Members' Poems 2007

Winter issue

Theme: Windows
Judge: Sue Hubbard


The poetry world, it seems, is full of smeared windows. There were church windows and those with twitching nets. So what was I looking for? Poems that were all of a piece – some started well but ended badly while others contained only a single dazzling line. Those I chose insisted I read them, saying what they had to say directly and with a freshness of vision.

Carole Bromley
Skylight

Just me and the moon, after all.

Beside me, you. Sleeping like a baby.

A baby who's taken a swig from the nurse's bottle,

a drag on a stub end he found in the ash-tray.

Spread-eagled, one knee raised.

You make sleep impossible.

 

Anyway how could I sleep tonight?

I lie in what's left of the bed

like a jigsaw piece in the wrong puzzle

and watch the stars who don't care

staring back from another millennium.

They've seen it all before.

 

Just me and the moon, after all.

He might be just a sliver of his former self

but he knows what he wants of me:

my faithful gaze, his own reflection

in my eyes that stare up at him

through the cold, uncurtained glass.

 


 

David Burns
See Through

Just a puddle
showing its scrap of sky
framed in wet tarmac, unless;
unless you pause, look in,
past the depth of the trees
to clouds sliding miles below
across a sea that goes on
beyond the edge of the frame,
way out underneath,
under your feet,
and the road's just a cleaving skim
that shouldn't hold you.
 
 

 

Meredith Andrea
The Lunatic Cure

The recommended cure is water

reflecting full moonshine

drunk from a silver bowl turned

on like a surgeon's headlamp

to be swilled by the afflicted one

between his sobs and howls.

In the swilling it's all mixed back

together - the life that he supposes

to go on, and in which he should

be taking part – of circus girls

and stallions and thrown roses –

together with this, the bright side

where he's crumbling like plaster

exposed on the bed-ledge

looking out at the garden and the trees

stand each alone in the moon-light and

the rabbits are set out on the grass like

plastic cups at an asylum picnic.

 


 

Allison McVety Profile
Sir Thomas More

Afterwards, parboiled,

pale as full moon's wane,

the head is hauled from the pike,

fetched from the bridge

to the daughter's door, its innocent

beard still hoared with the souse

and dredge of the tides. His raw

profile mackled on hers, she a heft

of him. In a reservatory she stores

nutmeg, ginger, cloves, preserves

the head against winter, records

him indelibly, on the window's ledge.

 


 

Delores Gauntlett Profile
After he knew

En route to the airport, I asked myself how

do you greet someone coming home to die?

How do you think Welcome home

 

without wondering, Home to what?

But when his wheelchair crossed

the Customs departure room

 

what struck me first

was not his shrunken frame,

nor the end sauntering towards

 

him, but his smile flying open

like a singing yellowtail

lifting me beyond my plight

 

of knowing what he knew,

into a cool evening of understanding

that perhaps he'd found

a place in face of death.

 

He opened a window so we could pick up

from where we were before he knew,

and I, at my own pace, entered.

 

No questions asked nor answers concocted,

with smiling eyes, he said,

I'm glad I lived the things I did.

 


 

Spring issue

Theme: Shoes
Judge: Jacob Ross

Dorothy Pope
In Your Shoes

In your shoes, I'd have wondered what I'm like,
as woman now, and how I was at school.
Did you not ever ask yourself, awake
at night perhaps, if I was beautiful
or clever, happy, mother now to boys
who looked like you, as handsome, tall and blond,
or if, for want of funds and fathering, all joys
had come to nothing, not survived beyond
the day you left us, broke? It was deprived,
of course, but you gave me a legacy
I prize. You left me hypersensitised
to cruelty and worth – rare gift. I see
right through facades. Not spared a second thought,
I'm fine – though I'm the daughter you forgot.

2007 Hamish Canham Prize Winner 



 

Stephen Wilson Profile
Footprints

You kept a record

of my first tooth,

first word, first steps.

 

Leaving the house now

after all those years,

my bootmarks are diamonds

 

in the mud outside

your door. Next winter

the sole's lattice will be pressed

 

in the memory of snow,

lasting only

as long as the thaw

 

and in time my track faint

as rain, nothing but a ripple

of displaced water.

 


 

James Bell
Photograph of an Iraqi Boy and a US Marine in a House in Ramadi, West of Baghdad

It has to be posed –

the scope on top of the battledress helmet –

the face in profile like the butt up AK –

a finger of the hand that holds the gun

points to the business end on the floor

before where they both sit

 

The other face is darker – looks up

and highlights the pale stare of its companion –

the simple striped shift gaudy against

the plethora of desert kit – Maglite

stuck casually in a bandana on the helmet –

the wires of the mounted walkie-talkie

like a growth on the body armour –

yet greatest of all is the feet –

whopping size something desert boots

beside tiny nearly slipping off blue sandals

 

Each in their best –

one's hands hold death with legs and boots

wide between –

the other's hands and feet are poised together

at ease as a small sandal touches a large boot –

sit, however briefly

 

 

 


 

Frances Truscott
The Farrier

"If you keep a horse right it don't need shoeing,

dry, outdoors, fed natural like,

not too much weight on it

so there is good muscle and bone;

that's a secret no one will say,

not out loud anyway,

but a hobby horse kept stalled

or not mucked out proper

so it stands in bad straw,

then you need me,

all my shavings, bendings,

calks and rims.

You got to get the weight and the shape just right,

hot shoeing a horse,

it's not one size fits all.

My son's in a different trade

but a kind of Farrier all the same;

he is a Social Worker in the city,

finds foster homes for kids in care.

No, if you keep a horse right,

it don't need shoeing."

 

 


 

Sylvia Greenland
Her Shoes

When we tidied her up

after the funeral

she had twenty-seven pairs of black shoes

(some still in their boxes)

and a pair of pink slippers.

 

Why did she have so many?

We voiced our question in awed whispers,

so as not to disturb the past

that lay thick over everything.

 

Wallowing in the empty time

we looked at each shoe, knowing

that she could not return to ask us

(in that abrasive voice she had)

what we thought we were doing there

going through her things.

 

Using our imaginations,

– by that time running like wild antelope

across the landscape of her life –

we found high-heeled ankle stretching fantasies,

curve of the calf, lure of the leg shoes.

Had she really once been vain enough for those,

she with the purple-blotched swollen ankles?

 

We found teeter and stride power shoes

for planting firmly in the faces of the fallen,

and stilettos for serious wounding.

How long since she had been so strong

that she could trample those who tried

to knock her down?

 

We saw her flat heeled running for the bus shoes,

her scuffed kneel to weed the garden shoes,

and one pair of diamante-buckled dance the night away sandals

telling stories we didn't try to listen to.

 

Only the slippers made sense of the person we knew,

bumbling old lady velour slippers

edged with fur fabric,

and even they were useless in the end

because after the gangrene set in

she had no feet.

 


 

Jaina Hart
Red shoes

Black cab releasing its butterfly

in a caul of London rain; then vanished

amid quicksilver pavements,

feet flashing like a newly wetted smile.

 

Later they dance on his tongue

like slices of cherry, scratch

at the back of his knees with a ripe

resonance of scarlet fingernails.

Bleeding all other thoughts to grey.

 


Summer issue

Theme: Beaches
Judge: Colette Bryce

I was drawn back to poems that didn't give everything away, that retained a hint of mystery, and also to one or two that made me smile. 

Barry Tench
Cut My Motor

The sea ambivalent to my curses

runs a hush along the shore

to quieten my thoughts. You sit

like an outcrop for the cormorants

 

in the Irish Sea where a fishing boat

cuts irs motor and floats.

And what if you are my destiny?

My crazy mixed up fate that will disappear

 

as the mountains do behind the invading

sea mist, now just an outline smudged

by the blue-grey sky. Here on this beach

lapped by wrack, with the sea creeping toward me

I imagine your face: set on serious.

 


 

A C Bevan
Beached

The Dead Sea is shrinking at a rate of around

3 metres per year


It’s impossible to drown in

the Dead Sea now

though not on account of

the salt content,

 

where our sea-level’s rising due

to climate change,

there, it’s downsizing, &

whilst it’s claimed

 

water always finds the lowest

point first,

here at the lowest point

on earth, that’s

 

actually wide of the mark,

as irrigation,

drought & saline evaporation have

left a tidemark

 

& a fat man floating on

his back in a puddle,

big toe in the

plughole

 


 

Heidi Williamson Profile
‘A’ Level text

Le Blé en Herbe (‘The Awakening’) by Colette

It seems I read all summer,

tanned feet stretched,

levellers on hot ruffs of rock.

I sought a coast I’d never met,

greeted the far start of the sea:

the sun fused me to its scent.

My toes quarried scorched sand,

rough grass punctured my soles,

sea-snails stirred in whorled casings.

I glimpsed shells like young bones.

Gulls shouted common phrases.

Words streamed the Breton sky.

The air about me foreign,

taut, I collected shells of meaning

I turn again against my tongue.

 


 

Diana Brodie Profile
Above Golden Bay

For fourteen days, we stayed above the bay

in the holiday house at the top of the hill.

Every day we ate from cans, re-read old magazines,

occasionally spoke to one another,

but never about why

we could not leave the house.

Some questions were never asked.

Often we could hear the waves

and imagined them breaking on the golden sands.

Five of us waited for something to change.

On the last morning, rain streaked

the car windows. We sat in silence

while Dad dumped the rubbish, locked the doors

of the holiday house at the top of the hill.

Then he drove us back home, a ten hour journey

past the place where the mountains meet the sea,

across three braided rivers,

(Rangatira, Rakaia, Waimakariri),

and along one-way shingle tracks where

we grew used to Mum's sharp intakes of breath

before each hairpin bend. 

Last summer I came back to Golden Bay.

I did not look for the house on the hill,

but made my way down

from the cliff-top to the beach where

five young kayakers dragged their boats

from the turquoise waters across golden sands,

carried their picnic to the shade beneath

the scarlet-flowered pohutukawa tree.

 


 

Jane Lovell
Isabel's Child

I should not have been left there

tiny fingers exploring the air

like some sea creature amazed by an invading tide:

its brilliant cold enormity.

My eyes, blue milk, made out little more than rocks and weed.

Her face remained indistinct:

she twirled a finger in the pool,

stared a while,

then headed off along the shore

before the ripples ceased.

 

How could I complain?

She’d made sure I had everything I’d need,

watched that first wave wash in

bringing microscopic life on which to feed.

The sun chimed through the water swell,

an explosion of glass beads clattered against my skin.

I waited but she did not return.

The sea curled back and seethed against its depths.

Light fell to the ground like moths, floundering.

 

My first night seemed immense,

as vast as dream.

I noted the silence of the gulls,

the stilling of the chill water,

an absence of colour.

 

The absence has always stayed with me

thin cold

blue to grey to black,

and back again,

wandering.

 


  

Patric Cunnane
The Man In The Red Pullover

Spot him if you can

The man in the red pullover

Strolling along the sand

He's the universal walker

At home in every land 

So cool he walks alone

With no one by his hand

Maybe he has a dog

But he doesn’t let that show

He’s not in any hurry

Got no particular place to go

He lives for the summer

And enjoys it all alone

You’ll find him on the promenade

That’s his special home –

The man in the red pullover

Cries to his secret heart

Why is it so cold inside

When I’m so important to postcard art

I’m a lonely man in a red pullover

I stroll down to the sea

Those waves need never roll

For all they mean to me

Constable used a figure in red as a focal point in his landscapes. Postcard photographers have borrowed this trick and a postcard exhibition in Newcastle included a section devoted to the person in the red pullover.

 

 

Autumn issue

Theme: dreams
Judge: Gearóid Mac Lochlainn

Seán Ó Riordáin has said a good poem produces a ‘geit’ [in Gaeilge] in the reader. This means that a good poem makes you jump, startles you, or awakens something in you. The selected poems are those that produced that ‘geit’ in myself; those that leapt out – images of lingerie, wigs, tobacco tins, monkeys, and war – filtering into my own dreaming and staying with me. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Anna Bendix
Undercover Conversations With Storybook Heroines, IV

 

And in your wildest did you become

the one with the lamp, the sister dear

to me and them and postage stamps,

 

famed as the one who cleaned up dirt?

 

Look how the mud weighs down my skirt

where men they rot. I hear their shrieks, their filthy moans.

You will not spot me flinch, although

 

I was not born for flies and clots.

 

I trimmed the lilac, I snapped the thread, the curate

called, I went to bed in sheets Rose laid,

read Ivanhoe. I watched the gate.

 

I sailed on a creaking ship. I did not let them see me sick.

 

These severed stumps, burnt limbs, dark death,

the soldiers with their brandied breath and nurses under covers
creep.

This love and all the rest I see. Discreet

 

I pinch my inside wrist and quench a nausea

 

of joy. A piece of luck has come my way. Luck

sour-smelling, sweetly-nursed. Armoured,

as in dreams of Boudicca or Joan of Arc,

 

this war has made me come unstuck.

 


 


A C Clarke

Changing

 

Lingerie counters are his ivory portal.

The slur of silk between finger and thumb

(against nipples, under crotch)

the supernumerary lace

tracing a bracup, frilling a knickerleg.

No mere arousal

this is the real thing:

racks of slips, basques, camisoles

peachy as skin which doesn’t need shaving.

 

Back home he enters softness

the give of pliant textures.

His skirts rustle.

Forget the knife and needle. For these minutes

he’s into Woman, as dreamed.

He smoothes the creases in her slippery skin

tenderly: finds it fit.


 

Caroline Millar
Golden Virginia

 

As I pull off the lid

the slow scrape of tin,

the click as it bumps over the raised grooves,

 

and then,

the musty sweetness,

sweet blend of stale tobacco and shiny nails.

 

The smell of sawdust fills my nostrils,

red shavings fall like scoops of ice-cream onto the workroom floor,

while in the next room

my grandma peels shiny red apples.

 

Bamboo-stick fishing nets, un-spoked umbrellas, paintbrushes in jars of turpentine, and a

lifetime’s hoard of buttons.

Saturday afternoon’s curtains drawn against the summer sun,

the smell of fried onions and burst sausages.

 

I bend lower,

push my nose close to the cold tin, eyes tightly closed.

 

But it is gone.
 

The horsehair brushes are stuck in wallpaper paste, like fish
trapped under a frozen pond.

The buttons don’t match.

 

My hand, now like a giant’s on the small tin, gently presses the lid back down.

 



Jill Tritton
King Konged In Margate


Bedtime. Me, aged five, in Mrs Gethings’

B and B. Door shut, grown-ups far away.

Curtains open still. That was a mistake.

 

The window furthest from me turns ape-shaped,

splattering the bedroom monkey-brown

and me all stiff and human in the bed

 

trying to get smaller while the monkey

grows and grows and grows and grows

over the ceiling, sliding down the walls

 

till I am wrapped up tight in monkey breath,

till I am stuffed with fur and bits of claw,

till I smell his dream dreaming all of me.

 

It was a shadow, Dad says, that was all

and makes a grown-up smile into his egg

and lugs the suitcase to the car and waves

 

away the sea, the gas works, gritty beach.

Me, in the back, marooned in childhood truth,

pick greasy monkey droppings from my teeth.

 




Gill McEvoy
Exorcising The Chemotherapy Wig


She buried it deep below

her cotton pants, her nylon bras.

Each time the drawer was opened,

its wispy hair caressed the gussets, hooks.

In the basket on the wardrobe

it raised the hackles of its fur;

on still nights she would wake

imagining she could hear it purr.

Through the solid wooden box

she sensed its feelers palping edges,

picking up her pulse,

moulding to her skull.

In the grate she set the match to it,

watched it leap and throw out sparks,

curl in smoke until

it stilled to ash.

The tremor of her breath on its remains

sent powder flying through the room:

it clung, like memory, to everything.

She’s locked the house, the final time.

Someone else will lie asleep here now.

Waking, they will wonder if a stroke

of filaments across their skin

was dream, or otherwise…





Laura Scott
Poems


I dreamt I found some poems

lying half-forgotten

on a bottom shelf,

nearly at the floor

of a room where all the walls

were shelves.

Leaves of paper

put together by a child,

a girl, I think, who had folded

the edges into an improvised spine,

so that what I held in my hands

was almost a collection.

 

I knelt beside them

and turned the pages

and saw how the words sang

in the midst of all that white,

how caught within their shape

was a sound I’d heard before.

Sometimes there were

words around the words,

marks of uncertainty fluttering in the wings

in the same hand or a different one –

I couldn’t tell.

I didn’t read them.

I just looked at them,

that was all I wanted to do.

 

One meandered off its page

and into my memory,

where it became

a poem about a chair,

a nursing chair with a curved back

and bowed wooden legs,

waiting in the corner of a bedroom,

like a chair in a painting.

That is all I can remember.

But the dream left its residue,

a wave of contentment that lasted for

days because now

I knew they were there

they could be mine.