Members' Poems 2013: in every issue of Poetry News, we ask a leading poet for their pick of members' poems on a chosen theme


Theme: Water
Judge: Liz Berry

I chose poems with a mix of head and heart – poems that grabbed me and charmed me, poems that made me think more carefully or feel more deeply, poems with a secret to reveal. I immediately loved the snappiness and wit of ‘Crocodile’ by Jonathan Edwards and its wonderfully sharp observations. The delightful ‘Queen Conch Ode’ by Geraldine Clarkson beguiled me in a similar way with its lovely images and infectious enthusiasm for this strange mollusc. ‘The Bridge in the Rain’ by Alyss Dye had a natural energy and witty charm, brilliantly conjuring its speaker’s voice in just a few stanzas. ‘Blue Lake’ by Sally Flint won me over with its final two lines which, after a restrained and seemingly simple build-up, create an unsettling sense of eeriness and mystery. I admired a similar quietness in ‘Blackwater’ by Paul Blake, which combines an effective balance of careful observation and reflection, lifted by its beautiful and almost melancholy ending. Finally, I was torn between two very different poems: ‘Lakeside Garden’ by Carole Bromley, and ‘William Bradford, Elder’ by Suzanne Batty, and so couldn’t resist including them both. ‘Lakeside Garden’ possesses that wonderful simplicity which, in reality, is very hard to achieve; while ‘William Bradford, Elder’ wooed me with its wild and desperate narrative, and wonderful third stanza.


Jonathan Edwards
All afternoon, your body plays it cool
in the deep end, sends your head up for a peek,
a periscope with teeth. A rock-shaped head
among head-shaped rocks, your variegated tints
are dangerous as a man in camouflage paint.
You stepped from prehistory into this century
on plaything legs. Your females lay around
a hundred eggs. Now you drag your monstrous tail
and reputation onto a rock to sunbathe.
Your brothers are a game of snap, your boredom
a rabbit-trap, your happiness a drawer
of knives. You slip again beneath the surface
for fish, for meat. What can we do with our lives,
you say, but follow our smiles? Or our teeth.

Geraldine Clarkson
Queen Conch Ode


You with your meat as heavy

as half the haunch of a woman.

Soft mollusc.

Benthic Bahamian beauty.


Your glossy pink ear,

spiny convolvulus

flares; yielding pearl –

chatoyant, like moiré

silk in the coral seas

you listen to.


You with your stomach-foot

treading on algae; debris.

Your long egg masses.

Long-liver, you love the lapping shallows

the falling-away shelved sand of

Haiti. Prized Strombus hiding

that lump of edible flesh, fish-bait.

Culled for this and for cold

decoration and profit.

Poor poached conch.


Your knuckled shell keeps on thickening

your blood

runs blue with copper.


Rinsed clean, Marine Queen

of the seagrass bed. With your rose lobes,

your musical bones.




Alyss Dye
The Bridge in the Rain


after Hiroshige


Curse this rain!


It pierces me like needles on my back.

Why did the mistress summon me on a morning like this,

making me cross the bridge over the river?

I have to hop like a frog ridiculously from side to side

to avoid the puddles.


Not that it’s much fun sitting in my hut.

The rain dripped through that gap

in the banana leaves all night.

Ping – ping – ping in the metal basin.

It’s been driving me mad.


What can she want that’s so urgent?

If I were to risk taking off my hat,

I bet I’d see her peering out from her little window

in the palace. – That white face, like a child’s

that stops my heart.


Hurry up there you two old biddies,

worrying about keeping your skirts out of the wet

when I need to get past!

It must be serious for her to summon me

in this weather.


Perhaps her lord has finally gone to the war

in the far country and not written her a letter

for two days. Or her small dog is sick.

Or she needs me to prepare the radishes for supper.

I’m coming, mistress, I’m coming!





Sally Flint

Blue Lake


The adults said only mountaineers could access

the quarry – but we found what lies

past the disused church and the phone box

with its peeling paint. A broken stile,

empty fields edged with hawthorns,

and a padlocked five-bar gate. We squelched across

marshland, took the right-hand fork at the bridge,

gripped the earth as we climbed alongside

the crashing waterfall. It was as if God kept

a giant tap turned on to cleanse the valley.

The tunnel lined with bats, moss

and stepping stones, led to water edged with slate,

where a boy caught an eel in his bare hands.

Only once did we swim in Blue Lake.




Paul Blake



A little after dawn, the estuary

still as a tin dish of milk


and the air astringent, like a pain so true

it must just be borne.


On the mudbank, Brent geese

talk gentleness to one another


their soft round voices

like small observed thoughts afloat


over the gunmetal

of the flats, the sheepwool snags of mist.


To look out over water

is the sweetest beginning


even in memory

even when you lie between walls.



Carole Bromley

Lakeside Garden


Let us sip ice-cold lemonade through a straw

and talk of furry caterpillars, thrushes’ eggs,

the swoosh of a paddle-steamer.


Let us watch a plane go past, its vapour trail

a line chalked on blue sugar paper.


Let us lie in the grass without speaking,

then I’ll read you a poem about blizzards,

wool slippers, a hissing steam radiator.



Suzanne Batty

William Bradford, Elder


(From Landing, Plymouth Rock)


They say her eyes were defiant, as though she willed it;

saw ten rosy crabs on the ocean floor and, yes,

wanted to be there, weaving little boxes out of seaweed,

naked and hairless, a girl-shaped gap in the water.


She cannot tell me a thing, her teeth rigid, her lips

white as cuttlefish. I close her mouth gently with a bruised

sponge, lift her head, heavy as a tomb boulder, comb wet spasms

from her hair. When her shadow tipped over, when her dress

filled up with sullen waves, who, with their life,

should have saved her?


Once, I followed her muddy tracks to the meadow,

a flock of hens flew against my legs in bursts. It was summer

too early, the bluebells shocked. I came across her

sitting in the shimmering grass, covered in daisies. Sparrows

were fluttering at the back of her neck. She let me lie on her then,

clothed and desperate, my hands tied behind me like a robber.


Now, I am looking at an imaginary fish a boy has brought me –

it is the shape of a half-closed eye, its scales have just stopped clacking.

Christ, this is when you are needed; when a fractured moon falls

between dune and sky, I have a drowned wife, men with green wounds,

not an ear of wheat anywhere.





Theme: True North
Judge: David Wheatley

Do people in the North of England live further north than people in the south of Scotland? It’s a question I’ve asked people since moving recently from East Yorkshire to Aberdeen, and the answer would seem to be yes. I blame the road signs. “The North,” scream motorway signs anywhere above the Watford Gap, but I’ve yet to see it even once this side of Hadrian’s Wall. This may be the reason why so many entries seemed to originate along the M62, that line on the map where Britain tucks its shirt into its trousers, as Simon Armitage has suggested. “Stone soot-black, still to be / sand-blasted back, / with your red-brick back-to-backs,” as ‘Comparisons’ by Philip Williams (Alsager) puts it, describing the West Riding.
Never mind flat As, flat caps and disused mills, it is stone and light that define northernness for many: in ‘Above the Washburn Valley’ by Barry Tempest (Dorchester) there are curlew- haunted moorlands and the stone hot-water bottles of a remembered Pennine village. The shifting isobars of dialectal speech play a large part too: “please / breeze / wheesht / wheeze” I read in ‘Dunbar Avian’ by Linda Goulden (High Peak), a poem that would have gladdened Basil Bunting’s thistly heart. There was wordplay of a different kind in ‘Finding True North – Boxing the Compass’ by Neil Lockwood (Stourbridge): “ethereal, not earthly / nothingness emerging / nearer, nearing empyrean // Northwards...”. A return to Huddersfield in ‘Up North’ by Louise Wilford (Barnsley) prompts a reconsideration of stereotypes of grimness and grime “when moods are shaped by colour in the clouds / or how the sun can glitter on a leaf”. And finally, somewhere beyond the heathery uplands and large towns requiring a change at Doncaster, there lurks the sea of ‘Harsh Coast’ by Jenny Morris (Norwich), where loneliness clarifies. Here: “Wild waves grow dim. All glimmers gone. / The ruined sky is black and stark. / All night the moon is moving on / to break the dark.”


Philip Williams
You shocked me, at first.
Stone soot-black, still to be
sand-blasted back,
with your red-brick back-to-backs,
outside lavs, washing strung out
across the streets of Leeds.
Our own terraces looped
along each valley,
linking towns and names –
Wattstown, Tylerstown,
But not on this scale.
More people within forty miles
than half the whole of Wales.
They rub raw your roads.
Tyre and sole scour them
back to their cobbled ribs.
Wind also, and rain.
Some streets were never metalled,
others lost their setts, prised loose
and crow-barred out for garden features
down south or even overseas.
Then there were those stray valleys
that seemed to have slithered here out
of Wales, to slump exhausted,
heads down in a sunken scrum
into Halifax or Huddersfield
so much further from the sea.
Your amber ale foams
through cask sparklers
and refuses to travel.
Your blended tea sheds its flavour,
somewhere in the Midlands
when we try to take it home.
Smoke drifts slowly across both horizons,
from Drax or Margam, Llanwern.
Or in distant smuts across mellow stone,
your prized flags beneath a barbecue
that spits and cracks above a southern patio.

Barry Tempest
Above the Washburn Valley
The heather is turning brown
and the air is chill
beneath low banks of threatening cloud.
Mother made her last walk here,
revisiting her girlhood,
a few unsteady steps
around the watershed
of Wharfe and Washburn rivers,
with the glint of Fewston down below,
and green shoots of heather showing.
Then father came in high summer
on the call of the breeding curlews
– with the heather a purple blaze
and a curlew circling three times –
to throw her ashes to the breeze.
And here we have come,
the oldest generation now,
with the weight of father
drawn to light grey dust,
and the ashes of his brother
– men born a century ago –
to give them to the gentle winds
as autumn colours cool
and the puff-ball globes of Menwith Hill,
peering into unknown things,
glint sharply in a ray of sun,
and the moor is barren of the curlew.



Linda Goulden

Dunbar Avian


how               deary               tea too

loud              cleary               me you

sou’               feary                 see you

mou’             teary                 tae you


please           kittiwake          wee wee wee

breeze           ticker tape       tea tea tea

wheesht        trick of fate     free free free

wheeze          bit o cake         caw caw canny





Neil Lockwood
Finding True North – Boxing the Compass
nirvana’s neighbour, withdrawn
nervous: whereupon
wanderlust-navigated, wings
Westward (towards the sun, widdershins)
wayfaring stranger, wretched
star-crossed, wrenched
soulless, wandering
Southerly (with the wind soughing)
sibilant, soul-searching emotion
seeking eden’s
enigmatic, sun-rinsed equinox
East (mysterious, ancient, heathen)
ethereal, not earthly
nothingness emerging
nearer, nearing empyrean
Northwards ... (higher as if to Heaven)





Louise Wilford
Up North
We went to Huddersfield, a town of stone
settled like a wasp-nest on the hills.
Broad streets preened their glossy trees.
The ring-road clambered up the hill’s backbone.
We strode the empty streets, their pavements worn
by wry-faced Yorkshiremen; admired the railway
station, pillared like a palace; saw the
George Hotel where Rugby League was born.
I felt exposed, surrounded by those hills –
the Tops, all Bronte-esque in green and gold.
So strange to find the north all sky and space;
remember it as dust and soot, steel-mills,
coal mines, my village ringed by council flats,
beer bottles rattling, fag ends underfoot;
Steel Peach and Tozer glowing in the dusk;
bedraggled trees; park benches missing slats.
I never fitted in. There seemed no space.
I was a cuckoo, changeling, book brought-up;
could never see the green and gold behind
the weary lines on every weary face.
The sky grew overcast, the sun lacked will.
We sipped a cheerless pint – and yet I knew
it would have been as grim in Greenwich,
air Thames-thick and slick with traffic spill.
I wondered at the strength of my belief
that here was stepping back, regress, retreat,
when moods are shaped by colours in the clouds
or how the sun can glitter on a leaf.


Jenny Morris
Harsh Coast
The sea must whisper, hiss or roar.
It strews the sand with hollow bones.
It nudges cliffs, invades the shore
and swallows homes.
The waters pulse like rolling wheels
on yellow fish that gleam as brass.
Black flowers by the broken creels
are dripping glass.
In mist the gulls shrill, mew and taunt
redundant foghorns with their screams.
Those lost and mournful echoes haunt
our silent dreams.
At dusk a chain of drowned men wades
to shore. Their footprints leave no trace.
The chimes of metal music fade
as flood tides race.
The wild geese fly, cloud shadows drift.
In crooked towns we wait for night,
for ill-starred ships, for storms to lift,
for second sight.
Wild waves grow dim. All glimmers gone.
The ruined sky is black and stark.
All night the moon is moving on
to break the dark.



Theme: Presents
Judge: Sarah Corbett

I was looking for poems that were secure in their voice and in their formal choices, and – as this is a competition – poems that were sure-footed every step of the way…Each winning poem had to thrill and bear multiple readings, revealing more of itself each time it was read. I looked for poems that stayed true to the theme, but read it slant, interpreting with originality. However, each poem needed to exist in its own right to outlive this competition’s theme of ‘presents’. ‘Outing 1964’ by Hilary Jupp (Cornwall) is strange and affecting, layered with meanings and pitch-perfect throughout. This poem creates a resonant world that echoes long in the imagination. ‘A Vase of Flowers’ by Isabella Mead (Cambridge) demonstrates excellent formal control in a poem that holds in check its designs on the reader. Instead, the poem works towards a unified image that the reader must interpret. ‘Romance and Emergencies’ by Lara Frankena (London) is darkly comic and surprising. It is a poem that handles its breathless long lines with sureness and skill, and is an original interpretation of the theme, rich in narrative detail. ‘Nocturnal’ by Judith Taylor (Aberdeen) is deceptively simple but takes the reader “into the dark”. The final image is powerful and intangible. ‘Flightless Gift in a Pub Garden’ by Euan Tait (Somerset) is a beautiful, and beautifully executed, poem that pulls at the heart but surprises and unsettles with its conclusions. ‘Beyond his Capacity’ by Pat Murgatroyd (Isle of Wight) has an original voice. Her enigmatic yet understated poem gives nothing away despite its apparent narrative openness.


Hilary Jupp
Outing 1964
Sixty beds, some with lockers, some shared,
they’d little to call their own on the ward for the disturbed.
A handful were chosen, issued frocks, hospital knickers,
coat pockets filled with toffee caramels.
Spotless, these women, entertained by clowns and high trapeze,
sat in awe as vast beasts not seen before trundled in,
to delicately compose themselves, debutantes,
at the raised rim of the ring. On the edge of their seats
the women clapped and clapped. Transported they stood,
continued their applause, on and on into an empty ring.
Then, with swift agile grace, as if tethered
each to the other in their own line,
the women were gone.
Darkness came, the crowd dwindled home,
but these women, ensconced, gazed through the wire
at continents of ears, at crumpled hides.
Coaxed with promises of hot sweet tea and buns
the women let themselves be led back to the bus,
leaving their presents of toffee caramels
stuck to the wire.



Isabella Mead
A Vase of Flowers
   after Louis MacNeice
There is an abundant flower across Rwanda:
large white chalices that hang from branches
facing downwards, towards the earth.
Maybe a sweet perversity of nature,
perhaps a fear of what the valley might show
or conjecture that bees would not be interested.
Too heavy to stir at footfalls of children
or the steady descent of a bull, they hold themselves
still, like frozen tears or silent bells.
Once, my umukozi pulled a few
and stood them in an empty blue Pringles tube:
a centrepiece for guests.
Children stood on tiptoes at the window
for a glimpse of the funny caricature
of the round-faced man with the thick brown beard
from a country where flowers never hide.
The man beamed back across more than just
soundless flowers turned wrong-side up.

Umukozi = housekeeper



Euan Tait
Flightless Gift in a Pub Garden
Like she-god had finally reached
beneath your skin, touched you
on the blackened, exposed bone
of your thigh, plucked the string
of forgotten, adolescent cigarettes
that threaded around your blood:
so you said when you freely gave
the story, your winter in hospital,
the fight failing you, that for all
you’d gone through, it had spread,
and, shaking, you talked excitedly
of death as an undiscovered sister
now your wish for love, for touch,
was extinct as the muted chatter
of vanished, featherless birds.



Judith Taylor
There is nothing
in this fantasy:
a bright wrapping
on the old midwinter dark.
Look at us all
uneasy, all pretending
not to be tired now.
Pretending we got our wishes.
Look at the things we brought
ourselves. The packages shaped like spirits
tied up and waiting their moment
in the shadows below the tree.



Pat Murgatroyd
Beyond His Capacity
An ordinary Monday, just a bit damp, and Howard in
without the wherewithal for a pint. Nursing an orange squash.
Nothing for it but to put one in for him. His hands stop shaking,
his spirits lift and he borrows a tenner; pays it back Friday.
The next Monday it was twenty quid with a promise for Friday.
Like a date, sort of, but he didn’t come in. Indisposed
apparently. Three Fridays in a row he didn’t show.
Someone said they’d seen him in A & E: Fred swore
he’d spotted him in the Social Club. Tradition round here
the slate’s wiped clean at Christmas but he’d splashed out
on Lottery tickets; put one in the card he left behind the bar for me.
He had the nerve to turn up on Boxing Day with a knocked down
Poinsettia (the worse for wear) from Asda. I was pulling
a pint of Old Faithful for Fred and refused to meet his eye.



Lara Frankena
Romance and Emergencies
It arrived in a gift-wrapped box, shiny and innocuous.
Death came with instructions, proof-of-purchase, a postage-paid,
mail-in warranty, and was acknowledged by a thank-you note.
Instead of cranking, cutting, chopping, she pressed a button.
Instead of beating, mixing, whipping, she pressed a button
and thought, perhaps too briefly, of these unquantifiable
parcels of time, little gifts from the inventors of appliances.
She had candles, of course, for romance and emergencies
but the electricity coursing through the house was a convenience,
a given, as unquestioned as her own regular intake of breath.
She had known to leave the lake when thunderclouds
rumbled in, was one of the few not to seek shelter
under the park’s open-air picnic hall with corrugated metal roof.
She had seen drawings of a boy poking a prone figure
with a wooden broom handle, separating the victim from the source.
She had noted the rubber-soled shoes of waitresses and nurses alike,
used rubber gloves while washing dishes in the kitchen.
But tonight she shakes the water from her hands after scrubbing
vegetables and reaches across the damp counter for the coiled tail
of the food processor with its three conductive prongs...




WINTER 2012/13
Theme: Absent
Judge: Stephen Knight

After reading each of the 260-odd poems, I placed them in a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ pile. That done, I returned to the ‘yes’ pile and began again. Happily, each stage was more difficult than the last. It would have been uncomfortable putting aside too easily so many poems of palpable sadness.
Down to the last 47 poems, and a certain capriciousness took hold. Poems including equidae were not certain of a place in my final six, though Mark Carson’s ‘The Farrier’ (Cumbria) and Robbie Burton’s ‘Ford’ (North Wales) perhaps suggest otherwise. How could I resist a poem in which the narrator shouts to a recalcitrant donkey: “The river is mostly recycled rain”? And what, in an apparently insouciant poem, has happened to Peter’s horse? Why this question stayed with me I don’t know. But I liked that it did. Among so many poems of loss, two very different ones kept surfacing: ‘Plum-Plum’ by Dorothy Lehane (Kent) and ‘Stone’ by Caroline Cook (Leicester). Amused, affectionate, fractured slightly, ‘Plum-Plum’ closes with the beautiful image of a child nestling entirely in a father’s shadow. In contrast, the contained anger, direct address and memorable, almost porten-tous ending of ‘Stone’ made it grow with every reading. Robin Houghton’s ‘Ellipsis’ (East Sussex) was one of several poems dealing with dementia: affection, frustration and even dry humour punctuated by hesitancy or lacunae. Its image of a blank Scrabble tile lingered. A wonderfully swaggering performance, ‘R&R’ by Josh Ekroy (London) assays a very different kind of absence – the anonymity of cities – with a spirited voice.


Robbie Burton

The donkey followed me to the ford.
I pointed at the river’s grey colour, told him
how it ran orange back in the steelworks days
and the way trout and limestone turned rusty. 
I showed him that, even now, you could scrape a stone
and still disturb red oxide. 
The donkey remained silent, eyeing the depth of water.
I told him about the spring that used to bubble
in the lane, clear and cool. 
And still he stood. I couldn’t fathom his thoughts so,
hitching up my skirt, crossed the ford. 
Behind me a clatter then a splashing. I called out
The river is mostly recycled rain but he continued
upstream. And, though he’d told me nothing, his absence
was a cold draught, cold as the incessant water.



Caroline Cook
There’s the hard kind and the crumbling kind
and my brother fell on the hard kind and it broke him
and he lay on the driveway far too long
in front of his own front door and he was alone
because his wife had left him – and his children
had left him and he had lived alone in that house
(which was more a still life than a home)
where his children had grown and gone mad
– the boy to voices the girl to melancholy –
and so it was that he died out there in the sun
where I saw him last where he’d waved me off
in June –   the joker   as vivid a card as ever
there where the postman stumbled on him. 
There are things you learn about love but
it takes its time. There’s the hard kind and
the crumbling kind (others too) and what I learned
was that a love had grown inside me like a fruit-stone
it was lodged inside its own-shaped hole a gravelet
it had made itself but being deep I hadn’t known.
Outside I had been blind. That pitted stone
had put out green in darkness. 
Now I carry with me always fruit-stone’s hollow
swept safe-kept and flown – which knows    
    where nothing is and waits.  


Mark Carson
The Farrier 
A clop-clop down the lane;
that’ll be Peter,
and Royal on a leading-rein, 
but looking up again
I see
no heavy horse in train, 
just Peter all alone,
his boots
clop-clopping on their own.  



Dorothy Lehane
The man I remember leaning against,
places me in the middle of the sofa, 
plays brown girl in the ring, tra la la la.
I’m not a brown girl, 
but that doesn’t matter.
Delicate: being held like this, 
in my father’s arms, his sashay step
to the words: Plum-plum 
the next play will be jazz.
It’s going to be a red summer. 
The sax begins to bleed.
Right place, right time.  
He was a peach, a hairy planet.
Once I listened as he taught 
my brother how to hold a woman
by the small of her back, so all other men 
see her arc of spine as sold.
Let’s say he’s alive again. 
What I really want to do
is fit neatly inside his shadow, 
whilst he talks to his friend
at the street corner.


Robin Houghton 
scrabble    I explain the rules again
in no particular order    no need for logic 
I lay a blank tile    tell her it’s a D    five minutes
noises in the corridor    she asks about tea 
I say    that nice young man from the kitchen
will be here soon    let’s listen out 
she asks    is it my go    asks    about the blank
I tell her it’s a D    her face    a perfect dot-dot-dot 
you used to type sixty words a minute, do you remember?
she laughs    as if I’ve said something hilarious    as if 
it were only yesterday she was there in the typing pool
and I was there too, walking home with her 
meeting friends, making plans for the pictures    as if
her Mum and Dad and    Aunt Kit and    Bill and    baby Maya 
and everyone were all here    now    waiting for their tea
she asks    about the blank    I tell her



Josh Ekroy 
This is the fortnight I ride the subway
to the flat-ends of the sprawl, two hundred
miles of metal. I’ve hassled to the front
of car 1, hands flat against palm-warm glass.
The train smashes through dark and straw people
sit on local platforms staring nowhere,
a jarred look they’ve been practising for years.
I kind of wonder who they really are.
My body tacks with the fastest stretches.
The squeal is pitched to a plateau of pain
I absorb as personal: another
fighter of a curve. There’s so much iron
in the screech of those sways I could almost
taste it, like a toy you put in your mouth
when you’re little. Workmen carry lanterns
along buddleia sidings. I keep watch
for sewer rats. One tenth of a second
is all it takes to see a thing complete.
Then the express stations, the berserk brakes,
figures graded like refugees. They come
wagging through doors, bang against the rubber
edges, inch their way in, are quickly pinned,
looking out past the nearest heads with that
honed disregard that is something of me.