1st, Open Category 2008 - Jenny Mayor


Interior with Forget-me-nots (Matisse, 1916)

Each time she walked into his attic room,
unbuttoning her blouse, she would enter
the painting that hung above the wide bed:

among its chalky greens, she could remove
her rings, put them on the three-legged table
next to the bowl bursting with blue flowers.

She'd take off her skirt, her best underwear,
kick her sandals under the curved black chair,
stretch out like a cat on the coverlet.

Beyond the gauzy curtains, the rush-hour
traffic crawled and hooted along the street.
They whispered like thieves; she stayed far too late.

Under his gaze she'd stand on the patterned rug,
one foot out of the frame, gathering clothes,
putting on her watch, inventing excuses.

Judge's comments

This short poem doesn’t put a foot wrong.  It is a quite straightforward account of a visit, but the visit is into the painting, and the poem very economically integrates the details of the occasion with the details of the painting, so that ‘reality’, as it were, and painting fuse.  The painting, in a sense, controls the poem. What I most admire is the restraint and delicacy of the piece;  the poet allows the poem to say just what it needs to say, and no more, leaving sufficient clues for the reader to do the reader’s necessary work.  It’s both satisfying and tantalising, celebratory and uncertain, at once.

U A Fanthorpe

2nd, Open Category 2008 - Virginia Hobart


The Passing of Hay

I regret the passing of hay - made of late in the proverbial way while the sun shines
high in the summer sky on dew-dried grasses, purple-grey,
to be cut and turned and rowed and baled, stacked and carted from the field
by every man, woman, child: with breaks in hedges' shade for tea and cake,
and talk of other years' disasters, triumphs, laughter, tears:
then up and on with wagon load to make, and climb on top, and take
sedately swaying, the homeward road.

I regret the passing of hay, but silage is good - or better, they say,
sooner, safer, all done in a day, needing less sunshine, less labour, less pay -
and three crops a year, if you start it in May:
one man, one tyrannosaurus machine roars along roads into fields still green;
rolls up, spikes up, wraps with slick speed, in black plastic
our cows' convenient wintering feed.

I regret the passing of hay - when I forget the sweat of fork and pitch,
thistle's bare-skin prickle and itch, the aching muscles, breaking bales,
swollen hands that can't be mine, split by unforgiving twine:
the anxious watching of the weather: remembering
instead the fun of friends and neighbours come together,
the one-for-all and all-for-one, the showing off, the trials of strength
to clear the meadow length by length; then riding home last load of June
breathing night-sweet honeysuckle beneath the rising moon.

Fast forward, pause for thought - the truth:
is what I miss community, or even more, my youth?

Perhaps, but every time I pass the marrow-stripe of any spring-cut field,
and see, like monstrous black and shiny slugs, its heaped-up plastic yield,
without the smell of drying grass that always spelled a summer day,
whatever kind my other loss, what ever count of more or less,
I regret the passing of hay.

Judge's comments

This poem is also very cleverly done. It’s an interesting subject, but there’s no fuss here; it’s a very workmanlike poem. The writer has two problems - how to convey the necessary, quite complex, information, and how to deal with a subtle but important patterning of rhyme and echo.  A good reader is expected: one who will have a sensitive enough ear to respond to this pattern.  The many details are handled skilfully (‘thistle’s bare-skin prickle and itch’), and the tone is well sustained: the determined, almost pedestrian, long lines carry the argument in a leisurely fashion, and the uncertainty of the writer’s position (‘pause for thought...’) is slipped in without apology.  The poem comes to its conclusion neatly, forthrightly. A very well-shaped poem.

U A Fanthorpe

3rd, Open Category 2008 - Christopher North


The Company of the Invisible

The architect,
who designed a rejected baluster rail for the Oxo building,
had a drink with Kirsty on the same day a scream she'd made
tripping on some steps delivering software to a recording studio
had been dubbed into a sequence in a Madonna video they were doing.
They used it for a moment when the diva leapt from a car
but it wasn't acknowledged in the credits
- that sort of video doesn't have credits they said.
He also mentioned
a tall and hearty man he'd met at a rodeo in Salinas, California,
who had a short-term contract with Warner Brothers to guffaw
in the soundtrack of a cartoon series they were making about a family
of donkeys; but his guffaw wasn't used. One of the in-house cartoonists
found he could copy it. So the hearty man remained a janitor
but would always produce the guffaw if asked at parties and so on.
He maintained a positive attitude and opined that, after all,
they got to the guffaw they needed by way of his -
he'd been a link in the chain. He'd played a part and wasn't bitter.
Just another day at the wrong end of the telescope.
And then
there was that ornate conservatory extension with structural trouble
on the back of a house in Amersham that I'd saved by some sound advice
during my surveying days. Every morning I would drive past
and mutely salute my contribution to that corner of Metro-land
until, that is, last week when the whole thing was demolished
to make way for a block of flats.

Judge's comments

This poem’s subject is of quite startling originality: it is about what nearly happened but didn’t. And yet, in a way, did...  A non-subject, perhaps? but the leisurely, rather random  way the tale is told carries the interest along through a mass of chatty detail, relying on a kind of developing intimacy with the reader which moves from ‘the architect, who...had a drink with Kirsty ... ‘ and side-tracks into the anecdote about the ‘tall and hearty man’, returning to architectural details about ‘a house in Amersham’... which ‘last week’ was demolished.  The torrent of ingredients offers clues - but bewildering clues - about time and place and significance, and the whole thing comes to nothing in the end: which is exactly what should happen.  Well-sustained, absurd, witty; the unexplored edges of everyday experience given a chance to be themselves for a moment.

U A Fanthorpe