Founder of town’s poetry festival dies

TRIBUTES have been paid to a well-loved poet and writer who died after a long illness.

Josephine Austin, of Downs Road, passed away peacefully at the Conquest Hospital on April 13, aged 80.

She had had a fall at home two weeks earlier and suffered two heart attacks in recent years.

Josephine, who was born in Richmond in Yorkshire, was best known for founding Hastings International Poetry Festival back in 1968.

The poet, who moved to Hastings when she was 11, edited First Time, which featured selections of poems from contributors.

Her husband of 57 years, Brian, said: “Josephine loved Hastings and I think that’s why she did so much for the town. The poetry festival was truly international, as poets came from all over the world. Josephine also ran a children’s poetry competition and prize-giving at the Town Hall every year. It became so big that at one point Richard Stevens, who was councillor at the time, told her she was a victim of her own success. The event had to stop in 1995 because of health and safety precautions.”

Friends also paid tribute to her this week.

Martin Woodfine, of Silverstone Court, St Leonards, said: “I first met Josephine when I turned up at the Hastings International Poetry Festival in the mid-1990s. I was readily welcomed into an eclectic group.

“Over a period of years I gained the confidence to write over a range of topics and styles and became a regular reader, both at that festival and elsewhere. It was all down to Josephine.

“Her warm-hearted welcome to festival-goers ensured that her publication First Time had a rolling following of contributors and audience.

“Hastings and poetry has lost a leading literary voice and an exceptional, inspirational lady.”

John Robinson, who knew Josephine for more than 30 years, said: “I was a teenager when I first met Josephine and from that moment she was endlessly generous, encouraging and enthusiastic.

“Josephine was a true poet, she lived poetry and was dedicated to her craft. She gave numerous poets the opportunity to showcase their work in her magazine First Time, one of the most established and prestigious of small press magazines.

“Josephine’s poetry was well-styled and reached across many boundaries. She could, seemingly without effort, hold an audience with her voice. It was soft, gentle, and had a resonance that would linger long after Josephine had finished reading. Her sensitivity could penetrate any world.”

He added that Josephine knew and corresponded with well-known poets, such as the late Robert Graves, who died in 1985, and Brian Patten.

He said: “I have, from initially meeting Josephine, published eight books of poetry, a collection of short stories and a novel. Josephine was not just a big influence in my life but a major influence.

“She was a very special lady. I have lost a beautiful friend and the town has lost its most important poet.”

Josephine’s funeral was held at Hastings Crematorium on Tuesday (April 22). She is survived by her husband Brian, daughter Tracy and grandson Ruben.