Garden of England, or a Home Counties "twin-sets and tweeds" persona, or even a major traffic jam south east of London. All of which have some truth. But having lived here for twenty years I'm proud to say we're a lot more than apples and cricket and exhaust fumes (as pleasant as the former two are), and that the poetry scene in the county is as vital as those in many principal cities in the UK.
The dates for Folkestone's Litfest are confirmed as 19 to 24 September and a press release cites Andrew Motion, Brian Patten and John Hegley among the attractions. Over in the Deal, Dover and Sandwich area, Split the Lark Poetry, a group set up four years ago by June English, runs a yearly festival in June with John Whitworth as their poet in residence. This year Kent-born U.A. Fanthorpe and Myra Schneider are among the readers, and an innovative 'Meet the Editors' day will give poets the chance to discuss publishing opportunities and the merits of their work with the editors of Poetry Review, Smith's Knoll, The Interpreter's House, The London Magazine and Agenda.
Staying in the east of the county, there are monthly readings at the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory – a mixture of invited readers, book launches and open mic spots – while in Canterbury, a dynamic new performance group, Scatterlings, has its first gig at the Marlowe Theatre Bar on Monday 20 June, with more invited poets and events in the pipeline. Thanet's Own Poets hold 'Poems and Pints' evenings in the Brown Jug in Broadstairs on Thursday evenings, and have a planned Saturday morning programme of Poetry Appreciation and Poetry Workshops at the Broadstairs Cultural Centre.
Over in the west, the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society, which has been running for an incredible fifty-nine years, holds open readings with a wide range of contemporary poets at the Camden Centre in Tunbridge Wells, monthly workshops, master-classes and an annual writing retreat for its members. The society's annual poetry competition has become a national institution; this year's judge was Paul Farley. Also based in Tunbridge Wells is Charlie Bell's and Steve Koots's 'Ninety Degrees of Poetry' – an informal and fun performance event on the first Monday evening of every month at the Sound Garden in Church Road.
Caxton's influence is still evident in the county's journals and presses. While Jeremy Page's Frogmore Press now operates from Sussex, it was set up in Folkestone in 1983 so we still like to think of it as belonging to us, and their long-running poetry prize is still organised from there. The New Writer is based in Cranbrook and has a national reputation for both its poetry competition and professional approach towards writing in general. Connections magazine (above) is another cross genre journal, while Equinox is devoted entirely to poetry. In the north of the county, Urban Fox Press supports local poets and has recently published an anthology of poetry, The Mermaid, by the Chatham based Medway Mermaids, a writing group for women committed to developing their work through mutual support and constructive criticism. They meet on the second Monday of every month.
If you're looking for more formal support there are a number of options. The University of Kent offers a part-time Certificate in Creative Writing, and a diploma/degree in literature with creative writing, at the Canterbury, Chatham and Tonbridge campuses, with some of the modules devoted to contemporary poetry. There are also plans for a new MA in Creative Writing that will allow students to focus principally on poetry. Kent Adult Education Service runs a small number of open access poetry courses each year at various centres around the county, and AppleHouse Poetry Workshops, a new independent project beginning in May 2005 (based near Maidstone), aims to support local poets through levels of excellence in intensive small-group workshops, master-classes, and anthology and pamphlet publication.
So, definitely a lot more than apples and cricket. And how about this for a glittering, eclectic list of both native poets and those who've adopted the county as their home – Sir Philip Sydney, Richard Lovelace, Sir Edwin Arnold, Siegfried Sassoon, Vita Sackville-West, Sydney Keyes, U. A. Fanthorpe, Thom Gunn, Wendy Cope, John Whitworth, Susan Wicks, Katherine Pierpoint, Billy Childish, Maggie Harris, Patience Agbabi Enough to get you so involved you won't even notice the traffic fumes
Lynne Rees's first collection, Learning How to Fall, will be published by Parthian Books in September 2005.
Folkestone Litfest www.folkestonelitfest.com
Split the Lark Poetry firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory: email@example.com
Tickets from the Marlowe Box Office 01227787787 or contact
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
Thanet's Own Poets at Broadstairs Cultural Centre
The Brown Jug, Ramsgate Road, Broadstairs, Kent CT10 2EW
Ninety Degrees of Poetry email@example.com
Frogmore Press www.frogmorepress.co.uk
The New Writer www.thenewwriter.com
Connections Jane Hardy (Editor),
4 Shipwrights Lee, Island Wall, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1EW.
Barbara Dordi (Editor)
University of Kent:
Kent Adult Education Service: www.apps.kent.gov.uk/e&l/adulted
Apple House Poetry Workshops