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From open-mic to £1,000 poetry prize: how feedback encouraged Trystan Lewis to try his luck

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A spoken word poet who only started writing again after getting some positive feedback at Morecambe poetry festival in 2022 has won a £1,000 poetry competition with his poem ‘Don’t tell Dad’. Trystan Lewis, who lives in Morecambe, said he had written “bits of poetry” back in the 1990s but then had been busy “having a family, writing songs and playing banjo in a bluegrass band”. He was encouraged to start writing poetry again by the reaction to his performance at Morecambe poetry festival, which has gained a well-deserved reputation for showcasing grassroots performers as well poetry big names. At a late-night, ‘last poet standing’, open-mic he performed a few song lyrics as spoken word pieces “and got some positive feedback and a massive buzz”.

Trystan started regularly attending and performing at open mics: Wordarium at the Herbarium in Lancaster, Verbalise in Kendal, and then on to others in Manchester, Bury, Salford and Bolton. He said: “These open mics are so important: a reason to write, and a safe and supportive place to try new poems.”

Trystan works as an apprentice speech and language therapist, after 25 years teaching secondary school science. He added: “At the second Morecambe poetry festival I was lucky to get a 10-minute slot as part of Sarah L Dixon’s Quiet Compere group which was a massive honour. Since then I’ve been writing and performing even more, had some headline slots at local events and even slammed at Huddersfield literature festival and Manchester’s One Mic Stand.

“I knew ‘Don’t tell Dad’ was a good one because I’d seen how people had been affected by it and how people had wanted to talk to me about it afterwards. I entered it for a couple of competitions but never expected a response - I see my work as more spoken word then written down poetry and so, when I do enter these things it’s with a feeling of buying a lottery ticket- you don’t expect to hear from them again.”

But this time it was different. “I’d noticed that the judge of the Plough prize was Roger McGough and I had a feeling that he’d ‘get it’ if anyone would. I think there’s a lesson there for entering competitions - look who the judge is. If you don’t like their work it’s unlikely they are going to like yours!

“The Dad in the poem isn’t me or my dad but the verses are meant to represent stages of life and how those can be navigated.

“Hearing about winning was brilliant, so affirming, like someone saying that you are on the right track.”

In his introduction to the poem, on the Plough prize website, Trystan says: “I'm a dad, my dad was a dad and, apparently, his dad was a dad too. I'm told it goes back like that for about two hundred years! Before that it was all mums. This poem is not really about any of those dads, it's not about me and it's not about my dad but, at the same time I think it's about all of those dads and their sons and daughters who at some point will have said, ‘Don't tell Dad.’ ”



by Trystan Lewis

Don’t tell Dad about my spelling test. Don’t tell him I can’t tell one letter from the next.

And don’t tell Dad how stupid I am, I don’t want him to think I’m any thicker than I am.

But she did tell Dad and Dad did say don’t worry about that, it’s just silly anyway,

It’s not your fault how these letters evolved with loops and dots and sticks and curls,

But here’s a little trick for b and d, just draw a little picture of a b.e.d., a bed, you see?

Beginning and end, that’s where the stick goes, there’s lots of other tricks and I’ll teach you those.


Don’t tell Dad I’m failing at maths. Don’t tell him I can’t calculate the y from the x.

Don’t tell Dad I didn’t even do my best I just closed my eyes and put my head on the desk.

But she did tell Dad and Dad did say don’t worry about that, it’s just silly anyway,

There are lots of great things in this world you can do without a quadratic or a cosine rule,

But let’s draw a diagram and then you’ll see, it’s never as clever as they make it out to be.


Don’t tell Dad I drank so much that I lost certain functions with unfortunate results.

Don’t tell Dad that I cried and I puked and I broke something valuable that cannot be reproduced.

But she did tell Dad and Dad did say don’t worry about that, it’s just silly anyway,

You should have seen me in ’73, when Sunderland won the Cup thanks to Jimmy Montgomery,

And I danced on the table and I fell and broke my nose and your mother always wondered how I ever did get home.


Don’t tell Dad that it turns out that I’m gay. Don’t tell him cos I know it’s only going to cause him pain.

Because Dad believes in families and families look like this, with a mother and a father and a scattering of kids.

But she did tell Dad and Dad did say don’t worry about that, it’s just silly anyway,

There are no rules sent down here from above and there’s nothing wrong with anyone that’s capable of love,

And yes I love my family but one day I’ll love yours and whatever shape that family takes we’ll have an open door.


Don’t tell Dad I left my job. Don’t tell him that I’m working back at the old shop.

Don’t tell Dad I got so stressed and depressed that even the doctor said “It’s probably for the best”.

But she did tell Dad and Dad did say don’t worry about that it’s just silly anyway,

Have you got enough money for your food and rent? I’ll talk to your mother and see if we can help,

But you can’t do a job if it’s making you ill, and you can do a lot worse than a job behind the till.


Don’t tell the kids that we’ve had a diagnosis. Don’t tell them that we talked to the doctor and the nurses.

Don’t tell the kids we saw the pictures on the screen and they pointed at the shadows and they told us what they mean.


But she did tell the kids and the kids came round and Dad said it’s probably just a shot across the bows,

And there’s plenty of time, and there’s no need to worry, but maybe now’s the moment for me to say I’m sorry.

I’m sorry if you ever thought my love came with conditions, like being good at spelling and making wise decisions,

Like being straight or being happy or accumulating wealth, or always being sober with perfect mental health

And I’m sorry if you thought my love could be so easily diminished,

because it couldn’t and it wasn’t and it wouldn’t and it isn’t.







◄ Fran Lock and Alan Morrison to judge Bread and Roses poetry awards

Lisa Kelly at Write Out Loud Woking on Thursday ►

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