2014 Competition Prizewinning poems

Prizewinners with Pascale Petit at the prizegiving on April 15th:

Daisy Behagg; Pascale Petit; Grevel Lindop; Lindsay Fursland; Andrew Soye


First Prize

Andrew Soye – Kigali
Hope and despair? Let me show you
the Anglican cathedral where they are
celebrating the wedding; the concrete floor
the burnt-brick walls decorated with flowers
guests in their places, dressed in their best
clothes, fanning themselves with their hymnals
mopping their brows, beneath the rough-sawn
rafters of a rusted corrugated iron roof.

And the sparrowhawk that flew in through
one of the unglazed windows as the couple
were making their vows, now perched
with its prey directly above the altar
feathers falling through sunlight like blessing
like slow-motion confetti, like snow

Second Prize

 Grevel Lindop – CIGAR
It would have, unrolled, a small book’s
surface area. My first was the gift
of a man at the next table
of the pavement café at the Hotel Inglaterra.
He worked, he said,

at the Partagas factory, where they read
the newspaper aloud all morning,
and in the afternoon novels and poetry
while, adept as conjurers’,
the workers’ hands rip, stuff and wrap. More words
went into it than I shall ever draw out.

The tobacco-god is a bird with scarlet plumage
and mother-of-pearl eyes. His four
attendants are the green
spirit of the fresh leaf, the brown of the dried,
the red spirit of fire and the blue of smoke.

The red visits only for flaring instants;
is fickle, demands nurture. The green
is memory and imagination. The blue
is a girl dressed in feathers: lapis, lavender, sky.
When she kisses

her tongue is sharp as seabrine, chocolate, chilli.
She says the word tabaco is Carib,
from a language whose last speaker
has been dead four hundred years. But the brown

lives in my hand this moment, brittle
and crisp as a chrysalis. Filtered
through his crushed spirals,
molecular poems thread themselves
into my genes, become part of the air I breathe,
the words I speak. Both of us end in ash.

Third Prize
 Jo Bell – Shibboleth

I thought of girls who doodled yours in school books,
gasped it on the back seat of your first car;
had it inked onto their wrist and then burned off
or screamed it in the labour room.

You thought of those who murmured mine
in rented rooms, or grunted it in bikers’ dens:
scrapped over it like mongrels with a bone
intoned it as they got down on one knee.

And so we called each other Rochester and Jane
or Hot and Bothered; Desperate of Huddersfield;
and the tea-cosy names which keep love only warm –
hinny, honey, darling, baby doll –

until, today, you lean into the root of me
and speak the word I wear under my tongue,
that font-and-deathbed tag, my given name:
whispering the word that for a moment

stops the river, leaves me
naked on the bank in flames.

Fourth Prizes

 Lindsay Fursland – Pinochet’s Orphan

 On my grandfather’s knee I was when he told the police
my parents’ whereabouts – he gave their lives up
to save mine.  The choice they gave him unbearably simple …
Astronomy consoled him that such things may be meant,
that stars must die so others can be born,
a sacred cycle I’d understand in time.

He becomes my parents.  Next thing I’m
in his lean shadow learning how to gawp
via smoked glass at a transit of Venus,
dragging its infinitesimal self across the sun –
a flaw in an egg-yolk – tiny, faint,
its bright spark turned now into a freckle;

and the nights so clear the cosmos seemed touchable.
Now I make my living searching space
with a hundred-inch reflecting telescope,
my nostalgia-for-the-light instrument,
raking the dark like a sniper taking aim:
whatever’s secret there I’ll make my own.

I only wish I could point the focus down,
x-ray the deep killing-fields for bones of a parent:
every day I’d go hunting, hope against hope
I’d stumble on some fragment of my loss,
a detached foot maybe, still in the wool
of his burgundy sock. I’d bag it up, go home,

lock the door behind me.  In the living room
I’d take it out. I wouldn’t be able to stop
myself.  Handling the bone I’d see his face.
I think I’d live from moment to moment,
taking this furtive, intimate communion,
knowing the calcium formed in a star is in his ankle.


Caroline Carver – blue whale


when he lived on land instead of under the sea
he dreamed apple blossom mixed with honey
his living space hung   with all the colours of the orient


his residual legs fade
with each step up the evolutionary ladder


sometimes he crashes into my world  like a burst of geese


I swim in the dark with only a whale for company
mantas fly below like unmarked planes


why tell him he’s as long as a football pitch?
his ‘fields’ reach skywards


 in the last battle    harpoons will be the weapon of choice


 all the king’s men jumped on their horses
bending over their necks     their long whale backbones


no    all the king’s men jumped into their boats
flensing knives waiting on the ships behind them
the sound of his voice faded from five oceans


once this was a kingdom without whales
beaches were empty of them
the lamps of the world had no oil


his eye is a one-way mirror


when he lies on the surface in the arms of Morpheus
what dreams fill the half of his mind that’s asleep?


(humpbacks sleep like caryatids     upright as pillars of Solomon)


I was a midwife when her calf was born
pulled this new world    tail-first     out of her
the head        last         nudged upwards for its first breath


she jets her milk out generously   enough for a small herd of cows


I will become a sea serpent
I want to be large enough to clasp her baby in my arms


when you went back    why did you keep your land-borne lungs
the wombs of your females      your milky calves?

why do you drink fresh water flavoured by sea?
swelling and pleating your throat    to filter cornucopias of krill


baleen is your system’s night watchman


 there’s no longer room for you in our world
you take too much space


 I lie on the seabed
whales like ocean-going ships      pass above me


he says he’ll teach me how to breathe again



Daisy Behagg – Night and the Song of the Light on the River


Picture the way – carrying the light
of the city – water becomes it,

dances lightly as word embodying
thought. How is it borne – this being

danced-through – this becoming
by water, delicious slow-down

of self – each nerve molten
while the water quickens – unbearable

kindling! Night is the lap of it –
holding, releasing, returning to listen.




Claudine Toutoungi – Piano Lessons for Adults

Now that I sleep well at night and know I have,

like Princess Alexandra of Bavaria before me,

a piano lodged inside my gut,

(though mine is not of glass),

swallowed whole, one late September evening, as a child,

I wear the baggy garb of the obese without a qualm,

staggering sideways along streets,

on escalators pressed flat  against the wall,

(no doubt a shambles, seemingly no doubt, crazed).

I was a pale and poxy girl.

A dog chased me in circles, yapping at my skirt.

My brothers laughed. I cried. The skirt ripped.

So the years passed. Crunch. Yap. Rip.

Nothing sonorous. Nothing spooling gorgeously like Brahms or Liszt,

until I heard both for the first time in the civic hall,

played by a Soviet soloist so immense,

I felt I’d died but been brought back.

I wanted to brush the ivories once for luck.

In the concert’s after hush, the auditorium gaped at my insouciant approach.

I mounted the stairs, close, so close, but then I tripped whilst falling up,

mouth open, like a goon, downing the Steinway, circa 1892.

I felt better almost at once. My skin improved.

Dogs stayed away, but the best came after years.

The booming hiss of the bee, the stuck needle of the sparrow’s chirp,

machinery, sirens, planes, alarms, all the cackle this world hands out for free, I absorb,

convert and am transformed by.

Nothing, inside, but resonance, tremulous and

not one string is false.



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