Open Competition Results 2017




Catherine Smith (judge, centre) with prizewinners  Janet Sutherland (L) and Sally Douglas (R)


We are pleased to announce the results of our Open Poetry Competition 2017,  judged by Catherine Smith. The competition attracted 1400 entries, and the prizes have been awarded as follows:


FIRST:          “Braided Wire”  by Janet Sutherland, Lewes

SECOND:     “The Sound of Hooves”  by Karen O’Connor, Co. Kerry, Ireland

THIRD:         “The Book of the Bones”  by John Whitworth, Canterbury

FOURTH:     “The Dream”  by Sharon Black, St André de Valborgne, France

”               “Dead Things I Have Seen While Walking”  by Sally Douglas, Exeter

”               “The Confidant’s Shadow”  by Simon French, Derby

”               “A Stone”  by David Wilson, Harrogate


1st  Prize:  Janet Sutherland


Braided Wire


I wasn’t there.  I heard this second hand, much later,
but textbooks show the methodology, the diagrams
for several presentations and for monstrous deviations

from the norm. For calves long dead in situ and for those
just recently deceased. For calves too big or those
whose odd shape makes their birth impossible.

So, let’s return to games with butter at the kitchen table
carving summer scrolls and corrugations, watching
beads of sweat emerging from the surface.

Look at the four of us, you’re telling the story.
My chair on two legs tilted on the dresser, and yours
steady by the Rayburn. You can’t remember much –

was it by the cedar of Lebanon or in the beech wood?
You mime the act of sawing. I wasn’t there
but I recall the field which had that slope, so steep

it made the little Fergie roar. The throttle out so far
the blue smoke coughed in rapid puffs and plumes.
The vet had laid his tools out in the field:

two buckets full of lubricant, three of warm water,
a hand pump, krey hook and a calving chain,
a length of braided saw wire with its introducer.

It was raining, water trickled through her hair.
Your hand on her flank felt the fat she’d come to,
her vulva swollen with two feet emerging.

Hooves, dew claws, pastern joints all faded yellow,
like the white rat I’d dissected in biology. She lay
in the copse under the beech trees, I wasn’t there

but beech mast crunched each time you moved your feet.
I’ve read how it’s done. I know the technicalities,
the rough dismemberment, and what that leaves you with.


2nd Prize:  Karen O’Connor


The Sound of Hooves


When he went to say goodnight
your bed was empty – duvet pushed
as if you had just risen from a deep sleep
and hidden somewhere inside the room of home.
He found you sleeping, curled into your mother’s spot,
announcing your missing – as if he needed to be told,
as if the stars wouldn’t know your longing
viewed between the slatted blinds,
the cast of silver lines framing your waiting.
Unwrapping you from the tangled sheets
he found you dressed in your mother’s pyjamas,
the flaccid arms and legs lying on the open mattress,
your own supplication to your mother God,
calling on her to lift the solidifying darkness
and let you dream of Andalusian horses
galloping on the Iberian coast,
leaving salt spray kisses on your lips.
Your image, this charcoal outline,
stays with him long after you have
returned to your own bed
and your small core of heat
has evaporated from the exposed sheets
which he cannot bear to cover.




3rd Prize:  John Whitworth


The Book of the Bones


They are digging my garden for human remains.
And I’ve taken to bed with a terrible cough.
There’s a sweet, sticky smell and a pattern of stains
On the stones where they’re digging for human remains.
They’ve dredged some unspeakable stuff from the drains
And policemen in wellies have cordoned it off.
They are digging my garden for human remains.

They are asking me questions again and again.
Where did they come from, the bones and the skulls?
Who were the children who stayed in the den?
They are asking these questions again and again.
Who were they? What were they? Why were they? When?
There’s a heap by the wall and a cluster of gulls.
They are asking these questions again and again.
How can I think with the scream of the birds
And the script of the skulls and the book of the bones.
I don’t have the wit and I don’t have the words.
There’s an ache in my head from the noise of the birds
From the feel of their  feathers, the smell of their turds,
There’s an ache in my heart from the song of the stones
And how can I think with the scream of the birds.
The song of the stones in the dark of my heart,
Is calling me, calling me, calling me back
To the time of the children, the time of the start
Of the song of the stones in the dark of my heart,
To the clatter of cobbles, the creak of the cart
The screech of the owl and the sigh of the sack
And the song of the stones in the dark of my heart.
I kidnapped the children to murder them all.
That’s what they tell me. They say that I did.
It’s so long ago that it’s hard to recall.
Did I murder the kiddiwinks, murder them all?
They say that I buried them under the wall,
That I lured them with fags and a couple of quid
To the den in the garden and murdered them all.
So they say.  So they tell me. That that’s what I did.

4th= Prize:  David Wilson


A Stone

Was it too much to want a life
where she might have her own dog,
and once in a while climb Ingleborough
on a winter’s day when the Irish Sea
runs silver along the western coast;

and rest at the top in a dry-stone fold,
protected from the east wind’s bitterness,
then choose a stone the colour of sea
to skim across the summit plateau,
her dog leaping after it and searching

amid the thousand for that one
holding the scent of her hand,
then racing back to drop it at her feet
and look at her with bright eyes,
perhaps one green, the other brown?

As she flung the stone again
there’d be nothing but her tensed arm,
Frost’s universal blue of sky
and local green of valleys,
and her dog flying back, to her alone.


4th= Prize:  Sally Douglas


Dead Things I Have Seen While Walking

Mainly the monochromes of bone
and skin.  A ruff of fleece.
A colander of skull with leery grin,
a splay of raven like a flattened prayer.
A wig of hedgehog spines.  A sack of pelt.

Vertebrae like knuckles, frost-heaved
out of coarse moor grass. Cow’s teeth.
My daily shrinking badger, unperforated
until the crows got to its eyes, a pulsing
and ebbing circumference of stink.

And once (and such is still life – oily, vivid)
the front half of a lamb – its blood
a dark red semaphore stiffening the stroil.
I’d wanted to look closer – examine
mode and manner, smell the severing –

but my love was there, beside me.
He mustn’t know how very cold I am.


4th=  Prize:  Simon French


The Confidant’s Shadow

He didn’t walk out on her when she accused him of having an affair
with the woman next door. He’d only gone round to tame the lawn
but homemade lemonade was just the start.

I took tea with them. They were a lovely couple.
We sat in their cottage garden and ate salmon paste sandwiches.
I felt uncomfortable on the wrought-iron chair and the sun burned.

He didn’t leave her when she told him he was a paedophile
after she’d found him watching a BBC holiday programme
where young children splashed the Costas in pools of whooping fun.

We sat in their cottage garden and crunched ginger snaps.
She was as blonde as Cornish ice cream and melted close to my smile.
I sipped tea with them. They were a lovely couple.

He didn’t move out after she claimed he was alcoholic,
the empty wine bottle waved under his nose
before star-bursting across flagstone.

I took tea with them, they were a lovely couple.
She had skin as pale as Carrara marble. Her hand brushed my leg.
I felt uncomfortable on the wrought-iron chair and the sun burned.

He didn’t desert her when she shook with rage, hair like honeysuckle in a storm.
When she slung his loafers out of the window and quoted the Bible,
sliced a razor through her bloodline – when their doctor intervened.

They were a lovely couple. I took tea with them.
Her eyes were cloudy with dreams. She told me she’d like to paint my portrait.
I felt uncomfortable on the fastened plastic chair and the room was airless.


4th= Prize:  Sharon Black


The Dream

  Lewis, 1919


I dreamed him floating in the bay –
face to the seabed as if scanning
for grilse and charr. Knew it was him
from the red hair flailing
on the waves, the shoulders broad enough
to thatch a house in a day.

No news since the ship went down –
two hundred dead, the island a ghost,
in every house the curtains drawn,
buntings burned on the hearths, grouse and venison
left to ruin.

Six weeks since those forty lads
were roped to shore, MacLeod on the hawser,
another forty lifted from the freezing water
twenty yards from harbour, night as black as peat-smoke,
so black you couldn’t see

the upturned hull, the roiling surge,
the mothers, wives and sisters screaming
on the quay. No sign. At first we thought
he’d be on the Skye steamer,
gone the long way round . . .

I dreamed him floating in the bay,
wind whipping up
the shirt dregs on his back, his body
jutting like stone.
His arms were splayed cormorant wings.

When they lifted his head his eyes were a seal’s.
When he opened his mouth his song
was a humpback’s soaring out across the Minch.
In his grip was a lit torch, a lighthouse
guiding him home.



On 1 Jan 1919, HMS Iolaire was bringing servicemen home to Lewis and Harris when it hit rocks yards from shore. 205 men drowned. Six weeks later a farmer dreamed of a body floating in Glumaig Bay. His son’s body was recovered in exactly the spot he described.


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