Poems from Kate Edwards, Ali Whitelock and Jane Wilkinson are the IS&T Entries for the 2018 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.

Revisit the poems below or go to www.inksweatandtears.co.uk/pages/?cat=85.

Good luck to all!

Read More

And our Pick of the Month for December is ‘the cumquats of christmas past’ by Ali Whitelock


All you want for December’s Pick of the Month is ‘the cumquats of christmas past’. This strong and beautiful poem by Ali Whitelock had a profound effect on the voters and, for many, left a powerful impression long after reading it. It was, quite simply, an ‘incredibly moving’ picture of grief.

Ali’s poems have been published in several magazines and journals. Her memoir, poking seaweed with a stick…. was published to critical acclaim and her poetry collection, and my heart crumples like a coke can will be released in 2018.

‘the cumquats of christmas past’ has been chosen as one of Ink Sweat & Tears’ entries for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2018


the cumquats of christmas past

you hailed your taxi tuesday the eight––
eenth of february 2014 at four twenty seven p.m.
i watched it approach swerve to the kerb
its back doors fly open––if this was death i saw it
crouched behind the wheel & jaded as a night
shift driver full of red bull & no doz & cheap 7/11
coffee ten thousand cigarette butts spewing
from its ashtray’s filthy mouth
the driver bundled you in––no fanfare
no prayers no bach cantata sung in sotto voce
that might accompany you on the fresh black
tarmac of your new road ahead––& nothing
soft for you to lay your head on
just a cracked vinyl seat stale cigarette
smoke a strawberry scented christmas tree jiggling
like a tea bag from the rear view mirror. i lay my
hand on yours leaned in whispered something like
i’m sorry made sure your pyjama sleeves were clear
of the door before pressing it closed as the first
bubbles of fermenting sadness rose in me
and i forced them down like cumquats into a jar
filled with brandy in preparation for christmas
which was still ten months away & for weeks i kept
cramming till the skins of my cumquats tore
their flesh bled out & you could no longer
tell where one cumquat ended & another
& when finally christmas came i half
decked my halls whispered infrasonic compliments
of the season too low even for a passing whale hung
empty stockings from the mantle their gaping mouths
speechless by the un-kindled fire & when finally
lunch was served & those of us left were gathered over
turkey & ham i took my jar of preserved cumquats
from the dark of my pantry, made my way around
the table & heaped everyone’s plate with a side of my
compressed orange grief.



Voters comments included:

The grief is palpable. The writing easy but descriptive and efficient. Almost overwhelmingly sad but controlled,acknowledged and accepted

The cumquats of grief that’s why – how they pack in more around Christmas, preserved, ever jammed.

The concept of Ali’s grief being squished down like cumquats in a jar totally hit the note – and spooning them out at Christmas just about finished me…! Absolutely loved it.

Very evocative language! What a wordsmith!!

Ali’s work really captures the crystal prisms of December

I love Ali’s breathless ramblings that cut closer and closer to the bone with savagely unscrambled line. Great stuff

Very emotional felt the grief of the writer

A quirky, punchy and powerful poem. Works very effectively – love it!

I can see, smell and taste the cumquats.

love the syntax, imagery, emotion

It punches me in the stomach and I love it.

Ali’s voice is so original yet speaks to the heart of what is Universal. She’s a thrilling find!!

it was the perfect portrait of the cab driver. such compassion for him while drawing this ghastly portrait.

The poem dealt with grief in such an original way. Many of the lines stayed with me long after I read it. Very original and moving. Would love to read more of Ali Whitelock’s work.

This poem combines wonderful lyricism with a visceral use of the vernacular. It is an intimate telling which is what poetry should be

Brilliant, brilliant soulful writing!

I adore her quirky poetry, it makes me want to read more (and get to know her!)

I love the way this poem flows, without rules and she captures the approach of death in a sad and unique way

This poem resonates emotion … the grief is palpable but not obvious in the chosen words. Original. Creative. Yet totally relatable.

Simply a wonderful poem that does the very tricky thing of making another person’s loss and grief so tangible and visceral to the reader. The details: eg. making sure pyjama sleeves were clear of the taxi door which is then pressed close like the lid on the jar of cumquats. Breathtakingly good.

Read More

November’s Pick of the Month is ‘Frequency Violet’ by Kate Edwards

As ever it was a close-run contest but ‘Frequency Violet’ charmed the voters and Kate Edwards’ poem is our Pick of the Month for November 2017. With comments such as ‘unique and interesting’, ‘quirky’ and ‘playful’, we think everyone just lost their hearts a little!

Kate lives in the Calder Valley in Yorkshire but hails from the Black Country. She is a graduate of the Warwick University Masters in Writing Programme and Co-Artistic Director of all-female theatre company, Jammy Voo.  Twitter: @k8_in_space

‘Frequency Violet’ has been chosen as one of Ink Sweat & Tears’ entries for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2018.


Frequency Violet

Some have misgivings about Violet. They believe
she is on the spectrum; somewhere at the very end,
in fact. None can account for it but we’re told
she hums inaudibly in the octave of ozone, and lives
in an airlock, loiters in restricted zones, makes
uncanny utterances, keeps marine snails, crushes
pencils into graphite dust, dances like it’s the seventies,
tattoos the world’s conspiracy theories onto uterine vellum,
stays up all night smoothing polymers under strip lights,
blinking. Rumours insist she has an eye for tactical missile
design and stockpiles blueprints, knows how to execute
the perfect gem heist and leave fingerprints all over it.
Her party trick will make volatile hearts and auras
of loneliness glow in the dark; despondency shine black.
Dreams of Violet often precede a wedding or a gas attack.


More voters comments below:

Gorgeous, delicate, efficient and bold. Love this. Stayed with me.

Imagery, rhythm, language, detail, originality

It’s just such an unusual and clever poem, I loved the originality of it.

I love the narrative in Kate’s work and the definitiveness that runs through it. It also has a sense of playfulness that delights the reader.

Violet stuns and surprises. The last line is particularly wonderful!

Because I’m in love with Violet…

I just really like it. Despite being unable to describe why. I guess I just like Violet 🙂

As someone trained in science I love how scientific integrity is maintained without compromising poetic sensibility. It’s beautifully nuanced, each line vibrating at the right frequency.

Wonderfully imaginative writing

The opening mis-direction and then the mixture of science and wonderful absurdity. Brilliant

Kate’s words jump off the page and suck you into an imaginative vortex. Her images sing and I want to read more please.

Tough choice this month! I love the energy and humour of Kate’s poem

I love its surprises, its wit and danger.

There’s just a life to this piece and it seems to be staying alive in my head as I find myself coming back to thinking about it.




Read More

We’ve got ‘Your location’ by Jane Wilkinson as our Pick of the Month for May 2017


A definitive vote (unlike another significant, recent election) saw Jane Wilkinson’s ‘Your location’ chosen as Pick of the Month for May 2017. Some of you fell a little in love with the poem, describing it as beautiful and evocative, enjoying its rhythm and form yet there was unease and mystery there too.

Jane was shortlisted for Lo and Behold!, the Poetry School’s 2014 Micro-Commission, and has a response poem to a Shakespeare sonnet in Live Canon’s 154 anthology (2016). She lives in London with her family and is a Landscape Architect.

‘Your location’ has been chosen as one of Ink Sweat & Tears’ entries for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2018.


Your location

Round the corner I hear you
coming I hear you coming
round the corner of the barn
I arrange my arms and legs
I hear around the corner
of the barn the gravel’s tough
back teeth working doggedly
on splintering a bone
I spin up a cloud
of smoke to be within
position myself beneath the salty buttered light
farm manure bellows cold pools like clouds of sound rising slowly as the milky way
we gather like water
and ripple open



Voters comments included:-

So many undercurrents indicated with such economy – powerfully visual, palpable – so much expressed, compressed.

Mysterious and rhythmic. Intriguing and seeped in longing(or fear). Loved the music. Every time I read it I find something else.

Enchanted by the rustic tug of the writing and the dreamlike agrarian imagery.

Fantastic sense of place, while creating uncertainty of subject

… this gets my vote for its strangeness and complex concision!

I love how the simple repetition of the first lines moves towards the beautiful language of the ending.

This poem speaks straight to me. I like the straightforward/no nonsense way it has been written.

…I like the form, repetition and flow of the poem plus the wonderful imagery of ‘the gravel’s tough back teeth’ and ‘salty buttered light’.

I love the free-yet-structured feel of it; so much thought in that opening stanza, the recreation of the excitement/game fear through repetition spot-on, and the beautiful ending, ‘we gather like water / and ripple open’. A really evocative recreation of childhood play, where the ‘I’ is at one with its environment.

Lovely broken lines

strong simple words building to a powerful image –

feelings of fear and expectation, finely wrought

I like the way way the poem is composed to reveal the situation in a simplistic way, each of your senses is engaged enabling you to paint a picture of the scene described with your imagination..

I felt that the line about the gravel’s tough back teeth splintering a bone was the best line from all of the poems – it captures something of what only poetry can do – put the sounds of the world into words that give you both a simple delight (at the joy of the words,) and a deeper empathy for the atmosphere and feelings of the poet herself.

Read More