2014 WINNING and COMMENDED POEMS

First prize: Zelda Chappel

Another Twenty, Another Stone

 

Here sheep are counted the old fashioned way; four pips,

another twenty, another stone. Gathered in my pocket

their sound is a heavy lullaby we wade knee deep in.

Their weight has a downdraught like a pin. The wind

collecting in my ears is sea flooding in, determined.

Tidal shifts are all that keep us balanced, the swing

a comfort we think we’ve had before but cannot place.

The edge is immeasurably distant from here, no matter

how much we stretch. The sky unfolds herself and lets in

light, grows vast as thought itself and we remain consumed.

Silt lies still ’til the ground falls flat now we realise how

wrong we’ve been standing. We’ve not learnt our lines

or their direction. Another twenty, another stone

waits pocketed, yearning to feel the ground.

 

 

Second Prize: Sarah Watkinson

A paradigm shift in ornithology

 

Birds are made of light.

The chorus is dawn.

Every morning energy

crystallises on solid objects: twigs, rooftops.

 

When brilliance breaks on the horizon

birds are generated at every wavelength

from quick bluetits to red cardinals

or the whole iridescence of a magpie’s wing.

 

Their bodies are different from ours.

Caged, they may clot to solidity, but free

they don’t age, you don’t see old birds

fly more slowly, perch for longer, grey at the wings, get fat.

 

If shot, they fool you with implausible remains –

a puff of feathers, a single wing in the bracken. Cats

are disappointed with their trophy: just claws and guts.

 

If the morning is sunny, when each bird appears

spare energy is transformed to song

although you can’t hum the tune.

 

At sunset they darken and vanish −

new ones will condense again at first light.

 

 

 

 

Third Prize: Polly Atkins

Heron/Snow

 

You carry worlds in the cipher of your feathers;

sky and water woven together

 

by the black of a wood in winter; blue

grey of the lake, half frozen over:

 

a dull kind mirror to find yourself in

or to knock on in search of another. Is that

 

why you waited all morning so patiently, planted

like a post in the field in the snow? There is nothing

 

here by this road for you, surely, but ground

to launch from, and me, to watch you drawing

 

your perfect arc in the air, diving

silently upwards into the tumbling

 

white, as though into a weir. The whole

vale is shaking itself into flakes

 

and falling, or rising. It’s hard to tell.

You in your grace alone remain still

 

even in motion. I’ve heard a heron

will attack a human if threatened. I imagine

 

your beak a spear through my skull, and grasp

at last the beauty of the kill.

 

 

 

 

Commended: Rebecca Gethin

Nightjar

 

A magician of a midsummer night

conjures himself

with a sleight of wings, oiling

 

his feathers with darkness

to hawk under the stars

for ermines and swifts.

 

By night his costume is night,

a single white flash on his wing tips.

His churring is the voice of trees –

a tonal ring in the bass note,

a harmonic of a third.

 

He is a flamenco of the twilight:

his grasp of the air

is his legerdemain.

One clap of his wings

and he is moth-mouthed.

 

 

 

 

Commendation: Jinny Fisher

Hare mother

 

This hare has ears bigger than her head.

They quiver for signals that travel

straight to her legs.

 

This hare creeps close to the ground.

At any loud noise, she will shriek and skitter

a zigzag back over her tracks.

 

This hare will not burrow deep.

Flat as a rug in a shallow depression

she holes up until night.

 

This hare will box her mate flat.

They battle it out, all round the field

until she is ready to take him.

 

They say a hare sprang from the moon

with a promise of love and a sack of fertility.

This hare will snack on her shit

and lunch on her young.

 

 

&nsbp;

&nsbp;

Commended: Steve Scholey

 

The True Colour of Snow

Not just any white: specifically that of fine-grained spring snow

an hour after sunrise, or perhaps before sunset.

This, so astronomers report, is the precise

average colour of the Milky Way. How apt –

it seems our home is – ordinary.

And, since we are all made of stars,

one has to suppose that we

are also middling in years,

wrestling a certain gravity,

slowing down, semi-detached.

Not just any old white: in particular, fine-grained spring snow

an hour after sunrise, or should you have missed it, before sunset

is, precisely, the average colour of our home galaxy;

subtly different, the astronomers said, from other whites:

the incandescence of an old-fashioned light-bulb, polished smiles,

the froth of waves or penguins’ bibs, a marbled bust.

I’d like to ask them for a colour chart, scan the paint aisles

in B&Q and, after brushing away interstellar dust

from even the blackest holes, brighten up my walls

with a carefully chosen satin emulsion of average starlight.

Not just any shade or tone of white: quite specifically that

of fine spring snow, an hour after sunrise or, I understand,

before sunset, is the spectrum of light from the Milky Way.

How little those astronomers must truly comprehend

of the colour of snow, its temperature,

texture, depth, intensity,

and – forgive their innocence – less by far

the utter lack of gravity

with which it spins, a blizzard of stars

from a child’s god-like hand.

 

 

 

 

Commended: Chris Banks

Lilies White Heaven

Lilium Longiflorum

 

At night, I see them through the window.

White-faced beggars. Or wimpled messengers.

There’s longing in the way they stare,

the way they lean towards me, nodding.

 

They could be from another planet

where everything is made of hurting light.

They seem to want my darkness, the black night

backdrop of my garden, so they can rest.

 

Or, ambering my arms, they lean, perhaps,

to give; to speak of something, golden-tongued,

some big abstract that I do not understand

in a white language I’m trying to translate.

******