National Poetry Competition 2004

Judges

  • Ciaran Carson
  • Elaine Feinstein
  • Simon Smith
  • Denis MacShane MP (chair) 

Winning Poem 

Jon Sait
Homeland 

them come at midnight i remember that

i was fooding the cat

what happened to the cat

in and across the hall them was

before the last bod slam the door

i was scared more for décor

all bootmark in the twill

mud set to stone too quick in nape and alley

and fuss would follow

anyway

them wanted to know why it was off

i often have it off i said which made them laff

all bellyjig and straining like at shit

then them poke me one with a stick and ask again

not ask exact more shout and kick

i sleep deep and dream i said upstanding

and has no need of it

all flattering from dull mouth or some sunny play

gobbing did it good for me then

hit me and down i was

with stompers flying in all crowblack and beaky

i pass over then and only come to when rain wet me

it was chillstone and the dark was eyeless

and all was lone and bleedy

three days least them probe me

all think sore and head reely

then the white light

the bright light

the light like light that change it ever

 

illuminati

 

them let me go then after fingering

and promise to never do

now i venge in the not quite dark

all flicker flash and wheezy

i leave the sash open so the whole street can see me

and them that watch can think me safely home

 

Winner's Photograph
 

Jon Sait


Winner's Comment 


“Winning brought new opportunities, including invitations to submit a collection, and collaborative work with film makers and musicians. Writers have to tough it out between encouragements; winning was a fillip and a rare pleasure. Winning also thickens the skin. Homeland has been called toxic, repellent and squalid. My favorite brickbat is "Hardly Miltonian". All good fun!” 


Second Prize 

Matthew Caley
L.Z. 

Apparently born of a hinny and her ass

he hee-haws awesomely: of the little words and letters

like 'A' and 'and' and 'as', and yet – alas, alack­ –

never saw the major work complete; of sawhorses

strung with lanterns in a Brooklyn

Street – wherein two 'A's made the 'M' of the Latin word 'manes'

and therein made their manes; inverted they made 'W' for 'Will' – The Bard

[he pondered, exclusively on his Bottom]; of the city that never sleeps

– of whom another dared to think a geodesic dome, a la mode,

 

over New York like an atmosphere solidified –

that never sleeps except for the zed-zed-zeds of the fire-escapes;

of barely scraping his room and board

to light the low gas-flame or the 'live flame

of tradition' wherein they brook no line

that doesn't sing as such: 'If seahorses

could but sing Offenbach, Father' – alas-alack­ –

of a man who for forty-six years watered a single letter, yet was

left with nothing but the odour of odourless zinnias.

 

Third Prize 

Mario Petrucci
Gene

With pollution and GM, future seas may change colour.


Worl alway same me rekon 

nuttin much-change Dere alway green 

melon-anana Alway yelow-sea

  

Me granee she live-be twennysix 

wit ray hair Me tel me-babee 

we not die-soon We like granee – 

 

we live-long An me caree-she 

for look-see thru eave – for look 

yelow-sea An me tel-she 

 

wen de-Life tek-you you com 

yelow like you fall-in yelow-sea An

you stopp Dat all

 

An me tel-she bout ol-peepol 

hoo-liv wen Worl dri Me tel-she 

storee bout way ting used-be

  

wen ol-peepol walk in air an walk 

wid weel An way dem ol-peepol talk 

in riddl An way dem stepp in someting

  

dey call Gene Yeh Dem mess-up 

reel-bad someting call Gene An dem

rising-now for meet-us in yelow-sea

 

An me-babee say – Dees storee 

all troo? Dem ol-peepol all stopp? All 

com-yelow like ye'ow-sea? Butt me

 

know nuttin mor Cept 

dey bildin tall Dey much-like carr 

much-like Wor Dem tuch ev-where 

 

dem stepp ev-where Butt 

me tel-me-babee – me-tink 

dem ol-peepol dem juss-walk 

 

one Gene too-farr


Commended

Siobahn Campbell
Platform 

'My mother's yard was the cleanest one in Templeboy,' 

the station master said as we waited for the ten eleven. 

'In her haggart you could see the snips of granite glisten 

like the promise of confetti shining up as you went by. 

No rat ever darkened the door of her feed shed either 

and as for the cattle, if they were in, she was after them 

with a mop. She'd have yard trained them if we'd let her. 

 

There was one dip where a puddle settled, a filthy mirror.

 She drove herself mad over how to be rid of that water. 

How could she brush it away without making a muck? 

She would nearly have sucked it up with the hoover 

when she thought of the dog. The dog that needed 

to drink or else be starved. So after rain, she brought 

that mutt to water, finished off the job with lemon cleaner.'

  

Now, you may think there was only him and me involved 

in our encounter before the train arrived. But I could swear 

I heard the muttering of another streel behind him as he ran 

to wave his flag and that surely was the sound of something 

parched that carped the distance just as I embarked.

 

Commended

Dominika Kruczkowska
The Face of a Red Shoe 

Still drawing in tandem of blood 

Every dawn in happy home-made bed 

Deducting fancy like stroking rows. 

I am abandoned. I am just sleeveless. 

The first row means a paths' dream 

Through all dream's paths of mine.

I stood there. Much into you. 

With second row I throw my shadow 

To you. Like hair. Or a spellfull red shoe.

I gazed my eyes. It is the third one.

My caked gaze shuffles. 

My red finger keeps bumbling my fear: 

The last row just behind a god 

Means nothing. 

I have it here. On the very bottom 

Of my memory. Close to my wrist. 

Before I catch it with my stealthy hand 

I mean this path through all my paths.

 

Commended

Ann Leahy
The Kaleidoscope My Big Brother Gave Me

It created geometric processions out of rooms: 

made a pair of butterflies rise from a fireside chair, 

caused a ball of wool to fan and become a guelder-rose, 

a cylinder of gas to spoke into a four-pronged star, 

eight eyes to glisten from a hot-plate ringed with chrome.

  

It put my reflection in as part of the pattern: let me see 

myself in a pendulum, triangulated by a dour 

mahogany surround. He helped me through a gap that year. 

Finger to his lips, he slowed the whole summer down, 

tuned out tractor drone, dog splash, sheep bleat -

  

moved in on one grasshopper sound till we'd dipped 

level with the angled systems of the insect's exterior, 

its armoured legs jigging out an oscillating click 

that swelled in the field, a chant rising in its cathedral. 

I became a juggler of surfaces, an evangelist

 

of detail, my world broken down, re-configured. I'd take 

rubbings from the paint tears hardened on our door, wait 

outside, round the narrowing waterline, as polygons 

broke out across the mud, baked by the sun.

 

Commended

Julia Lewis
Ritual to be performed by the poet daily at sunset beginning 13 July 1997

A) BASIC GOODBYE RITUAL 

 

Goodbye Day. Day leaving no-one to slip in the shock of the same 

old sheets with. No. Nor naked chest to smooth my brow or tousle 

Nor tell about you, oh Day. No stroking thereof or sssh. No ruffle. 

No finger to trace the source of the spine; no palm 

to fish the shoulders' estuary. Goodbye Day of no kisses: 

peckish, medium or prolonged. You 'dense-clouds-no-rain- 

from-our-western-region' I-Ching of a Day, goodbye. 

Oh Bed! For you, no spoon-shaped sleep ahead. No resinous 

fallen ones; no row, no rose, no tuberose. Oh flat 

Saharan bed in which I must bury the camel of my body 

every night for 2,555* more times. 

 

*this figure should decrease daily by one digit 

 

B) BASIC HELLO RITUAL

  

Hello Night! Why, come on down, you Night of promise 

of naked chest to smooth my brow (or tousle) or tell about you, 

oh Night! What finger to tap the source of the spine; what palms 

to dam the shoulders' estruary. You darling old 'the-king-hath-attained­- 

abundance-be-not-sad-be-like-the-sun-at-midday' I-Ching of a Night! 

And Bed! For you, such spoon-shaped sleep ahead; such resinous 

generous ones! Oh row, oh rote, oh ginger-root, afloat on atlantic 

billow. You ark, who'll carry the camels of our bodies 

through to the olive branch of light!

  

C) RESUMPTION OF GOODBYE RITUAL

  

As I was saying, before I was all-too-briefly interrupted, 

goodbye fruitless, useless Day! You were nothing 

but the clatter of a foreign coin in the rusty tin 

of the beggar of loneliness. And, sad Bed! Broken-down 

vehicle on the hard shoulder of my bedroom, 

your engine emits no growly gravelly sound 

such as soinetunes escapes a man on beholding 

either a beloved or crumpet. You heli with no propelli! 

Boat with no float! Loco with no moto! 

Have you oil? Have you tarpaulin? 

Have you resource, in fact, enough 

to bear the ___* more loverless nights?

 

Commended

Wayne Loshusan
Lawrence Welk Made My Grandmother Crazy

Smoke dragons overhead, paper fans in her lap, shrimp and lychee nuts for dinner. Her 

feet on a hassock, tiger balm on the ankles, a jade heart pinned to her silk cheongsam. 

Without her spectacles, looking at the TV screen was as difficult as recognizing her own 

family. She was wonton at bottom of soup bowl dug up with patience and care. 

 

We tried counting to ten in Chinese but she had no characters left. She taught me flower, 

sun, cake; now she only remembers rain, sink, moon. She bathed me as a child but then it 

was my turn to splash her face with proof rum and rice powder. All those tiny bubbles 

were aneurisms in her brain.

  

At 7pm, she started singing; words came back to her like stories of a childhood in 

Jamaica where she climbed mango trees and drank Blue Mountain coffee with condensed 

milk, about the grocery she ran in a bad part of Kingston, arguing with her mulatto 

husband whose mahjong game came nightly between them like an electric blanket. 

 

During the final show, she was a peacock dancing among the groves, a young bride 

cooking pork dumplings and fried rice under Caribbean sky. One tune from Lawrence 

and china lanterns hung themselves, fireworks rained down like colored tears, lima beans 

 

closed their eyes when her hour was up.

  

Commended

Mario Petrucci
Z

Armstrong making the moon, was z. Giving that chicken 

next door a synchronised Chinese burn for sidling

his angular wish-bones into our hide-n-seek: z.

 

Zapped, before break, your double-dare to work it 

into Maths. If 4a – 4b equals 2a + 6b, what is a? 

and I said z so dead-pan Sir had to scan the board. 

 

Word got round. We were the brothers determined 

to have the last letter in everything. Even Dad, 

belt aloft, demanding to know what devil we'd done 

 

in his shed, mouthed air when (backs to the outside 

toilet wall) we finally surrendered our stupendous 

name and rank – z – then chose bed over a hiding. 

 

We pitched our duvet tent with knees; you shook 

the torch like a cocktail to revive it. Till the dreaded Mum 

brought it all down with three dull crumps from below. 

 

You've got balls, you grinned. But it was a year 

before I sprouted my first real cock-feather – chinned 

z straight at the bully without back-up, his neck 

 

wattle-red as he came at me, arms outstretched, 

to wring mine. That night, you turned coat. Flushed 

at me, shot short words at what the hell I'd expected

  

as you continued to tease your fringe in the mirror 

and for God's sake wasn't I just a bit too old? 

Your bedroom reeked of Elvis, and with those 

 

few words z span away black as vinyl, became instead 

that lost world the end-of-song guitar starts into 

just before it fades to crackly nothing.

 

Commended

Robert Saxton
The Quilting Bee

WELL DRESSERS can be surprisingly cynical,

jeering at any elations that make the gloom rise.

Look for:

pickpocketing, glove snipping, button theft,

hat spoiling, fragrant evasion of bosom tax.

 

WILL WITNESSES will occasionally bring back

a few viviparous jokes from the intestate beyond.

Look for: 

rare mischief lights in the eyes,

quadruple handshakes, crypto-Calvinist soliloquies.

 

JOY RIDERS peddle a popular Algerian adrenaline therapy

based on asymmetric speed breathing.

Look for.

second-hand airbags, unidentifiable rattles,

foxing in the margins of service records. 

 

JAY WALKERS are seldom insouciant, many having actuarial degrees

and student endowment loans with mutual widows.

Look for:

whistling of yesterday's jingles, titanium jaw work,

peripheral fringing of self-awareness. 

 

CHUTE PACKERS are unregulated but conscientious,

mindful of hogging searchlights by proxy.

Look for:

unassertive handkerchief origami,

scorch offences, piracy over the high seas.

 

SHEET METALWORKERS enjoy wish-fulfilment,

the wrap-around merchandising of cartoon characters.

Look for:

lightning, time warps, contraband biscuits,

outbreaks of Malaysian shadow puppetry.

 

Commended

Matthew Welton
Get loose and let some

Here's Jesus in the bathroom when the girls have gone. 

The bugs crawl up the windows; on the floor there's towels, 

and, left out on the table, there's the rolls of film 

which Jesus buys for photographing trees he likes. 

A talcum smell obliterates the smell of smoke, 

and hasn't cleared when, some time later, Jesus grabs 

a good weak whisky, puts aside his grammar books 

and, pausing at the window on the way downstairs, 

rehearses looking louche or gauche, woozy or glum. 

You'd never know to look at him how good he feels –

his denims damp and dusty and his hair uncut;

his eyes like dried-up fishes in his dried-up face.

 

The thing that bothers Jesus as he reaches for 

the wall-phone and reiterates in whispers that,

Okay, I'll be right over, and that, Really no,

that's not a problem, is how little he's convinced

by what he's saying anymore. Sometimes it's like

the less he speaks, the less he feels the need to speak.

Sometimes a cloud obscures his mind. Sometimes, he says,

it's how we love that makes the things we think so sad.

The phone goes. It's for Jesus. Jesus says these words

which inch off down the phone-wires like disgruntled bugs.

His voice feels hoarse and hard and loose and, when he's done,

he stays up watching re-runs with the sound switched low.

 

Here's Jesus late last summer when he shows up at

the beach club where the gin's rough and the wine's rough and

the slow things that the band plays fill your head with fudge.

If Jesus gets the notion to sit in and jam,

you probably better split or you'll be here all night

because when Jesus blows harmonica it's like

his mind got loose and let some drumming, drawling thought

come rumbling from the reaches of the universe

so almost abruptly that it gets in the way

of where he's at and leaves him tired and tense and bored.

Most days he stays home, slumped on the couch, slugging on

a rum-and-lemon, wondering what he's in for next.

 

Commended

Robyn Lindsay Wilson
Corot's Approach to the Village of Chaville

go down this path

 

a paper cut-out village 

double polkas and bows

in front of your shadow

 

the red tiles are memories

of someone else's pleasure

but the village has no doors

 

the subject is the path

 

go down this path

 

a man travels with you 

he whistles without sunshine

he changes your hands

 

takes off their idle colour

robs one victory after another

the subject is the path

 

go down this path

 

trees make your arms swing 

on hollow fresh-neck days

what was the difference

between those centuries they say

 

the subject is the path

 

go down this path

 

there is no man with you 

his eyes became afraid

when you had nothing to say

he went in the last direction

you've already been that way

 

the subject is the path

 

go down this path

 

after the village gate 

death will make you better

 

it's a fear of taking my arm 

it's a fear of staying here

 

between the hand-pump 

and the flyblown mule

where the noise of dry plates

 

and families with cutlery

reminds your eager soul

 

the subject is the path

  

go down this path

 

Commended

Mick Wood

If They Could Here You Now

if they could here you now

conjure you from there

 

dreams over some misty horizon

of the deer departed

 

mother would give you ers

and father is

 

tongue-tide word-shy

as all ways

 

may be they'd sit you down

and serve you fresh place again

 

with the plumpest peas and cues 

introduce you shyly

 

to the proper-speaking angels

or may be

 

they'd laugh their old private

laugh counting one two

  

free then lift the curtain

on a different paradise

  

where words are water

and grammar just your mother's

 

mother in the son-drenched fields

the dappled woulds

 

showing just how fond the hart is

how the dear eat from your hand