Poetry 2018 Winning Poems

Humor Prize

Your Call is Important to Us

by David Mark Williams

Please be aware

all our operators are busy right now

but as you wait, enjoy your breath,

be lulled by Vivaldi. Rest assured,

it’s all happening beautifully,

the time will go in a heartbeat.

 

Once you’re connected

one of our colleagues will lead you to a life

where nothing happens,

a lovely limbo with a view.

 

Your call is important to us,

the potted plant at your side

which we shall never refer to

but sense the delicate fronds of,

is important to us also,

and the rain falling heavily through trees,

leaves pressed against the glass,

all this is important too.

 

We think it would please you to know

your conversation may be recorded

for training purposes and possibly beamed

to every corner of the galaxy.

 

We hope you are seated comfortably

or even better standing up straight

to give your voice the weight of someone

who knows what they’re about.

 

The slow leak in your life jacket,

that knocking in your pipes,

will be of no consequence,

figure in no equation.

 

You will be connected as soon as possible.

Thank you for your continued patience.

 

1st Prize

Insomnia Soliloquy

By David Mark Williams

 

I have forgotten how to sleep.

I have forgotten the spell to weave

to bring on sleep:

every night to lie washed up, watching

the restless scrawl of the dark.

There’s sleep out in the yard,

dream apples hitting the ground,

the sweet poison waters of refreshment

somewhere far off.

Then car horns split the morning wide,

the new day grit in my eyes

and I dream of places to sleep:

lying on an empty beach,

lulled by the white noise of the sea,

sand the perfect mattress;

inside a sun warmed garden shed,

on a bed of hessian sacks,

a trapped fly rasping at a cracked window;

in the shade of a tiny fir tree on the slope

of a sun seared hill, seeing yellow

before I fell;

nodding off on  a train

to the end of the line;

and last of all

working through a doldrum agenda,

seated at a table polished to water,

tipping head first into it,

and before the eyes close,

speaking bubbles of conundrum

for the benefit of all those present,

who can only wonder: is that him

properly asleep now?

 

2nd Prize

The Curse

By Elizabeth Horrocks

 

Humankind was happy,

Skilled, prosperous,

Mostly nomadic,

With fine skills –

Flint knapping, hunting,

Providing food and leisure.

 

Some tried settling –

More hard work,

And less time

For tales and singing,

But more security.

Roots could be put down.

 

The gods smiled:

This is as it should be.

 

And then some evil spirit

Whispered that happiness lay

In liquid rock,

Heated, shaped, cooled:

Sharpened, polished.

Better for hunting…

 

A bargaining tool

If you had it –

And others didn’t.

 

Others may wish to own it,

But it is yours,

And with those sharp edges

You can defend it

And decorate yourself

More than the rest…

And fight others who want

To equal or exceed you.

 

The gods looked down with dismay

At the ensnaring of the once noble race,

Now bewitched by cruel copper,

Bright bronze and cold iron.

 

3rd Prize

Allowing the Light

By Sheila Aldous

 

It’s that time again when I wake:

no life blinks in the house across

the way, no small hand holds mine

but the moon rises in the sky

and a star falls to earth.

And I wish

laws did not take away

our rights to love.

And in the morning day breaks

with my heart, salt crystals

from the night dry into stardust

on my pillow, rays of sun sparkle

gold beads – flash my new beginning.

And I wish

this child was mine to hold,

where he would not be unfastened,

to float into a dark sea,

where his dust will cloud our eyes,

will burn into a million stars that

will look down and judge.

And I wish

to see him in the dew clinging to the petals,

to see his face shine in their mirror,

to see his footsteps in newly mown grass

where he never trod.

And I wish

to see him in a mother’s arms

where he is allowed the light.

 

[For Alfie Evans]

 

 

Highly Commended

 

Cold Egg

Jenny West

 

It’s the smell that I see and hear

Every time I open the door

Of the house you once lived in

The smell of hours in a flowery pinny

And little sausages brown with tradition

 

It’s the smell of a tablecloth

Napkin rings

A gravy boat

The things we don’t have at home

The wondering of who will get to say Grace this time

Or when Grandpa will try to steal a chip

 

It’s the smell of butter, not margarine, in a dish

And lemonade in our little glass beakers

And, somewhere, amidst bread rolls and roast potatoes and puns from the head of the table

A plate of cold egg

Hard-boiled earlier today

Shelled

And sliced with a little instrument I find thrillingly efficient

 

It’s the smell of saving my slices of cold egg

Till last

And eating the white first

The soft, ever-so-slightly grey yolk a final savoury treat

Before the inevitable, longed-for Viennetta

 

It’s the smell I’m after when I roast my own potatoes

And stand on tiptoes to reach my gravy boat on the top shelf

And peel my cold eggs

And unfreeze my Viennetta

Wearing your old, flowery pinny

 

That doesn’t smell of anything

 

Commended

 

Edges of Autumn

By Lynne Tlr

 

Rapunzel, you brushed your hair

as we overlooked treetops and attics,

houseboats on the Amstel. Four storeys

down, so busy looking, we didn’t see

roads honeyed with shops were traps

crossed by lanes like wires barbed with cyclists.

 

We escaped à la Shalott, cruised

along Gentleman’s Canal, Amsterdam

the expected perspective:

Patrician houses with an origami skyline.

 

On terra firma we were shaken by a crash,

our legs grazed by a terracotta roof-tile

destined to become a pile of daggers,

needed the sedation of coffee

at a pavement café. You ate a Piece of Heaven

with all its angelic calories, and I,

a Torte of Summer Fruits big enough

for several summers. The temperature was 24 degrees

but edges of autumn scraped the air.

 

In a forest of artists’ stalls and a maze of alleys

we got lost. No trail of breadcrumbs to follow.

We chilled in the pool, simmered in the Jacuzzi,

curdled with hunger. Caution to the wind

were caught in a thunderstorm, struck

by uncertainty – was a bus shelter safe?

 

Hotly showered we lay side by side,

thirty years between us. Told different stories

from the same history, remembered changes

to look forward to.

 

At the airport there was a theft. A happy ending

stolen; your seat double-booked.

I may have to leave you behind. Fate

waved a magic wand. Midnight was delayed.

 

 

On This Summer Day

By Sue Kauth

 

Sleeping cats curl like commas

on windowsills in sun

and summer’s rhythm is measured

in cricket commentary and bees buzzing

in boarge and foxglove.

 

Meadowsweet and strawberries scent the air

and the garden is fecund.

Produce spills across kitchen:

beans, peas, tomatoes fat with sun’s ripeness,

and jars of jam gleam from shelves.

 

But the past is sneaky,

and ghosts of earlier summers

creep in with evening’s shadows

bringing a chill to the air.

 

We shiver, reflect on years piled behind us

then shrug, grow sentimental and speak

of children on beaches and walks

down country lanes.

 

We let mist cloud our memories

and pretend to believe

winter will never come again.

 

Clacton 1967

By Susi Clare

First thing he says, You dolled up for Carnival or what?

Does he mean my Twiggy eyes, or the pink spray-on highlight?

Whichever, my face feels like a smacked bum and something’s

doing a bungee jump in my stomach.

OK, so he is a bit of rough and my mum’d have kittens

if she knew what I was up to, but there’s the thrill, that

and his blue eyes, black hair, pale face, which, let’s face it,

is kind of rat-like in daylight but nicely chiselled by night.

Plus he doesn’t go to my school.

He slides his tongue over the Rizla, studies me through smoke

as if I’m a prize heifer. The pinkie nail he files to a point slices

along the streak in my hair, flicks it away, like dandruff.

He hefts the front of his drainpipes, grinds the dog-end

with a fake-snake winklepicker, says, Oh well, come on then,

and sets off down the alley, not waiting to see if I follow.

He pushes me against the wall of the Variety Hall; I feel

the pulse of band music through bricks on my back, his pulse

on my stomach; I’m encased in throbbing.

His tongue laps my ear, delves, twirls;

when he takes it out, the skin turns cold.

He moves to my lips, they part without a second thought;

I taste the bitterness of wax.

Let’s get these buns out of the bag, he says to my teeth;

bra wire digs into my chest.

His fingers zipper along the bulge at the top of my nylons;

Time to put the Roger back in rabbit, he says, fiddling with his flies.

I’m thinking, rabbit? What rabbit? Then twig.

I’m not that kind of girl, I say, clamping my knees

tight enough to crush an Aspirin.

You’re a bleedin’ tease is what you are.

He spits the words at me. For a minute I quail, but he pulls out

a steel comb, tweaks his quiff; the Zippo flares behind his palm.

See you around then, he says.

It starts raining; pink leaks down my face

like the bloody tears of a plaster saint.

By the time he reaches the corner, he’s shrunk

into perspective. In the lamp-light, he squares

his shoulders under the baggy red blazer, making ripples

in the logo, almost turning the final exclamation

into a question mark.