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Young poets shine

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Published on 17 May 2018

BA English and Creative Writing students John Lennox, Rachel Collinge and Michael Calder
BA English and Creative Writing students John Lennox, Rachel Collinge and Michael Calder

Michael Calder, Rachel Collinge and John Lennox are all studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Sunderland – and all three have brought their skills out of the classroom and into the real world with three poems on three very different subjects.

20 year old Michael Calder has taken a theme which is particularly appropriate this week, National Mental Health Week, for his poem ‘Under the Bed’.

Michael, from Amble in Northumberland, said: “’Under the Bed’ explores the psyche of a person suffering from depression. Initially, the depression takes the form of monsters which lurk in the person's dreams and under the bed, until he realises these monsters are actually in his head; the problem is really his resurfacing depression.

“I wrote the poem because everyone experiences these moments in which sadness, stress, or life in general becomes overwhelming. I wanted to capture that moment and share it; to show those who read the poem it is universal and we can all, on some level, feel connected by it.”

Rachel Collinge, 25, is originally from South-East London, but now lives in Gateshead. She is the final year of her English and Creative Writing degree.

She said: “I love writing poetry – it's how I make sense of the world - but I've always been reluctant to enter any competitions. I prefer a cosy pub with a mic stand and the immediate connection with an audience when you perform. “

Her poem ‘Common Scents’, is about belonging and connection – not through words, but through the smells of home!

“I really want to engage with and inspire kids to aim high through the arts, performance poetry and humour. I hope to continue writing, and being shortlisted has been such an unexpected surprise.”

John Lennox, 21, is in the second year of his degree. His poem, ’Cockroaches’ takes a look at how cuts are affecting communities like his own, Gateshead, where John has lived his whole life.

He said: “In the future some students are really going to struggle to find homes and live comfortable lives.

“The poem is basically about how I'm starting to see the slow effects of the Government's cuts in my hometown. Schools are closing, Thomas Hepburn in Gateshead quite recently, and the grass isn't being cut as much, these were basic standard things this community had a few years ago.

“The direction I see smaller forgotten towns going in is that if there aren't jobs and there isn't sufficient government funded welfare, people will simply turn to crime.”

John graduates in 2019, and is considering going into teaching after university.

John, Rachel and Michael will join other finalists at the Customs House on 30 May at the 2018 Terry Kelly Poetry Prize launch event. Michael added: “It is my first ceremony to celebrate my writing and hopefully there will be more to come.”

Dr Sarah Dobbs, Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Sunderland, said: “We're thrilled to see our students being nominated for this award. All three have such distinctive voices, which I feel makes the fact they've been nominated even more rewarding. We'll have our fingers crossed for them all and hope the very fact they've been shortlisted gives them the confidence to push forward with their writing.”

Elizabeth Kane, Learning Officer at The Customs House who coordinates the Terry Kelly Poetry Prize, said: “The Terry Kelly Poetry Prize is a cornerstone of The Takeover youth arts festival. The award was set up in memory of local writer and journalist Terry Kelly.  As Alistair Robinson one of our judges is a poet and is also a senior lecturer in Journalism at the University of Sunderland we expected some strong entries. Sunderland’s students did not disappoint!

“The Customs House believes it’s important to showcase young artists’ talents. Whether that’s poets like the entrants to this competition or artists like those in our first Takeover Open Exhibition in the gallery. This ambition is shared by our funders and we would like to thank The Barbour Foundation whose grant helps us print the shortlisted poets’ anthology and Scottish Power Foundation who support The Takeover Team, our group of young people who help with every aspect of The Takeover Festival.”

“The Takeover runs from 28 May to 1 June and we’d encourage everyone to find out more about what’s going on and how they can get involved.”

To find out more about the Takeover Festival go to: https://www.customshouse.co.uk/learning-participation/takeover-festival/

The winning poems (all poems are copywright the individual authors)


Under the Bed, by Michael Calder


There are monsters under my bed,

Who at night, creep in my head.


They play and dance around my brain,

Laugh and howl at my pain,


Whisper in my ear to make me sweat,

And fill my heart with regret.


The tears roll down my cheeks at night

While the monsters scratch and bite


Their claws are sharp against my mind,

And no peaceful sleep will I find.


In my dreams, they stand so tall

These monsters who feel nought at all,


Beg me to make them free again,

Release them on my world to reign.


Make me imagine a blade of steel

A cold touch that feels so real,


It runs gently across my skin

My only armour so paper thin,


I think I need just one more session

To help me mask this depression.


For no monsters live beneath my bed;

They all reside inside my head.


Common scents, by Rachel Collinge


You knit with your fingers,

even though your daughter 

bought you bamboo bones

to wend the wool around.

No, you twist the thread

onto that fleshy starfish

and boast that you’ve always 

spun a good yarn.

That ragged ribbon

snakes out from your knuckles

and you tell me you love the feeling,

that you’ve never needed

the middle man anyway.

I joke that you’re 

making scarves for weasels

and you grunt that 

your client is even less



When I find the loose corn rows

braided together in brown paper

I can’t help but 

tangle my fingers in the lines 

as you did

to the hum of bad TV shows

and the incessant chatter of the radio.


It smells of you: 

clean soap and cigarettes,

rubbed from your skin,

and I realise you’ve sent me 

an autograph.


Cockroaches, by John Lennox


Universities take advantage of caffeine addiction

from students who will later struggle to find

a pot to relieve themselves in

as the doors of the NHS slam to privatisation

please tell me, what is the use of council taxation?


When the roads are still bumpy

 and the grass is uncut

and the schools are all closing

as their budgets are cut


When will the small towns find any luck

will it take a neck and a noose for them to

give a…

care about us?


Like those Jarrow crusaders

let’s kick up a fuss

demand we’re treat fair

or is that too much?


Let’s march to 10 downing

I wish they were drowning

because too many times

they’ve broken our trust