National Poetry Competition
Commendations 2010

Carmen Bugan
Visiting The Country Of My Birth

The tyrant and his wife were exhumed
For proper burial; it is twenty years since
They were shot against a wall in Christmas snow.
 
                                            *
 
The fish in the Black Sea are dead. Waves roll them
To the beach. Tractors comb the sand. We stand at water’s edge
Whispering, glassy-eyed, throats parched from heat.
 
Stray dogs howl through nights like choirs
Of mutilated angels, circle around us on hill paths,
Outside gas stations, shops, streets, in parking lots.
 
Farther, into wilderness, we slow down where horse
And foal walk home to the clay hut by themselves,
Cows cross roads in evenings alone, bells clinking.
 
People sit on wooden benches in front of their houses,
Counting hours until darkness, while
Shadows of mountains caress their heads.
 
On through hot dust of open plane, to my village:
A toothless man from twenty years ago
Asks for money, says he used to work for us.
 
                                        *
 
I am searching for prints of mare’s hooves in our yard
Between stable and kitchen window, now gone
With the time my two feet used to fit inside one hoof.
 
We sit down to eat on the porch when two sparrows
Come flying in circles over the table, low and fast, happily!
‘My grandparents’ souls’ I think aloud, but my cousin says:
 
‘No, the sparrows have nested under eaves, look
Past the grapevine’. Nests big as cupped hands, twigs
And straw. Bird song skids in the air above us.
 
Into still-remaining rooms no sewing machine,
Or old furniture with sculpted flowers on walnut wood.
No rose bushes climbing to window sills, outside.
 
And here, our water well, a vase of cracked cement. Past
Ghosts of lilac, pear, and quince in the sun-bitten yard I step
On re-imagined hooves, pull the chain, smell wet rust.
 
Unblemished sky ripples inside the tin bucket,
Cradled in my arms the way I used to hold
Warm goose eggs close to skin so not to break them:
 
‘The earth will remember you’ my grandparents once said.
Here, where such dreams do not come true, I have come
To find hoof-prints as well as signs from sparrows.

Carmen Bugan’s first collection of poems, Crossing the Carpathians, was published in 2004. Her poetry and prose appears in many magazines and her memoir, Burying the Typewriter (forthcoming from Graywolf Press), recently won the Breadloaf publication prize.

Caroline Carver
ju ju baby

John Canoe you come with me
I show how danger fly         like upside down bird
like woman jumping from high perch where she no right to be
into your crumpled bed
 
John Canoe     she not for you                she marble and stone
when moon shine in churchyard       she darkness and witchwoman
 
and you going Ice-fishing?             I C E – F I S H I N G ! !
I laugh till I fall out of tree                 Wait   let me paint picture
 
you drive north       in her car               lazy turn wheel
arm draped over    like you already conquer    both of them
 
she lay her hand        so touching    on your knee
you skid in snowdrift     slip on frozen lake     nobbled and glum
stepping from coo coo warmth to gasping winter breath
 
pay big money for wooden shack      and you     all humble!
my ex-man humble     like butter on hot day
 
as you pick up bucket of bait     all wormy smiles     no teeth
pick up hatchet          thermos with half-warm coffee
two apples                    what else we see?    two chairs    one lamp
one small window   one-fishing rod         one person laughing
one hole in ice    speaking with splashes    moans    little lapping sounds 
 
fish tonight   she say voice melting like onions and crayfish on beach
as you sit over hole in ice         take turns hold the rod
though only thing you maybe catch is raw-scaled muskellunge
someone throw back     cos it got lamprey
 
Okay John Canoe     we skip next two hours
Tempus no fugit here     it drag the feet like no good water-snake
 
When I     green-minded    look again through window
what do I see?         two lovebirds?     two cute kissy kissy mouths
bunched up with sweetie-pie?         two happy people?
 
No!     you’se holding stick with empty fishing line
drinking beer    clumsy as astronaut dressed up in pile
of Chinese laundry         maybe she plan some serious ironing
 
What she give you?   you ask   yawning   if you eat bait     eat six bait?
 
Eat twelve she say I want see tails hang out like you is greedy pelican
 
I drift away    crouch in pine tree     till that Tempus fugit boy speed out
like lovesick bullfrog     like nine months go already
 
John Canoe you put your fishing line in big bad place
wait till ju ju baby come     like astronaut     like Michelin man
with black hole face     webbed fingers
lamprey grin         little tiggly wiggly tadpole tail

Caroline Carver’s work is influenced by her earlier life in Bermuda, Jamaica and Canada. She won the National Poetry Competition in 1998 and has published three collections of poetry. She is a Hawthornden Fellow and poet-in-residence at Cornwall’s Trebah Gardens.

Vicki Feaver
Boy With A Knife

He was standing in the middle
of the field, throwing a knife
from hand to hand: the boy
 
Mr Marshall brought down
at weekends – whispered
to be let out from a borstal.
 
We heard thumps and squeals
coming from their caravan.
I was told to keep away from him.
 
But I liked wounded things:
a baby rabbit the cat brought in;
birds with broken wings.
 
As I got closer, he aimed the knife
into a clump of Lady’s Smock,
spearing a frog.
 
‘Present,’ he said,
dangling it by the leg.
He looked down at my feet:
 
at sandals I’d woven from reeds
to look like the Roman sandals
in my history book;
 
at bare toes like a row
of tiny bald creatures
pleading for their lives.

Vicki Feaver is a poet and painter. Her last collection, The Book of Blood (2004) was shortlisted for the Forward and Costa Prizes. The Handless Maiden was reissued in 2009. She lives in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, with her husband and dog.

Giles Goodland
The Sleep Of Wasps

For days I have watched them
in their roadmender jackets
heads to the wall, airborne and air-born,
threading a crack, touch-feeling
a route into the ventilation grille.
One evening I puff a cloud inside.
 
When I look next day, their house
is made of paper, stalked like a brain
cased snugly in the wall-void.
Their bodies parked, as if in
a port of delicate craft, after
a sandstorm, or as if touched
by sleep, the dust they folded under.
 
I brush away the poison
and unhang the paper lantern
and as I hold it a breath of wind
blows its roof away to show
its inner tissues, the pupae
responding inside their cells
like baby’s fingers.
I call my son to see this—
this stillborn blindness that will not live
and he tells me to put it away.
 
Standing with him in the sun
this white powder coming down on us
is only sunlight, through puffs of cloud.
But those grubby digits he had seen
reached towards the light we stood between.

Giles Goodland has published a several books of poetry including A Spy in the House of Years (2001), Capital (2006) and What the Things Sang (2009). He works in Oxford as a lexicographer and lives in West London.

Ann Gray
Joy

When I let the chickens out, I hurl mixed corn
in a golden arc across the frosted ground.
I know it’s junk, they shouldn’t have it, they don’t
need it, but everyone deserves joy somewhere.
I’ve been looking for something I once had and miss
and want again. I meet him in the beach café.
He has soup. I sip tea. He has over-wintered
vegetables on his allotment. I see it on his hands.
I imagine all that soil on my body. Sometimes
you know what’s bad for you, might be good.
I phone my mother every morning to start her day
- the way she knows it’s me, the way she says,
hello dear, before I’m speaking. She needs someone
to complain to. A mother is a precious thing. I know that
now I’m sure to lose her. She’s losing nouns and I have
to rummage in my brain to help her find them. I tell her
yesterday I thought I’d lost a dog and lost my voice calling.
I found her back at home, shaking, not sure if coming home
was good or bad, or neither, or both. There’s no reward
for coming home if no-one’s there, no one you love, no-one
to put out a hand, or smile to see you. My mother knows
and tries to hold me in her voice. Mothers do what they can.
Sometimes they don’t get much to work with. She knows
I’ll chase that golden arc, hoping for the joy in it.
I hope so much, hope the wine, the food, will taste
as it’s supposed to, hope that friends will stay,
their elbows on the table, The Low Anthem singing
To Ohio across the garden, where all those flowers
I fell in love with will be just a promised on their packets:
night scented stock, musk mallow, lunaria, pale phlox.
In this falling dark, when hens shuffle on their perches,
I hold my breath, listen to the sound of my loud heart.

Ann Gray's most recent collection is At The Gate (2008). Previous collections include The Man I Was Promised (2004). She has been a guest reader on several Arvon courses and a tutor at Ty Newydd. She lives and works in Cornwall.

David Thorley
Tonguesplay

Read the dictionary, and you will learn such things about human
pleasure as will make your hair curl.
– Les Murray

Like that pleasure itself is a verb
both transitive and reflexive –
the pleasuring in, and the pleasuring of.
Like that the English fucked a century
before they made love, and the prim Victorians
first found need to give names to erogenous zones.
Like that the ivory orb, of some contraption
called an anal violin, strung with catgut,
was plugged into pucks, and bowed from the Orient
to the Ottoman Empire singing
like boy sopranos. And that sacred grounds
have sacred names, less whispered than
sweet nothings between stones. Like that
the bill and coo of flickered contact’s said
to burn the lips, a thousand times more hot
and tantalising than thirst, and that
secrets vanish from the fingertips
like guttering match flames or a skittering
artery’s pulse. Like that the breath, when hollowed
from the lungs and cabined in the throat,
seems to shovel cyclones in the ribs, and the taste
of skin at naval, clavicle, and hip
is chartable to tongues as deep-water channels
to a night-rigged ship. That spasm recalls
drawn swords and cords wrenched from their rings,
and frenzy fires the brain. Bucking is the habit
of male deer, and writhing draws a crooked
swerving veil. Breathless disperses steam,
through contortion’s knitting. Electricity’s
an alloy of silver and gold. And crackling
resounds. Shivering splinters. Quivering’s
a guitar tremolo fluttering over bellyskin,
and the kick kick kick of a snaredrum’s roll’s
like javelins spiking into consecrated earth.

David Thorley is a freelance writer and journalist as well as a PhD student researching autobiographical writing about illness in the seventeenth century. Born in Stoke-on-Trent, he studied at the universities of Cambridge, Liverpool and Oxford and now lives in North London.

John Wedgwood Clarke
Stubble

None of us can be with you as you prepare.
You send us out for a walk. It’s been
raining for hours. I keep looking back
for cars down the lane, but it is only
the streams gunning for stones
along the edge of the loch. Overhead
the glass insulators on power lines
measure the rush of the sky with their
frozen rings of mineral stillness, blue
as Glacier Mints. The day walks all over us,
but still we listen, still we arrive at
the small point, the static caravans, windows
dark as teapots, smoky fingers, old
photographs by an eddy of gold baubles
spun under a carriage clock. The burn
brims with the tide, held up, full
and coiling in the lea of the point,
the mountains and clouds in its mouth.
fresh water floats; you can see it
mixing, the skeins and clouds of translucence,
smoke from an icy fire. You were always
‘emptying the waters’ down at the shop
to keep us afloat, sliding brimful trays
of condensation from under the fridges,
balancing planes of water before
pouring them into a galvanised bucket.
The lights of the nuclear submarine shed,
on the other side of the loch, flicker
through a squall. Dusk. It will be soon.
It will never come. The radar, among birches
beside the lane, spins silkily, spins its
disappearing web to the hiss of propane
from a mildewed cylinder. Like scales
from a golden fish we never caught, or
an unplayable stave of notes, birch leaves
shine in the green-black gloom, ineffable
as your stubble, a kiss from the darkness.

John Wedgwood Clarke directs the Beverley Literature Festival and Bridlington Poetry Festival and is UK and Ireland editor for Arc Publications. He also teaches creative writing part-time at Hull University. He was shortlisted for the 2010 Manchester Poetry Prize.

Email: Robyn Donaldson
Telephone: 020 7420 9880


Read the other poems...

First Prize: ‘Robin In Flight’ Joint Second Prize: ‘Wish', ‘A History of Glassblowing’ 


Carmen BuganCarmen Bugan
Caroline CarverVicki Feaver
Giles GoodlandAnn Gray
David Thorley
John Wedgwood Clarke