Open Poem Competition
1st Prize: Lesley Saunders
…it has been surmised that there was a time when the circumpolar ice extended far into the temperate zone –
Robert Chambers, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844)
From here as you skate you can look at the Alps,
backdrop to your catch-foot, your spread eagle;
as you jump over your hat you can glimpse
the tree-line of larches above your bare head,
the balustrade of players who scrape out
a polka with chilblained fingers, a fine steam
beading their velveteen cuffs. Behind the walls
and high passes, always half in towering shade,
are other objects your eye cannot follow,
the way being blocked by sundogs or a stranger
who when you wake is your own phantom-self
thrown by the sky across a mountain of cloud.
This is the year the earth has suddenly grown
so much older than anyone had counted on,
its genealogies inscribed in fossiliferous rock,
its archives deep-frozen in glacial spillways
where only frost-flowers bloom. But today
is the day when the ice-maker fails, you lose
your footing as the cosmos tilts and the rink
runs ruinedly into its constituent fluids.
You can’t see yet what’s coming over the hill,
hurtling towards you from way before Genesis:
an alp-man riding the flood-tide with a gutful
of deer-meat inside him, his skin-leather leaking
unstoppable secrets. In your sleep you’re still
skating, endlessly tracing a figure of eight
through the deepest of winters – now or soon
with a small force throw your body forwards into light.
2nd. Prize: Patrick James Errington
Fieldwork in Secret
All day in the heat they would talk. Some sang
even, though no one could hear the other’s
words through the grit and noise, the rusted
grind of machinery. But still they’d drive their
voices like fenceposts into the hard din of it,
not for a fence for keeping in some untamed
thing, but rather just the plain act of keeping.
As a boy, I used to cross the fields to watch
them at it, the sweat, their mouths moving as
practiced as their hands, shaping the steel dust,
the air – into what, I could never quite say.
A craft of some sort, of sound, of stale light.
Whenever my father came home he’d leave
the keys dangling in the pickup, a scum of grey
around the bath and, every now and then, her
(my mother, I mean), driving with me away
for days, weeks even, but we always came and
were taken back. I guess he liked the act of it,
leaving. I still remember him mumbling along
to the radio, but at home he never sang, not
to anyone, barely spoke in more than those
sentences he set out on the table, cruel little
heirlooms. My mother who spoke enough
for all of us told me how she eventually had
to ask him to stop saying he loved her, and so
he did, though as he neared the end she’d hear
him at night muttering the words and her name
over and over as though they were a kind of
work he’d done all his life and now his breath,
like his hands, was set to it. I could always tell
as he and I drove back that we were almost home
when, though we kept no cattle or horses,
the untended fields were scored with fences.
3rd Prize: Jonathan Greenhause
A plague on your house,
& mold, too.
A few misaligned beams &
of carpenter ants, plus
of radon in the basement.
laying low your sheetrock, a
of your resale value due to
of haunting, a threat of
domain. Paint warped, &
caused by rainstorms, a
foundation, a sump pump
ineffective. A trail of
from jealous neighbors, a
done in by a conspiracy
by a clique of licensed
decorators. A series of
culminating in disaster,
set afire, in a web of
A pox on your house, & on
your yard, too,
on your neighborhood &
you ever knew.
Comments from the judge, Michael Symmons Roberts
This one had me hooked from first read. I love its imaginative reach, the rush of letting a line of thought and imagery develop in the making of the poem. This poet’s ability to describe and evoke movement, grace, is really striking. And the image of the ‘alp-man riding the flood-tide…’ is a gift out of nowhere. Wonderful.
Fieldwork in Secret
A finely-judged portrait of childhood and family, built on a striking central metaphor of fences built for ‘just the plain act of keeping’, with its echoes of Heaney and Frost.
A tight, pared-back, witty curse of a poem uttered through gritted teeth. A joy to read, though not – I imagine - for its intended target.
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