Poetry blog: Announcing the 2014 poetry competition – plus your fire poems

The heat is on… Chinese lanterns brighten the night sky. Photograph © Mark Fischer on Flickr
2 Jan 2014 @ 8.05 pm
| News
The heat is on… Chinese lanterns brighten the night sky. Photograph © Mark Fischer on Flickr
The heat is on… Chinese lanterns brighten the night sky. Photograph © Mark Fischer on Flickr

YorkMix Poet In Residence Carole Bromley has some exciting news – and a selection of your poems which crackle with creativity

To kick off the New Year a selection of your sizzling poems plus an exciting announcement about the YorkMix / York Literature Festival Poetry Competition 2014.

To my surprise, we had the biggest postbag ever this time and the standard was very high too. Lovely to have new names reading the blog and submitting poems and also, of course, lovely to receive poems from poets we have published before.

I had some very hard decisions to make so please don’t be disappointed if your poem is not here. The most interesting responses follow with my brief comments but first that competition!

York poetry contest 2014

Following on from the huge success of our first poetry competition last year we have again teamed up with the York Literature Festival who will provide a platform for the winners as part of the festival in March.

We have increased the prize money this time. The first prize is now £250, second prize £100, third prize £50 and the York prize (for poets with a York postcode) £40. To reflect this and to cover our costs we have introduced a small charge of £5 for three poems.

Poems must be sent via the form on YorkMix and payment made by PayPal. Poems must be unpublished. I will be the sole judge and will read all the poems.

Prizewinning and commended poets will be invited to read at the prize-giving event at Friargate Theatre, York, at 8pm on Sunday, March 23rd.

The full rules are here. And to enter your poems, go to the online entry form.

The names will, of course, be separated from the poems before they reach me and, judging from my experience last year, I will not have any idea who the writers are and this will be quite liberating for me.

Your fire poems

I tried not to think too hard about who had written what for our fire-themed poems and just concentrate on shortlisting the very best and most varied responses and picking the ones to be published entirely on their merit. That’s harder than you might think when you have got to know some of the writers but anyway here are my choices in alphabetical order.

Let’s crack off with a real firework poem from Kathryn Clune. I liked the description of the firework display in this one but what really swung it for me was the inclusion of a row between the speaker and her partner smouldering under the surface.

My favourite bit is the end when the partner walks off to the road, “hands thrust deep in the pockets of his overcoat”. I liked the contrast between this silent fury and the noise and colour of the display which comes to represent what is going on behind the smiles.

Display by Kathryn Clune

We argued on the way to the display,
An electrical current of irritation
Crackling between us.
Its attenuating hiss lingered
On the crisp Autumnal air;
Was present, still, as we found a place in the crowd.
Plastic cups of mulled wine
Clutched in gloved fingers,
We waited.

A lull in the murmurous expectation
Suddenly exploded into spectacle,
Carrying our breath skywards.
Fireflies blazed above our heads,
Scattering showers of pink and green stars.
Dark receded, chastened,
Surpassed by silver comet tails;
The rockets’ thrilling cannonade;
Climactic rainbow shades that coalesced
Into one shimmering aurora,
Alien and beautiful.

I traced the fireworks’ afterglow,
Then turned to take your arm.
But you were already walking to the road,
Collar turned up against the chill,
Hands thrust deep in the pockets of your overcoat.

A different kind of bonfire and a different kind of quarrel in Simon Currie’s No Winners. I included this one because of its humour and the way the writer builds up a picture of a scene and also of a whole village community so economically.

And there was me thinking villages were such civilsed communities! I quite liked the way the spinster won in the end despite the title. Good poem and nice to have a period piece.

No Winners by Simon Currie

Sylvia Powys, vicar’s daughter, spinster of this parish,
lights her weekly bonfire on Sunday afternoons.
Next to her neighbours’ house, away from her own.

Smoke, laced with privet and laurel, drifts across.
They beg her to change site or time. Till one day
the distinguished surgeon takes out his long hose.

He aims at the fire over the fence. Miss Powys
interposes herself. So he half-closes the nozzle,
lets a hard jet play on her.

“Really!… A man… in your position… You’ll hear…
more of this… I am not… on the Hospital
Management Committee… for nothing.”

But the band plays on.
The fire stays put, though moves to Monday,
targeting the weekday wash.

Weetwood Lane, Headingley 1944

In my previous blog I gave a couple of examples of poems about lighting fires and Janet Dean wrote a lovely one in response. Mother Makes The Fire is an affectionate picture of watching the writer’s mother light the fire when she was a child.

Janet uses this close observation of the process to give the reader a vivid picture of a past era with little details such as “her candlewick dressing gown and the Daily Mirror twisted into knots”. I like the way the speaker looks into the future when she will see Chelsea buns and be reminded of this scene.

Mother Makes The Fire by Janet Dean

She leans at the grate, hair flopping,
sleeves of her candlewick dressing gown
picking up flecks, shedding on the hearth rug.

The Daily Mirror twisted into knots,
clustered in the grate, stuffed with kindling,
a shovel of coal scattered over.

She strikes the match puts it to the paper curls,
(recalled when I see Chelsea Buns,
in my life to come).

But here, placing a sheet of football news, cartoons,
to draw the flame, it catches.
She leans back on her heels, satisfied.

I was delighted to receive a poem from Patricia Debney whom I met once when I went to the launch of her lovely book of prose poems, How To Be A Dragonfly. I don’t think we’ve had any prose poems so far so it is nice to include one here.

I chose it also for the subject matter. The poem is called Fire Lantern and is about one of those paper Chinese lanterns which are so pretty but which cause havoc when they land on dry grass and cause a fire or get eaten by curious cows.

The poem is not about that aspect of the lantern, however, but about a memory of watching one on the night before Hallowe’en with her seven year old child. I love the intimacy of that moment, the sense of the child’s fragility and the shared hope that the lantern “never really disappears”. Beautiful and delicately done.

Fire Lantern by Patricia Debney

Outside the seaside skating rink, you take my hand. It’s the night
before Halloween, and already there are vampires, ghosts and
werewolves up and down the pier, capes flying. Underneath, I can
hear the tapping of stones thrown at planks, young boys yelling
victory or disappointment.

You are seven years old. Your slim hand so delicate, folded in mine,
that if I take flight, or run – or hold on too tight – I think it might

Then from behind the terraced houses a glowing balloon rises jerkily,
like someone – or something – shifting on board. It catches the wind,
makes a steep ascent, now out over open water, itself lit by the clear
night sky.

You show your friends, all leaving the party. They point and pass on.
But we stand, you stand, unmoving, refusing to be moved. It slips
smaller and smaller, to an unusually yellow star, or an extra planet. It
hangs there, and we convince ourselves it never really disappears.

Susan Elliot sent in several interesting poems and I wanted to just squeeze in this very short one, Dining Out With Auntie Gwen In 1959, for its humour and economy. The smoke is from a cigarette this time and it somehow sums up the aunt and the feeling of claustrophobia in the forced visit.

Dining out with Auntie Gwen in 1959 by Susan Elliot

What was really interesting was the way
the lettuce stayed crisp
under the chicken and chips;
how the basket never got soggy;

then the way her cigarette
made ribbons of chiffon skywards;
plus the fact that we didn’t have to talk.

John Foggin sent in two excellent poems, either of which I would have been pleased to publish but, in the end, I chose this one because I love the way the shared cigarette rekindles the closeness to the person who has been lost. It is a very touching and effective poem.

I admire the wit of the third verse particularly and the way that sentence in the fourth stanza builds and builds, giving the reader not only an astonishingly vivid picture of the North East coast but also the pathos of that climax “and shoals of cod, and all the grey North sea”. Beautifully handled and touching.

Julie by John Foggin

According to the specialists you died six months ago
and I like sitting with you, proving there’s an afterlife
as we roll cigarettes, you perched like a wire bird
up on your kitchen top beside the angel
that I made for you before I knew you weren’t alive.

Your fridge’s crusted like a wreck, with magnets
and pictures of Bob Dylan, and you show me
your programme that Patti Smith had signed, for you,
not knowing you’d been cheering from the Underworld.

You make me laugh each time you tell the phone
it can get stuffed because it’s your mad mother
who will not believe that you’re not with us any more.

Your eyes grow bright in your dead woman’s face,
then sink, then glow like cigarettes, like the ironworks
up the coast, or the small lights on the cobles
tied up and tilted on the mud; like the strange flares
from the stack high up on Boulby Cliff, where the shaft
goes down a whole dark mile of ammonites, and heads off
far away beneath the weight of oil rigs, and sunken ships,
and shoals of cod, and all the grey North sea.

Another poem about smoking comes next. This one is by Lesley Hale and it’s called Lighter. Quite a sinister voice in this one. An edge of danger. It’s very atmospheric too and very visual.

I like the “two glowing hands/ cupping the steaming air” and those “dank leaves”. It feels as though it must be the lighter talking but at the end it feels more like the nicotine? Anyway I like it. It’s original in approach and I like the elegant tercets which go so well with the subject.

Lighter by Lesley Hale

Got a light mate?
Light my fire.
Make my night.

Bright as day,
two glowing hands
cup the steaming air.

Dare to come close
where he can dip dank leaves
into my heat.

Retreat, silent, safe, dark
as he warms his lungs
on my anxiety.

Thanks mate,
thanks for the light.
I’m in.

From smoking to cooking, our next poem is from Pippa Little and it’s called Love Song To An Oven. I might have picked it from the title alone! Original and fresh; the speaker in this one addresses the love object (her oven) and the poet explores the extended metaphor of the relationship with the oven in surprising ways.

There have been moments of passion “sometimes I’ve cried over you and stormed”, shared activities “currently we’re learning Spanish”, enjoyment “the mindfulness of stirring” but also pain “You have hurt me, though”.

The ending is a triumph and I love “little Vesuvius, god of boilings/ and boilings over” and “the sticky patina of your innermost places”. Great poem. Thank you for sending it.

I notice on Facebook that Pippa has just been given an award by The Society of Authors to work on her second collection.

Love Song To An Oven by Pippa Little

You and I do the stand-still waltz
most late afternoons –
currently we’re learning Spanish,
you’re so patient, so
uncomplaining of my choices, CD or radio,
dub-step to the Archers –

sometimes I’ve cried over you and stormed,
sometimes allowed myself some peace
in the mindfulness
of stirring. Little Vesuvius, god of boilings
and boilings-over, I imagine you
born in towers of Pontefract steam

and what animals I’ve offered you!
Great slabs of pink and slopes of fat
that you turn dark and fragrant
but never for lentil-eating me.

I don’t care for you the way I should.
I worry that I don’t see myself in you and
the sticky patina of your innermost places
is for my shamed eyes only.

You have hurt me, though.
Underestimate you, you pounce,
for you don’t care if it’s pig flesh
or my own you sear; why would you?
You will burn through, whatever.

And ours is the single relation
where this is almost a comfort.
Where, every day, we begin it again.

The next is called Phoenix and is by Martin Malone. A clear favourite for me for its subject matter and the lovely images at its heart.

I love the way Martin puts us in the picture from the blunt opening line “It went within a month of the funeral” and then tells us what he’s referring to: “the old Parkray with its cracked-glass grin”. The sounds in that line are terrific and this continues throughout the poem.

I particularly like “The sudden/ gasp of air into newspaper lung” which hints, as do so many things in this poem, at the wider story and I love “The old man/ bent to it with indulgence, as to a/ favourite terrier”.

I’m a sucker for a poem which uses an object or activity to transport the reader back to an earlier memory and this is a superb example. (Martin is the new editor of The Interpreter’s House, one of my favourite magazines. Why not send him a poem too?)

PHOENIX by Martin Malone

It went within a month of the funeral:
the old Parkray with its cracked-glass grin.
Ma never got the knack of it, so he’d
set about making plans for the legacy
of a ‘living flame’; laying off the odd yankee
double and trixie to cover his tracks.

To this day, Aunt Norah gets her Widow’s Coal
while my mother remains suspicious of
the naked flame, like a spooked hen
with a fox at the wire. But the old man
bent to it with indulgence, as to a
favourite terrier; coaxing its stubborn
streak to loyalty and tricks of warmth.

Now, years off, these small rites of remembrance:
Ma standing back as I kneel to the moment,
match beneath the holocaust. The sudden
gasp of air into newspaper lung draws
the cavity’s ghost up into flame: father,
husband, provider flickering briefly back
into the vivid life of a tribal craft.

Next we have one of several haiku sent in. This one is by Yvonne Marjot who tells me she is “tempted to title the poem Cooking Christmas Dinner” of which more later. Another love affair with cooking?

Sucking my fingers,
Pain a substitute for love,
As I burn for you.

Amazing what you can convey in three little lines. Maybe in a future blog I will set haiku as the challenge. They’re fun to write. I had this one published in the Morning Star in December.

Paul McGrane sent in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave and I love it, not only for its Whitby connection but also for its sexiness “I wondered if I’d ever feel/ this rush of blood and hunger” and “Please invite me to your room/ in the curtaindark and candlelight”.

That image of all hell breaking loose, “of animals and criminals climbing/ from their cages” and of Dracula promising to be “as close to you as shadows are to skin”. Wonderful stuff. “Why waste your days staring into mirrors?” Why indeed?

Thank you for the poem, Paul, and for spreading the word via The Poetry Society on Twitter and Facebook.

Dracula Has Risen From The Grave by Paul McGrane

I wondered if I’d ever feel
this rush of blood and hunger 
but now I dream of
flying out to you at night
of innocents running for the border
of animals and criminals climbing
from their cages as villagers burn torches
spit my name.

Please invite me to your room
in the curtaindark and candlelight
and I will be as close to you as shadows are to skin.
I know there’s a danger
and if my heart is hit I may fall
but don’t cancel the curse with your prayers.
Why waste your days staring into mirrors?

I told you we’d be back to cooking Christmas dinner and (sorry if you’re groaning with food poisoning from reheated turkey or just can’t bear to think about one more sprout) here’s a great one from Michael J Oakes who is better known for his photography and his scriptwriting but I think he’s discovered he can also write very good comic verse. Plus you get a recipe and cooking tips into the bargain!

Sprouting Poem by Michael J Oakes

Aaargh, out loud I scream.
Sprouts, to fry or boil or just to steam.
Every Christmas the age old dilemma,
has worried cooks from Virginia Water to Vienna.

All I need is first to lose the stalk
Loose leaves and stem are then made to walk.
The bud is cleaned and ever so gently crossed
And into a boiling water pan thoughtfully is tossed

A teaspoon of salt and pepper, a pinch
A nob of butter, it’s a cinch
Let them boil, gently for just a quarter
Of an hour and then drain off the water

Sprouts are best when gently boiled
Not, steamed or fried or olive oiled.
So all confused cooks please take heart
This rhyming recipe is how I would start.

I chose the next poem, The Place Of The Fire by Elizabeth Rimmer, for its beautiful ending “The ash/ drifts softly, a quiet collapsing in,/ like the gentling of your face/ beside me on the pillow, as you fall/ deeper into sleep”.

In this poem the hearth is truly the heart of the house bringing light and warmth and making the “house walls sing”. I love “prisoned light” and the house seen as a “brooding bird”. Lovely images and, as I said, a cracking ending.

The Place Of The Fire by Elizabeth Rimmer

The right place for a fire
is the best place for a human –
Dry and level beneath, air,
but not too much, a cloak
from wind and wet above.
Safety is where the fire is.

This brooding bird of a house,
its lintel a mossy breast-bone
we creep beneath, its walls stone wings
mantling our hearth-space where the fire’s
warm quiver feeds us, guards us,
quickens what grows within.

Glittering puffs of ignited smoke
drive ghost-pegs into the coal,
let out the prisoned light.
Soot-flags on the hearth-wall
welcome the stranger.
Later, house walls sing with heat.

At midnight, under parched and wasted coals,
the red glow dulls. The ash
drifts softly, a quiet collapsing in,
like the gentling of your face
beside me on the pillow, as you fall
deeper into sleep.

The penultimate poem is by Finola Scott and is called Star bright. In it the poet shows us the snug world of a cosy caravan where lovers (I assume?) are “snug, smug, snuggling”. They watch the stars come out, naming them: “Polaris, Capella, Vega”. You know me and lists and isn’t the rhythm of those names lovely?

I like the use of fire metaphor for the stars, “The Milky Way banking up/ Heaven’s fires for the night” etc. I like the blaze and crackle of it. Quite a sexy poem too with those “flames flashing under flesh”. Very well handled.

Finola tells me she shared the blog with the 700 members of Federation of Writers (Scotland). Thank you and we’ll look forward to more poems from North of the border.

Star bright by Finola Scott

Inside this caravan’s shell
we cuddle closer,
snug, smug, snuggling.
We hold our world tight –
we are our world.

The Milky Way banks up
Heaven’s fire for the night.
Stars spark and crackle.
You name our blazing companions,
Polaris, Capella, Vega.

Above eternity leaps
and sprints along the galaxies.
Flames flash under flesh,
while in my heart
Time is at a stop.

And, finally, another lovely haiku, this time from Sarah Wimbush who lives much closer to York! Simple, effective, conjuring a scene and a situation in 17 syllables. Love it.

Strike by Sarah Wimbush

Home at last, frozen
fingers shake. Two matches left,
one bright pink, one dead.

Thank you to everyone who sent poems in, not just this time but throughout the year. It is so lovely getting to know readers’ voices and meeting new ones, as we have this time.

As Brucie would say (OK, OK, so I’m suffering withdrawal symptoms from Strictly. I admit it. Never mind, maybe the Bake Off will be back in the spring) Keeeeeeeeeeep writing and send the poems into our competition. I can’t wait to read them.

Some time between now and the closing date at the end of February, I will write a blog with some tips and ideas but don’t wait for that. Start sending them in from Monday, January 6, when the full rules and entry form will be published on YorkMix! Oh – and a happy and creative New Year to everyone.


Carole Bromley is married with four children and lives in York. Twice a winner in The Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, she has two pamphlets with Smith/Doorstop (Unscheduled Holt, 2005, and Skylight, 2009) and a collection A Guided Tour of the Ice House. She has won a number of first prizes, including The Bridport and Yorkshire Open, and her poems have appeared in a range of magazines and anthologies. Carole is a graduate of the MPhil in Writing at Glamorgan University and teaches creative writing for York University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning. Read more about Carole on her website or on the Poetry Business site.