1st, Open Category 2006 - Ginny Baily

Mornings Like These

On mornings like these when the autumn blue dissolves
into the harder brighter light that edges winter's dark
and where, in washed-out emptiness, white transition,
we skirt each other with cold politeness, sharp
and brittle as consumptives at the sanatorium
who cough and rub their hot red eyes
in the thin searing air, who ignore the telltale
stains on handkerchiefs and all the other signs;

On mornings like these I imagine the silence after Eve
bit the apple, the dirty-white cloth of silence falling,
wrapping their garden like a shroud; and Adam's sheen,
new-won, as if he had slid into the serpent's skin
just as the snake slid out, while Eve, still naked,
watches the man wriggling to stretch the membrane,
to shape it to his form, but does not yet know
that from now on and forever, she is to blame;

On mornings like these when my jaw aches with the damp
of things unsaid and the other side of the room
is further than the moon, I dream of slipping back in time,
wearing my nakedness like a peach its bloom,
washed backwards by the stream of undone years
that smoothes my face, ungrits my teeth and drops me ripe
into apple-scented air where I lick my guilty lips
and seize again the fruit, to take a bigger, bolder bite.


Judge's comments

This poem stood out from the whole, for its lyric intensity, its powerful handling of image, its brave seriousness, and its individual touch. The language and ideas here work together beautifully. I like the repeated rhetorical device at the start of each of these stanzas, and then the quick immersion into fully developed, emotive, and mythic ideas. The ‘cold politeness’ of the specific relationship in the first stanza is just right, with its delightfully odd simile of ‘consumptives at the sanatorium’ that grows into a wonderful extended metaphor. The second stanza is unafraid of tackling big mythic subject matter, but does so with a refreshingly new approach; the man sliding into the snake’s skin ‘wriggling to stretch the membrane’, and the beautiful understatement of its last line. The final stanza develops these concerns, reminding us of the first stanza’s particular relationship, but extending the parallels further through the Biblical myth, to the universals of ‘things unsaid’, and the powerfully sensuous image of wearing ‘nakedness like a peach its bloom’. The poem deals with memory, desire, dreaming, gender roles, and that powerful existential desire to ‘seize again the fruit’ and – what a challenge! – to take a ‘bigger, bolder, bite’. A real pleasure to read.

Andy Brown

2nd, Open Category 2006 - Josephine Haslam


Pond life

One black fish among the orange
will take the bad luck from the house

so we bring home a black speckled
koi to add to our eight red-gold
shubunkin, chuchen-cin, kingyo,
that flicker life in to the pool.
But our eyes are drawn to the black
packed with its load of ill-fortune -

How can it take in so much? river
soaked up, night sky and fields,
this one absorbs and absorbs;
lightning rod, healed wound,
coal dense as the anchor of black
in Matisse's Snail - its weight
makes the red fish more red, night sky
lit with blue, house bright as fortune.

Judge's comments

This was a terrific poem to read too. A carefully wrought sonnet-like poem that develops a single image with lyric intensity and careful attention paid to the musicality of language. The epigrammatic note at the head of the poem supplies us with the idea that a black goldfish absorbs all the bad luck from a house. From there, the poet simply explores that rich, metaphysical superstition, using direct, rich language. The phrasing is perfectly weighted, and the division of the poem into the sonnet’s traditional sestet and octet with a shift in perspective between the two is deftly handled. The careful embodying of the big ideas in the concrete sequence of images is profound. The list of names adds a delicate, musical touch, counterbalanced by the lyric intensity of the image; that black fish ‘packed with its load of ill-fortune’. The poet goes on to wonder at the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the black fish, ending on the delightfully up-beat conclusion that the black makes the red fish ‘more red’; makes the night sky shine more-so, ‘lit with blue’ and – here’s the beautiful human crux of all this – makes the ‘house bright as fortune’. This is deceptively simple poetry presented in exactly the right Zen-like register, with just the right balance of naturalness, exquisite image and profound idea.

Andy Brown

3rd, Open Category 2006 - Linda Lamus

Madame Emilia and the Crocodile

(After 'Madame Emilia Never Lies',
linocuts by Chris Pig)

Madame Emilia never lies -
except, naked, in the arms of her crocodile.
They lean on purple cushions while she plays
the concertina skin beneath his neck
with extended crimson nails.

Almost every day she burnishes
his scales so tenderly that people swear
they must be lovers. And she, a married woman;
shrill the widows at the well.
Madame Emilia and the crocodile

smile, share pomegranates.
In his stubby arms she dreams
of muddy rivers, how his lips would kiss
the throats of deer and goats and butterflies;
the rush of waterfalls

and his claw railings holding her safe.
He bares fine, jigsaw teeth, wraps his tail
about her legs in that warm, reptilian way.
They puff a hookah in slow-motion, watch vapour
condense on blue-tiled walls.

Judge's comments

Sometimes you just want a poem to work its magic on you by sheer surprise, with good humour, and with a wry eye on the following challenge: if you can’t take a risk in a poem then where can you? This poem seems to achieve all of those things with a charming laugh twinkling in its eye. It was without doubt, the most unusual poem in the bunch. If ‘unusual for unusual’s sake’ is seldom good, then this poem cleverly avoids that pitfall through its concrete detail, its neat lines and phrasing, its well measured stanzas and its lovely, playful humour. Surreal and frightening by turns, the image of Madame Emilia playing ‘the concertina skin’ on her crocodile’s neck is satisfying, just as it is plainly odd to those inhabitants of the poem who gossip about these illicit, animalistic goings on: ‘And she, a married woman’ – touché! The ‘pomegranates’ and the ‘puffing hookah’ add just the right touch of sensory exoticism and an illicit, fairytale-like quality. The bittersweet image of ‘how his lips would kiss / the throats of deer and goats’ is chilling in its detail, even as it is given a further delightfully strange twist with ‘and butterflies’. I’m still not sure what it’s all about – but then that doesn’t seem to matter, the risk has been taken and the risk has paid off. Lovely strange stuff!

Andy Brown

Highly Commended, Open Category 2006 - Margaret Eddershaw

This poem received a Highly Commended from judge Andy Brown. It appears (as when you come) in Margaret's chapbook Riding the Rainbow, a collection of 17 poems plus photographs sold in aid of Out of Africa, which is a charity that organises the sponsorship of children's education in Kenya, as well as funding clean water access, and other facilities. The charity is based in Dorset (www.outofafrika.org).

Riding the Rainbow is available from Margaret via e-mail or snail-mail at:  Fotomara 11, Nafplion, 21100, Greece.

My Sponsor's Visit

When you come
I say, Karibu from Mercy Wambui!
We sit spooning Mum’s groundnut soup.
Asante, I say, for good job you do
assisting me in school fees.
Mother’s happy you volunteer
so I can excel in life.

When you come
we walk by Thika’s river
climb together to Fourteen Falls.
You buy Maasai blanket to sleep in.
I ask why you help me,
you say, Service to mankind is
service to God.

When you come
I tell you my story
that father leave us
school is hard when I’m hungry.
You listen how rain don’t come
people we know die
because livestock become bone

When you come
Asante for ribbons and bookmark.
Not say Mum sell pens you send
no talk of goat you pay for die.
I fear if my school marks be bad
you no longer sponsor. But in photo
you have kind teacher look.

When you come
I appreciate golden opportunity
God gives me to speak in the face.
Tell you I think my mother afraid
you take me away from her
“to fulfil my ambitions”
and she have no help on farm.

But you never come, Mum say.
I think she right that I dream -
better that way. Dear sponsor,
may God enlarge borders for you.

Margaret Eddershaw

Judge's comments

A poem in an assumed persona, developing an unusual and poignant point of view, pulled off with style. An insightful and emotive poem without falling in to the trap of sentiment. Loved the playfulness of the language and the terrific ending. Throughout, the plaintive repetitions of ‘When you come’ becomes painfully hopeless, though rescued by the humour of the poems and, ultimately, its humanity.

Andy Brown

Highly Commended, Open Category 2006 - Josephine Haslam


Snow on the Kiso Road

This poem received a Highly Commended from judge Andy Brown. We can't reproduce it here, because that would make it ineligible for further competition entry, but here's what Andy had to say about the poem:

Judge's comments

Another polished lyric poem that pays careful attention to natural imagery, allied to powerful ideas. I like the movements of the poem from inert stone, to sound, to waves and boats and wind in the first stanza; to the Japanese print of the second stanza, and the way the poet steps back and forth between reality and representations. The whole is underpinned by strong concrete imagery, lovely attention to line and phrasing, and a careful measure.

Andy Brown