This the UK--check out the awards in Pounds--multiply X 1.35 for dollars
The National Poetry Competition 2013
Congratulations to Linda France, who has won the National Poetry Competition with her poem 'Bernard and Cerinthe'
The judges said "‘Bernard and Cerinthe’ is as much a pleasure to read on the page as it is on the tongue, and as such was the unanimous choice of the judges for first place in this year’s National Poetry Competition." Click here to read more. Read the Press Release here.
Image: Linda France, by Hayley Madden
First Prize: 'Bernard and Cerinthe' by Linda France (£5000)
Second Prize: 'Among Barmaids' by Paula Bohince (£2000)
Third Prize: 'Love on a night like this' by Josephine Abbott (£1000)
- Julia Copus
- Matthew Sweeney
- Jane Yeh
Bernard and Cerinthe
If a flower is always a velvet curtain
onto some peepshow he never opens,
it’s a shock to find himself sheltering
from the storm in a greenhouse,
seduced by a leaf blushing blue
at the tips, begging to be stroked.
He’s caught in the unfamiliar ruffle
of knickerbockers or petticoat, a scent
of terror, vanilla musk. If he were
not himself, he’d let his trembling lips
articulate the malleability of wax;
the bruise of bracts, petals, purple
shrimps; seeds plump as buttocks,
tucked out of harm’s way, cocos-de-mer
washed up off Curieuse or Silhouette.
But being Bernard, he’s dumbstruck,
a buffoon in front of a saloon honey
high-kicking the can-can. Can’t-can’t.
He attempts to cool himself, thinking
about sea horses, Hippocampus erectus
listening to the rain refusing to stop,
soft against the steamed-up glass.
Click here to read more about Linda and the winning poem, and watch the 'Bernard and Cerinthe' filmpoem by Alastair Cook
There was a metal door that took both hands
but we did it daily. Inside were our charges, sealed in
submarine darkness. We swam
through their booze, past the pool
table’s alien island, darts that thwacked
the pricked wall
like failure itself, spinning like downed ducks
to the filthy tile. Like good dogs, we fetched them.
In a windowless silence, we watched our drunks
bend like sycamores in an all-day snowstorm.
When they slept, we let them, then shook them
with the tenderness of mothers.
They woke and smoked, still dreaming, wore their trade
on their fingers—coal or dirt or grease.
On the jukebox, five songs repeated, each a lament
about cheating women. We hummed along,
bore the plodding joke, slurred compliment,
nodded at creased photographs of estranged children.
The beer rose in gushes. Our forearms bulged.
One girl, what she wanted before she died
was to see the ocean. Froth pillowed up
from subterranean barrels, through pipes and pulleys.
We wore out our pity, watching men stroke the bar
like the hardened brushed hair of a daughter.
We wore ours in scarves. Our hoop earrings swayed
on the downbeat. We held rags
or tucked them in jeans, tattooed the names
of ex-husbands, first lovers, into our skin
in script so thick and Bible-elaborate as to be illegible.
One wore her drugged-out son’s childhood face
on her wrist, his doomed grin following us.
Men brought their kids when the wives needed peace.
We gave them Cokes and bowls of cherries,
let them draw on napkins and pinned up the drawings.
Sometimes we spun them on the make-believe dance
floor, trying to turn despair into a party.
Click here to read more about Paula and her poem, and to watch the 'Among Barmaids' filmpoem by Idil Sukan
Love on a Night Like This
Outside, air is balancing itself. We can hear
branches in motion, some twigs breaking,
wires like violin strings, trees breathy as bass flutes.
The acoustics of friction. The science of equilibrium
isn’t at all easy. Effort is needed
to walk against the wind. Love isn’t easy.
Something – a plastic pot or a chair –
skitters on a path. A bin tips over.
Tonight, things are on the move:
leaves, dead and alive; seeds; fences;
flying insects and spiders new-worlded;
birds made helpless as plastic bags;
dust, sand, water, all turned to spray
and spread. Small trees blow over.
We are skittering on a path
though we’re heavy with flesh, bone, eyes, tongues;
we’re sea-birds in the teeth of a gale
trying to anchor ourselves in place;
we’re storm-petrels, called little Peters because
we only look for a while as if we can walk on water;
Somewhere else, seas heap up and crests break.
Here, we’re ditching meteorology for myth:
the wind’s a creature broken out of a cave;
a wolf, and this is Ragnarök.
Glass breaks; a car alarm sounds; trees wrench.
There’s a science and a logic to loving you,
but there’s superstition on a night like this
and all the stirring of the world to settle first.
Click here to read more about Josephine and her poem, and to watch the 'Love on a night like this' filmpoem by Kate Sweeney.
She wrapped a tea-towel around buns or a brack,
packed sandwiches into a bread-bag
and strapped me into the seat on the back.
I pressed against her, arms around her waist,
her strong swimmer’s legs pushing us up the brae,
(legs that had saved a child from a whirlpool one day
in Donegal). Long grasses, cow parsley
crowded us as she worked and swayed
and sang, ‘then up she goes to Antonio
with his ice cream cart’; on evenings in summer
we called with neighbours,
Annie’s sick brother, Jamesy’s mother.
One August evening, daylight almost gone,
she clicked the dynamo on, I heard its secret song,
‘up we go, up we go, oh Antonio’,
the lamp flickered in time with the pedals
when she stood up in the saddle for the hill.
Down the other side it was all freewheel,
midges, swallows, hedges flitted past
till we spun faster, faster,
her blowing hair and laughter
were all a blur,
as the warm air and wheels’ whirr
lulled me to sleep against her constant back.
I kept you in bed with me so many nights,
certain I could hold the life into you,
certain that the life in you wanted to leap out, hare-like,
go bobbing off into some night-field.
For want of more eyes, more arms
I strapped you to me while I did the dishes, cooked, typed,
your little legs frogging
against the deflating dune of your first home.
Nested you in a car seat while I showered, dressed,
and when you breastfed for hours and hours
I learned how to manoeuvre the cup and book around you.
Time and friends and attitudes, too.
We moved breakables a height, no glass tables.
Fitted locks to the kitchen cupboards, door jammers,
argued about screws and pills someone left within reach.
I’ll not tell you how my breath left me, how my heart stopped
at your stillness in the cot, and who I became
when at last you moved. There is no telling
what skins of me have dropped and shed in the fears
I’ve entered. What I will say is that the day
beyond these blankets, beyond our door
is known to me now, fragile as moth-scurf,
its long ears twitching, alert,
white tail winking across the night-field.
Gift of the Sloth
To live like this demands a talent for hanging
by toenails curved as a Balinese dancer’s
for over a decade. For clinging the soft pendulum
of your body to a tree (in wind, hail or heat)
because your life depends on it. Even though your muscles
are weak as ribbons, your eyes sightless buttons.
It means improvising for rain: growing fur backwards
so torrents sheer off you like a rock in a stream,
then allowing yourself, over time, to green
in empathy (for what is there in life, really, to envy?)
with algae and photosynthesis. Your coat will provide
a travelling luxury for beetles, moths and mites. Let it.
You must appear to be a handbag of dripping moss
with a face (that someone left behind in the forest).
Of course, there will be the skill of forgetting
babies whose grip was not enough. Avoiding jaguars
during weekly visits to the ground. But most of all,
shall be the gift of knowing your one modal tree,
leaf by leaf, like the slow lover you are
high up in the canopy.
We were three hours at sea
When the birds began to fall;
Tired from the fog and cold,
In that blind rolling water;
In a world too big to picture,
Into the mist and rain. We said
A prayer for them, and we
Prayed for ourselves again.
crepuscule with nellie (take six)
we make choices. sometimes it’s watching phoebes erase moths
from clover months after the family jaunt across texas: weather
parroting miles & miles of trouble. dirt roads going nowhere or
to a lozenge pattern: evidence of local color hiding something all
over the place in the same kind of building. other times, we find
ourselves on a plane over a large body of water & the headphone
jack defective. yet, if we complain, compensated only with a wink
& reminder our seat cushions float. was it late afternoon saturday?
you were wearing the t-shirt we both like: i can’t, i’m waiting for
& the kid on the bus asked, what’s go dot
? we can choose
to loiter in the past: munich, on some straße, trying to decode
menus to avoid eating der blaue reiter
for the 4th time this week.
breathing a shade of cinnamon we weren’t sure existed. & birds
again, only this time crows, rowing in an iron· sky & mispronouncing
klee! klee! klee!
ten-thousand foot view is the distance we want
to be seen by: not a river wandering to find more river. scar tissue
passes for meaning. gristle: gist. police talk to their shoulders instead
of using them to brachiate. we all chose to throw rocks over arboreal
locomotion. a trifle that springs to mind is catching fish with balls
of white bread. we wonder if there’s pond life with this shape
that hasn’t been discovered & can be named for a relative who
botched their days. eventually we succumb to tabula rasa
the suburban. love is noticing the eyes of another being picked
up in a tie. everyone improves in the proximity of our affection
CCTV Central Control
Eight-hour shifts on rolling nights wouldn’t suit some
– people with kids and a wife – but the money’s okay
and I’m my own boss, in a way, or at least it feels like that
when I pan across girls stamping their feet in the taxi rank,
zoom in on men squaring up in the street between bars,
or watch a woman sat against the glass of the Turkish Kebab,
head lolling between her bare knees, all her long hair
covering her face. They never look into the camera.
The Eye in the Sky, that’s the game I play in my head,
but this job takes serious discretion: Outside of work,
you must never discuss what you see on your screens
I switch between twenty; the others work ten at the most.
Some stick it out for a year or so, then leave or get asked to go.
Darren I know fell asleep on the job. His phone was flashing
and flashing and flashing on the desk next to mine.
Operatives must demonstrate excellent concentration
Ashley in Archives was sacked for leaving a door unlocked.
Most of the time nothing much happens, just the silent film,
the roll of drunken friends hanging from each other’s necks.
My colleagues find ways to pass the time. I don’t join in.
Never record over a shift
. I liked Ashley, but sometimes the film
tells it wrong and I’ve been doing this job long enough to know
what’s a crime and what’s just two people fooling around.
These things would be better with the sound turned up.
My dad always said I’d never amount to anything
staring at a screen all night, but here I am, doing just that:
a free man with a one-bed rent on the seventh-floor
of that mirrored-glass tower he hated. I’m my own man
and when I get home after a shift, I pull a chair up to the glass
like it’s some massive VDU on which I watch the sun
and all those city workers rising from the ground,
changed, wiped clean, as though nothing was ever as it was.
I Stop Wearing the Mini-skirt, 1972
I listen to Jimi Hendrix, Foxy Lady
, in the dark, drink milk
in chilled cartons on Victoria Station. Beyond the factory
hours of vacation working, I don’t know what I’ll do.
The two of us deep in the forest, summer
under two-man canvas, the tearing rasp of cows
at night and will they see the guy ropes?
I don’t know if I want a baby.
I love The Nutcracker Suite
, being at the ballet –
my neighbour’s treat – still dreaming the dancer.
Does my English teacher want her poetry books back?
Twenty more years before I know she told them
How will I survive being away from you, behind the door
You hitch-hike all the way to see me.
They would have loved a proper wedding – dad
to give me away, mum fussing round the bridal gown,
petting the grandchildren already born.
I stop wearing the mini-skirt.
I don’t know that I do love you is not forever.
I read Rachel Carson and believe the sea is dying.
THIS IS THE 2012 WINNER__LOVE IT
Clothes that escaped the Great War
Not the familiar ghosts: the shaggy dog of Thorne Waste
that appeared only to children, the chains clanking
from the Gyme seat, nor the black barge at Waterside.
These were the most scary, my mother recalled: clothes
piled high on the wobbly cart, their wearers gone.
Overalls caked in dung, shirts torn from the muscle strain
of heavy hemp sacks, socks matted with cow-cake
from yards nearby, and the old horse plodding, on the nod.
Its uneven gait never varied whether coming from farms
where lads were collected like milk churns, or going back
with its harvest of dungarees scented by first fags,
notes in pockets to sweethearts; boots with laces undone,
jerseys knitted – purl, plain – around coke fires.
And the plod, plod, quadruple time. Then the catch
in the plod from the clank of loose shoes, from windgalls
on the fetlocks of the horse, each missed beat on the lane
a missed beat in a heart. As a small girl she could see –
at their windows – the mothers pressing memories
too young for mothballs into lavender bags, staring out
propaganda posters, dreading the shouts of telegraph boys
from lines of defense and attack. As the harness creaked
and the faithful old horse clopped forward and back,
the lads were new-dressed in the years never to be had,
piled higher than high over the shafts of the buckling cart.