Open Competition 2019: Prizewinning Poems

FIRST:            “August” by Alex Porter


History, of course, will fail to record
the drift of your breast to my hand
and the arc of your pale shoulder
through the sifting half-light of that last dawn.
Nor the cursive loops of our avid tongues
and the warm simoom of your breath;
not our giving and taking done –
nor your keening song to the rising sun.

Prudish to a fault, it will not set down
how you donned my Sam Browne and cap
to clown, naked, around the room –
teasing the sap in me until I spilled.
Or how you snatched back the shade and caught fire
then stopped, suddenly, as if stunned.
Stone-deaf, it cannot hear you say –
is not Sarajevo too far away?

SECOND:      “The Waiting Time” by Simon French

The Waiting Time

We apologise that an earthenware sky
floods meagre light into the booking hall.
That no luggage will burst

with anticipation. Grass of the runway
is currently unruffled by tyre.
You are not permitted to take a turn

around the time zone clocks, see your face
ticking in each city’s distant hubbubs.
Foreign languages

won’t be cluttering your ears, your mouth.
Should you decide to sit and wait
we’d like you to be aware

this is not an airport. This is something else.
No matter that you may wave
your passport or dream of sipping tea

from bone china of Boeing or de Havilland,
our customs and excise officers
have been unavoidably detained. Are unable

to explore you.
If you find yourself believing in arrivals
and departures, we would remind you

that the Ray Ellington Quartet
are providing musical enlightenment
in the control tower.

We do not sell Capstan or Pall Mall
should you contemplate inhalation
to steady your nerves.

May we take this opportunity
to disclose to you that starlings circle.
Our propellers are blooded.

We recommend
you leave by the nearest available daylight.
This is not an airport.

THIRD:           “Amy – Locked in” by Liz Eastwood

Amy – Locked in

Exminster lunatic asylum 1944       locked in


Blazing Trails Nursing Home 2018

locked in dementia

I stroke my dementia cat as the band

plays My Way I joke

with Elvis        he kisses my hand


I see tracers glide      bombs going off in


destroying my home in New Street

dog fights       ash snows down       I hide with

G.I. Joe


this home is hell                    I cry

take me to my bungalow

don’t make up those lies

I’m very well                           please let me go


Joe courts me                        dies on D Day

there’s this boy                      in the next town

Tom’s mother advises                try Amy

I have his kids                       I mix up then down


at the home                I try  and try

to recall                      the man’s name

he cries Oh Mum      cries and cries

who are you               I fall in to my scream


I discover that Tom’s first love

has his baby               I fall in to hell

I wish the child well              he moves

our whole family       to his nurse in Cornwall


in the home I know the worst

I was always a meek girl      not brave

I would never speak up or go first

so that is how he managed to have

his nurse woman                  all our life

I slash out with war trench knife


I am a child                around eight years old

I drive needles through my hands

see the scars?                        nurse falls cold

blood red

because father comes to my bed    his



give me my pills         the drug trolley rolls away

I must be ill                my mind is locked for

another day


FOURTH:      “Hiraeth”  by Jan Norton


Sometimes he dreams of that village by the sea
that clung to the cliffside, bruised by winter swell and wind,

rainbow doors, windows muffled  by lace curtains,
scoured doorsteps, the stony chapel on the hill

that frowned down on the yawning morning streets,
the suck of surf on sand, the harbour’s open mouth,

the hiss of waves, thunder clouds loud on the horizon,
his father’s fishing boat, shrinking out of sight.

FOURTH: “Why We Did What We Did When We Did” by Ian Royce  Chamberlain

Why We Did What We Did When We Did

because we could
swing through trees
sail against the breeze
take our chances in the dark
not having heard of consequences
broke down fences
started fires in silly places
like that party where the girl
got pregnant in the bathroom
tied the knots but cut the rope
came crawling back to say our sorries
and tomorrow
did what we did all over
strayed like tomcats
dead-end tracks to not-quite-glory
swallowed everything on offer tasted nothing
thank you Leonard for that line
your wisdom wasted on us
made our beds and lay on them
in silence but not listening
scratched our stories in the sand
accepted that the tide would wipe them but
never guessed how soon
and now the beach is emptying
while those of us who’re left
in charge of everything we’ve learned
are somehow caught unprepared
to find the sun going down


FOURTH:  “The Sea Children” by Madeleine Skipsey

the sea children

speak; hush child;
the waves will see you now.
an azure blanket offers
you more than just sleep.
it will whittle you down carefully,
lay you to rest
in a place we have yet to ruin

you, drowning
in a counterfeit suit
her, pushing your body
anywhere upwards
go, my love, go

the priest tells us that we will be forgiven
that it’s enough to be forgiven
he tells us the men in pressed shirts
talking on the television
mean well, are Christian at heart
if not on paper
and so amen to that

in the days before these
you could say there was peace

some days I am still waiting
for the funerals of people
who, in unison, danced
acrid smoke circles.
and now, konjo,
where are the bodies;
held hostage by sirens and seaweed.


FOURTH “A Lead Pellet”  by Harrison Collett

A lead pellet

A lead pellet
pierces the wing
of a starling on the power line
and the schoolboys cheer
from an A-frame window
of a hay barn

they play Vietcong
with their B.B. guns
where the birds are
black bombers
and bales of hay
the musty underbrush of Saigon

the bird tumbles
from its perch
to the asphalt below
to the schoolgirls
skipping with tight pigtails
their gazes skyward

another shot rings out
and pierces the other wing
the beast now
barely visible beneath
the dust and shadow
of its brothers taking flight

and the boys gallop
in tidy squares
to the beat of
a rope slapping
against the hard earth
and the feeble cries

of fallen zipperheads,
or rather bombers,
or rather simply
a bird into which
a little town
has poured its anxieties


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March 20, 2019 · 9:36 am

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