Members' Poems 2015: in every issue of Poetry News, we ask a leading poet for their pick of members' poems on a chosen theme


WINTER 2014/15
Theme: Gold
Judge: Kei Miller

The task of looking through a stack of poems and selecting six which you like might seem a simple thing, until you dive into that substantial stack – a few hundred poems – and you find yourself liking the first six poems you read. And on and on it went like that... The poems I've selected have been really wonderful things to revisit and rediscover. ‘The Guest’ by Paul Stephenson (Cambridge) has perfectly surprising but unforced imagery. For a long time I will think of the lines, “He sat there in the way / piles of gravel do, delivered // to the beginning of a drive” and also the enjambment on “landscape”. ‘Portrait of the Mother as a Pitcher’ by Anna Kisby (Brighton) has delightfully surreal images and well placed line breaks. The title by itself is worth the price of admission. ‘6 a.m.’ by Sharon Black (France) was my favourite of several poems that deftly described the quality of light diffused through the branches of a tree. It is a small poem whose ending describes its own accomplishment – to balance so much effortlessly on its tip. ‘Goldfields’ by Tess Jolly (Shoreham-by-Sea) is the kind of narrative poem that never sacrifices its lyricism for its story – we are swept up both in the world of the poem and the music of it. And talking of music... I hope the title of ‘Gold Song 9’ by Nicola Mayne (Cheddar) means that there are more where this poem came from; it is such a distinctive  co-ordination of sound and form, its semicolons like musical notes. In ‘Smith’ by Tony Lucas (London), the theme of gold is not as peripheral as many other poems. Lucas extracts a wonderful story about apprenticeship and crafting, appropriate for a poem so carefully metered and rhymed. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.

Kei MIller was recently selected as a Next Generation Poet 2014.

In the Realms of Gold: click here to book for our special reading at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, with Kei Miller and the Poetry News 'gold' competition winners.

 


Poets' biographies

Paul Stephenson currently lives in Paris. He recently completed the Arvon/Jerwood mentoring scheme and was one of this year’s Aldeburgh Eight. Anna Kisby lives in Brighton and works as an archivist. Her poetry has been placed in competitions and published in magazines including Mslexia, Orbis, Seam and South Bank Poetry. She was winner of the New Writer poetry competition 2011. Sharon Black lives in France. Her second collection, The Art of Egg, will appear shortly with Two Ravens Press. Tess Jolly works part-time in a library and runs creative writing workshops for children. She has had work published in a wide variety of magazines. Nicola Mayne taught English abroad and in the UK for some years before settling down again to the mudflats, Iron Age Forts and hills of Somerset where she writes poetry, learns languages for fun and illustrates things for her patient children and husband. Tony Lucas has published several collections, most recently Waiting For The Comet, Tales in Verse and Prose (Carmelyon, 2012), and Place Setting (Carmelyon, 2013), with images by his wife, Carolyn.


 
Paul Stephenson
The Guest
 
l’ll never know who he was,
the man that just sat there
 
his face pressed into the head rest,
his beard a black avalanche.
 
He sat there in the way
piles of gravel do, delivered
 
to the beginning of a drive,
one ear folded like a landscape
 
Christmas card, one eye
a red foil bauble
 
dented from storage.
He sat in the glow of the lights
 
and we prodded him
with the fire poker, tickled
 
his nose with a strip
of gold tinsel. Nothing.
 
In the kitchen, cold meats, pickles.
Upstairs, choices to be made.
 


Anna Kisby
Portrait of the Mother as a Pitcher
 
Today I will offer up daffodils.
I will put all thought of milk aside.
 
Today I am not a container
for warmth and nourishment.
 
This may be the start
of what happens next: the spring
 
of green stems from my belly
and my reaching hands
 
like those of a gold goddess,
open and many.
 
 

 

Sharon Black

6a.m.

 

This light – too heavy

for mere sky to contain –

yet somehow each leaf

of poplar, beech, ash and oak

balances a bar of bullion

effortlessly upon its tip.

 

top

 


  

Tess Jolly

Goldfields

for Wol

 

When our children ask how we met, I’ll tell them

about the fork in the river, where a carpenter called James

found flakes of gold. I’ll tell them this all happened

long ago, before Great-grandmother was even born,

and how the story passed from mouth to mouth

to bind a seam around the earth. I’ll bring them

the shopkeeper striding through Californian streets,

holding a bottle of gilded dust before astonished eyes.

I’ll compare that bottle to a spinning wheel, an egg, a harp,

to the way a child might open the door to a room

she didn’t know was there, reach beyond a wardrobe’s fur

and feel frost lapping her fingers. I’ll tell them

men travelled for months inspired by what they’d heard,

that there was violence, sickness, death – but hope

kept them moving. I’ll show them the valley where some

found what they were looking for gleaming on grassy outcrops,

others waded knee-deep sifting muddied water,

and many found nothing at all. I’ll explain what words

like prospect mean, and fever. I’ll say that in the end

it wasn’t skill or hard work or guessing the right name,

but luck that shone in those men’s grateful palms, as they stood

amidst the rocks and gravel, the glistening streams.

 

top

 


 

Nicola Mayne

Gold song 9

 

First before nothing

was zero; that dark space

a gap;

the first baby

could sing it;

surprise at the brightness; the blackbird-

soaked morning;

the lips a round gurgle; the first cry

a tickle; turned into a flood.

 

First cry was waiting

for round lips to soften; the well up; surprise at

the full stop. The ending;

a halt in the ground.

 

And first words like Daddy

are heard on a hard day

like breaks

in a sound.

First teeth in line up are waiting

all counting

the gums;

the crown hoards in darkness;

the shapes of the sounds.

 

Naming those first words

like gold and like ground.

 

But back to that zero before those things happened;

Before In the beginning; the husband complaining;

the wife was a message; a gold-digging cow.

 

You were wandering out; seafarer in pram.

Beach was a gold space; a song bird;

song turning all shadows dark red.

You tipped over the edge.

 

top

 


 

Tony Lucas

Smith

 

Though other boys would follow flocks and herds,

some forage food along the muddy shore,

I knew the narrow doorways into dark,

could weigh dull stones, judge mysteries of ore.

 

Others were learning how to ride, to fight,

while I was studying to work with fire,

to conjure out of earth those glowing threads,

watching burnt fingers beat out plate, draw wire.

 

The war-band’s weapons occupy those skills

my master has to temper and anneal

the living blade, yet years in smoke have dulled

his eye for finest gold, though not for steel.

 

My eye is bright, my small hands deft, to form

the interlace, set gems, shape filigree,

adorn a pommel on the warrior’s hilt,

the clasps that pin his wife’s fine drapery.

 

They come to see us work; the ladies speak

of my quick craft, tease me to make reply.

Lords treat the master with a gruff respect.

I read that darkened face, as he limps by.

 

 

top

 

In the Realms of Gold: click here to book for our special reading at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, with Kei Miller and the Poetry News 'gold' competition winners.