A Star Shell by Christopher Richard Wynne NevinsonChristopher Richard Wynne Nevinson
A Star Shell exhibited 1916
© Tate
Oil on canvas
50.8cm x 40.6cm 

Christopher James presents his poem, 'A Star Shell', based on Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson's work of the same name. This is currently on display in Tate Modern on Level 5 'States of Flux,' in Room 2.
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       A Star Shell
In a moment the world is shattered,
    sub-divided into fractions of itself.
We freeze in its mathematics.
    The trench floods with rivers of light;
mud quickens into life and the barricades
   become the linked arms of children.
All of the universe turns on this point,
   a precursor of the final reckoning,
the second before the sun implodes;
    a flash of beautiful clarity when God
presents himself, shining on the wasteland:
   a tender eye over his razed creation.
It is not the moment after I remember
  but the fabric of our tunics, the accent
of light on our helmets, the spots of rust
   on our belt brass and the olive green of the
subaltern’s eyes;  the star drifts peaceably
   to the earth and in an instant – gunfire. 

CHRISTOPHER JAMES has won the Bridport and Ledbury poetry prizes and the 2008 National Poetry Competition. He is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the UEA, and is a recipient of an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors.

Born in Paisley in 1975, he works in London and now lives in Suffolk with a banjo and a mortgage. His poems have appeared in Poetry Review, Magma, The Rialto, Smiths Knoll, Poetry London and Iota. His first collection, The Invention of Butterfly, is available from

Britain's top single poem competition since 1978, the National Poetry Competition is judged anonymously and the top prize is £5000. Judges this year are Daljit Nagra, Ruth Padel and Neil Rollinson. To enter or further information, please visit