That time again! Vote for your Pick of the Month for August 2016.

You may have thought that we were neglecting August but late is almost always better than never so it is time once more to vote for your Pick of the Month.

Our shortlist of six can be found below (or see the ‘Vote for your August 2016 Pick of the Month’ in the Categories list to your right on the screen). These have either been chosen by Helen and Kate or received the most attention on social media.

Voting has now closed.

The winner each month will be sent a £10 book giftcard or, if preferred, a donation of the same amount will be made to a chosen charity*. In the event of the winner being from outside the UK mainland, we will make every effort to provide a reasonable alternative.


(*Ink Sweat & Tears reserves the right to refuse certain charities if we feel they are too controversial.)

Read More

And the Pick of the Month for July 2016 is Theophilus Kwek’s ‘Psalm 19 ‘

It was a particularly powerful and emotional shortlist this month out of which Theophilus Kwek’s transcendent ‘Psalm 19’ emerged as the overall winner.

Theo is the author of three collections, They Speak Only Our Mother Tongue (2011), Circle Line (2013), and Giving Ground (2016). He won the Jane Martin Prize in 2015 and the New Poets Prize in 2016, and was president of the Oxford University Poetry Society.

He has asked that his £10 prize be donated to First Story, the charity that changes lives through writing.


Psalm 19

To the Fathers at the Paris Seminary
Jean-Marie Beurel, Priest, Church of the Good Shepherd, Singapore

On still days, when this meridian city
becomes an image of itself – masts
hung with cloud on the water, sky

turned to stone above white cornices –
I lock the church, and, skirting the yard, go
past the padang with its whinnying horses,

through orchards’ shade, across the narrow weir
where streets run out beyond the forest’s edge
and find, just a little north of here

cathedral silence, and a leaf-stained light
lifted as prayer into the trees’ transept
to join branches with the flood and flight

of tropical birds, like a jewel intact.
Wonder with me: how faith follows sight
in this small harbour, where the rich and wrecked

gather to be blessed at journey’s end,
sand’s soft language fills the buttress roots
and wears our feet like another land.

Here He is, still. God of the distance
and river’s overflow, stars’ luminescence.
Harvest’s full, fell hour. First snow.


Voters’ comments included:

Hard decision, I loved them all…But admire Kwek’s ability to blend natural and supernatural, make us feel intimations of divine in the everyday; and courage to name it.

Original and haunting

Such vivid imagery throughout and the last stanza is simply stunning.

Great poem, very evocative of both source and Singapore then and now. And his way with words….

The imagery and use of language is beautiful and consistent with the Central theme and subject matter. The use of language speaks volumes of the sense of space and place. Contemplative, lovely and hopeful, this is a beautiful poem that is both clever and soul-filling.

The beauty of the language of the psalms is portrayed here in this poet’s song. It gives rise to a myriad of emotions and languages, evoking a swell of admiration as it reflects the creator’s marvelling of his Creator and resonates with his recognition of how small he is in comparison to the One whom he deems praiseworthy of All. A lovely piece; spellbound.

This poem combines words in surprisingly evocative ways, creating images that stay in the mind. “sand’s soft language” and “leaf-stained light” are among my favourites. the flow of the lines is precise, carefully balanced and all the energy is built from the poem’s core and brought to a graceful finish at the end, quite like a meditation and the release of breath.

Beautifully textured! I am deeply moved.

That stunning last line.

Artful and impactful portrait

I just like the imagery. The scenes´description is reflective and perceptive of the transcendent, in a positive way that uplifts.

Read More

Wendy Stern’s ‘Kshanti’

#TheWritingLife is a hash tag sometimes used by writers on social media to vent their frustrations with lines of poetry, chapter openings and recalcitrant characters that refuse to fit in. But what about when that writing life means each and every line you compose requires someone else to take down dictation and read back your work, and that the same painstaking process must be repeated during every re-edit?

Wendy Stern who died in 2015 had ME or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, sometimes known as Chronic Fatigue or Post-Viral syndrome, where sufferers experience severe, persistent fatigue and chronic pain. Wendy’s death was not a direct result of her ME but was in the context of it and during the last years of her life when she was bedridden, she turned to poetry as ‘a way of giving expression to her thoughts and feelings’. Her poetry was heavily influence by the Buddhism she followed and the title of her collection is Kshanti which means patient endurance.

Jennifer Sowah* who reviews the collection for us below calls it ‘translucent’

The first time I opened this book I could not stop reading until I had read every poem. Awareness of the poet’s suffering and death made her simple hypnotic style all the more poignant.

A second reading made me look beneath the surface. Below the physical pain I sensed two conflicting emotions: hope that she might achieve wisdom and peace in this life: ‘ … slowly, slowly/ You come to guide me,’ and desolation, in ‘To all that is left’ she asks, ‘Can it really make up /For all the life unlived?’ Both hope and desolation are tinged with suffering. When guidance comes, ‘always it hurts.’ The litany of aspects of ‘the life unlived’ is very powerful as it makes us aware of the simple joys which made Wendy’s life worthwhile and her tragic sense of loss as she faces the prospect that she must ‘leave it all behind.’

Of Wendy’s poem  ‘Target’, Jennifer notes It is one of the strangest qualities of Wendy’s poetry that although the poem concludes wondering if she is ‘Just a particularly …/ Easy target?’ there is a greater sense of resignation than of bitterness.



Is your aim particularly good
As you shoot your arrows into the wild night storm
So that they end up landing time and again,
Perfectly placed at my front door?

Or is it that the wind swirls and swoops
And reroutes them through that blackened void
So that they end up landing,
Perfectly positioned, perfectly poised, at my front door?

Or is it that I, naked of flesh,
Naked of bone,
Naked alone,
Am just a particularly,
Just a particularly,
Just a particularly…

Easy target?


Kshanti is published by Poetry Space and available here. You can find out more information about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis at


*Jenny Sowah was a teacher of English until her retirement.  She has spent part of her life in Africa and is well versed in the literature of many cultures.  She now lives with her family in Bristol.

Read More

Vote for your Pick of the Month for July 2016

Almost all of the selections on our shortlist for July’s ‘Pick of the Month’ have a melancholy, contemplative tone that stands in contrast to the agitated times we live in and is perhaps a response, conscious or not, to these on our part and that of our readers.

So contemplate this month’s six finalists below (or see the ‘Vote for your July 2016 Pick of the Month’ in the Categories list to your right on the screen). These have either been chosen by Helen and Kate or received the most attention on social media.

Voting is now closed.

The winner each month will be sent a £10 book giftcard or, if preferred, a donation of the same amount will be made to a chosen charity*. In the event of the winner being from outside the UK mainland, we will make every effort to provide a reasonable alternative.


(*Ink Sweat & Tears reserves the right to refuse certain charities if we feel they are too controversial.)

Read More

The Votes are in for IS&T’s Pick of the Month for June & it’s ‘We didn’t know we were poor’ by Rose Mary Boehm

Huge congratulations to Rose Mary Boehm whose poem ‘We didn’t know we were poor’ emerged as IST’s ‘Pick of the Month’ for June 2016, beating the runner up by a single vote.

Rose is the author of Tangents (published in the UK in 2011). She has also been widely published in the United States and was twice winner of the monthly Goodreads competition. A new poetry collection is earmarked for US publication in 2016.

Rose lives in Peru and has asked that her National Book Token prize of £10 be sent to her granddaughter in London.


We didn’t know we were poor

Sometimes we went hungry.
Mother made dandelion salad
and stingy-nettle soup. Potatoes
and carrots in water with salt.
Mother had been on the train again
to visit farmer Ruttenberger. Left our
last silver flatware with his wife.
Brought back a big sack of rye.
Can see her still, her too large dress,
her apron, the coffee machine
between her thighs, milling.

My scary aunt with the deep voice
and a wart on her chin would send us
into the woods: ‘Don’t you go eating
the blueberries now. Bring them home,
you hear? I need them for jam making.’

There was a place near the brook
where the world smelled of woodruff
and ceps, where bluebells announced
our indelicate approach.

Getting back empty-handed, round-eyed
and honest-to-god we hadn’t found even one,
my aunt wiped blue-purple stains
from our guilty faces.


Voters’ comments included:

A true talent. One of a kind. I love all of her work.

I was immediately transported to another place and time yet the story is totally relatable and the style is engaging

It reflects the innocence of childhood and the careless years we all had back then, not understanding what was really going on around us. And not caring either. That’s what being a child is all about.

The simplicity of the story. The touching ending. The thought-provoking title.

The genuine emotion in this poem resonates with the reader.

Simplistic yet hauntingly beautiful with pathos!

Rose has led a rich and full life, and her poetry reveals the happiness, as well as the sadness, of success and failure.

She is a very talented writer that makes you feel every word she writes. Her poems stay in your mind and should. Love it.

I can visualize every scene so clearly it’s like I’ve been there.

it’s the one that most resonated with me, from nettle soup to blueberry stains, she took me with her to another time and place


Selected comments on the rest of the shortlist:

Jo Dingle, ‘Dawn’

Beautifully controlled metaphor running throughout the poem to create a really strong image, and a lovely use of “pink” as a verb.

John Greening, ‘Seven Steps’

Beautifully paced lines. Compelling story telling. Great sensory phrasing.

Geoff Mills, ‘Manners’

Superbly witty flash fiction with some great lines. “Einstein’s eyebrows rose up like a pair of ambushed seagulls.” – perfection

Colin Pink, ‘New Perch’

Simple and exquisite, like an Edmund de Waal vase, both small and as expansive as the universe. A gorgeous poem full of tenderness and vision

Hideko Sueoka, ‘Cherry Blossoms’

The way she describes the beauty of spring and cherry blossoms through the change in the character’s mind caught my heart. I empathized with the feeling the character felt when facing the grace of spring.

Read More

Time to Vote for IS&T’s June 2016 Pick of the Month

From Japan to Peru via the Abellio Greater Anglia train to London Liverpool Street with stops at heaven and the back garden, our shortlist for June’s Pick of the Month – your favourite poem or work of flash fiction – is what you might call diverse.

So have a look at this month’s six finalists below (or see the ‘Vote for your June 2016 Pick of the Month’ in the Categories list to your right on the screen). These have either been chosen by Helen and Kate or received the most attention on social media.

Voting is now closed.

The winner each month will be sent a £10 book giftcard or, if preferred, a donation of the same amount will be made to a chosen charity*. In the event of the winner being from outside the UK mainland, we will make every effort to provide a reasonable alternative.


(*Ink Sweat & Tears reserves the right to refuse certain charities if we feel they are too controversial.)


Read More

Winner of the UEA FLY Festival Short Story Competition 11-14 yr olds: Scarlett Baxter

We are never disappointed by the 11-14 yrs entries for the Short Story Competition at the UEA FLY Festival and this year was no different. How do you make a decision when the imagination of these kids seems to have no bounds taking them back into history, forward into virtual reality gaming and everywhere in between? Ultimately, the judges (including brilliant YA author Alexander Gordon Smith and author and festival organiser Antoinette Moses) focused in on Scarlett Baxter from Langley School. Her ending is well-written, both atmospheric and exciting and pulls all the elements of the story together in an unusual and moving way.

Second place goes to Broadland High School’s Lorna Hatch, whose ending offers us a nicely alternative slant on Robin Hood and can be found here. And Honourable Mentions must go to the runners-up, Honey Lamdin (Langley School) and Finn Cruise (Smithdon High School)


FLY Festival 2016 Short Story Competition:
First Place 11-14 year olds: Scarlett Baxter, Langley School


It was going to be a great day. One, there were no lessons as we were going to this festival thing at the university in Norwich, two, Mum seemed to be getting better, and three…

I didn’t get as far as three because the bus sort of juddered and made a noise like someone scraping their fingernails across a blackboard. And the driver said the word Mum says I mustn’t ever use. He swung the wheel to the left and, with a couple of bumps and more scraping sounds, it stopped.

‘Sorry, folks, it’s a puncture,’ said the driver. So our teachers got us out of the bus, with lots of sighing and looking at their watches, while he changed the wheel. We’d stopped in a narrow road with a long flint wall running along beside it. I was about to take a photo of the driver, who’d got very red in the face, when I noticed the door in the wall beside me.

‘Look at that,’ I said to Chris.

‘’Why would you make a door that small?’ he asked. ‘It’s weird.’

Then it swung open. Not wide open, just a crack.

‘Shall we..? I asked.

Chris grinned. The door opened almost before I touched it and immediately Chris and I were in this huge green field. Which is when an arrow thwacked past my left ear and landed in the wall. Which wasn’t flint anymore but wood.

‘What on earth?’ yelped Chris. We turned round to get away from whoever was shooting arrows at us, when we saw that the door had gone. Disappeared. It just wasn’t there. And that’s when we heard the shouts and heard the dogs and…

…we heard the twangs of more arrows being pelted at us. I thought I must have fallen, from how low I was in the grass, when I heard Chris cry sharply. I turned and I stared. Before me was a wonderful vermilion fox. I looked down at my hand, but there was no hand there, just a small scarlet paw. The word mum told me never to say slipped from my lips as I realised what was happening. However, adrenaline had taken control over my limbs and I began pounding into the deep thicket of trees, shouting at Chris to follow. He, too, bounded into the forest narrowly missing an arrow, which thudded into the ground where he stood a second earlier.

We kept scampering through the trees even though we could hear the hunting horns die out and shouts fade. A smooth voice shouted from the root of a tree, instructing us to follow it down a deep hole. We skidded to a halt at the edge of the hole. I was reluctant to follow an unknown voice down a mysterious hole, but what choice did we have? We clambered into the damp tunnel, Chris leading this time, and scarpered along it with careful glances back in case the huntsmen came. The tunnel suddenly turned to a great chamber, which was surprisingly well-lit. There were about twenty foxes and vixens sat, some talking raptly with each other, some staring attentively at Chris and I. It was a very odd sight.

‘Welcome,’ said the furthest fox from the door.

She was clearly the leader. She had a demanding presence of power in all her body. Except her eyes. Familiar eyes?

‘My name is Twyla,’ she said softly ‘We’re the Vulpes. We, just like you, are humans, trapped. And we, like you, are confused.’

The room had stilled in silence.

‘However, we do know something,’ she continued ‘this is not real. It’s an alter reality in which our minds live. Our bodies live on in the other world, but as soulless beings. And as you may have guessed, we need to get out of here.’

Just as the words had escaped her, another fox appeared.

‘Twyla!’ he panted ‘we’ve found it!’

The room exploded. Every single fox scrambled for the tunnel and its opening. Chris and I followed. The other fox lead the way through the trees until he found an opening. There, at the base of the biggest tree, was a small door.

‘Shall we..?’ I asked and we went through together.

Everything blacked out. I felt something like butterflies in my chest, followed by a thump as I felt my back hit the ground. I opened my eyes to see the bus and everything how it was before. I sat up dazed and saw Chris next to me. We both had knowing looks in our eyes. Did that really just happen?

When I returned home, mother hugged me tight. She was completely better. No pale face or watery eyes. But those eyes… She nodded. So mum was never ill after all…

Read More