Poetry judge Carole Bromley reflects on this year’s competition as we publish the winning poems
This year we had almost twice as many poems as last time so it was a very time-consuming and difficult process. I read all 1,736 poems at least twice.
I would say 75 per cent of them were good or better. When I had chosen my prizewinners and runners up I saw the list and on it were several well-known poets I had not longlisted. Also many familiar names.
All photographs © John Illingworth
See more of his work at John Illingworth Photography
We had poems on a vast range of topics. Titles from all over York and Yorkshire. Marston Moor, Boggle Hole, Saltwick Bay, Hungate, the snickelways etc.
Also everything from the Tour de France to female genital mutilation. Love poems, poems about bereavements, poems about birth and death, about history, science, medicine.
Poems in traditional form were in the minority though there were a number of excellent sonnets and a sestina or two. Even a wonderful haiku sequence which teetered on the edge of the longlist and turned out to be by a member of the York stanza group.
Poems in dialect, especially Geordie and Yorkshire but also two in Scots. I loved those. Very few funny poems and I still remember with affection A Chair’s Address which was in the voice of a chair talking to a human backside and Clever Dick and the Church Mouse which began ‘OK I’m a cat. A big fat bastard like shagpile’. Thank you for making me laugh.
It was an honour to read all these poems and hear all these voices with their messages of grief and love and humour. There is an element of subjectivity certainly in the early stages of judging so don’t be deterred. It may well be that your poem will win a prize in a different competition.
I did my best and as always from among a big pile of strong poems emerged the four prizewinners. I was not in any doubt. I heard them loud and clear.
I remember the second prize winner came in early on in the process and it was at the top of my short list folder for months. Then in came the winner late on and toppled it, followed soon after by the lovely poem which I chose for third prize.
The York prize was hotly contested as we had a number of excellent local entries but in the end I was convinced by the poem I chose for that prize too.
The winning poems
In brief, here are my reasons for my final choices:
Amazing Grace by Wendy Pratt struck me as outstanding. It tells, very simply and in admirably straightforward language, the story of an intensely personal tragedy.
The simple language is enriched by images which stayed with me. I will not soon forget the newly delivered mother of a stillborn baby seen as ‘a sleeping Cleopatra/ on a white barge’.
The speaker is caught in the contradiction of simultaneous birth and bereavement and the agony of the situation, of their first night alone with their child, the taking of photos in which ‘they should look happy for eternity’ and the mother lying awake wondering ‘how she can feel so lost,/ and yet so found’ moved me to tears. There is real skill in this poem as well as real courage.
Overall winner: Amazing Grace by Wendy Pratt
Here is the divide: on the one side,
the pregnant wife, on the other,
the grieving mother. And in between:
a father; a husband, a man in a vacuum
as the surgeons run past. After the sudden
hydraulic drop of the time of death being called,
the woman will emerge; a sleeping Cleopatra
on a white barge.
That little thing they lost in the rush
between pregnancy and birth is a sink hole
beneath them; sudden and inexplicable.
And don’t they look uncomfortable
for the photos; no natural smiles, their heads
are flicking back and forth, knowing that these
are the only images they’ll have, and really,
they should look happy for eternity, rather
than in-the-moment-grief stricken.
Like shuffling cards, those emotions. Then here,
at three AM, as the fan glides round again
and halogen anoints her husband, wrapped
as he is on that camp bed, she lays on her side
staring at the puddle of lamp light that illuminates
her daughter, and wonders how she can feel so lost,
but yet so found.
Norman again stood out from the day I first read it. I had no idea who the writer was and was genuinely surprised when it turned out to be by John Foggin. What marks it out for me is the strong, muscular language, especially those somehow very Northern monosyllables ‘could birth a lamb in the lee of a dike,/ smit a skittish ewe in a squall’ etc.
I absolutely trusted this warm, Yorkshire voice with its affection for the character the poem describes. In a world of matter of fact farming, of ‘maggoty arses’ and the ‘slaughterman’s truck’ the poet shows us a man who was too gentle to slaughter his flock, a man who ‘knew where the first primrose showed’.
Second prize: Norman by John Foggin
could birth a lamb in the lee of a dike,
smit a skittish ewe in a squall,
pin down a ram and not give a jot
for its yellow stare, the black slot of its sideways eye,
wear a two-year Herdwick like a scarf
over three miles of bog,
make good a tumbled fence with a twist of twine,
strip out an axle on a Subaru,
stand half a summer to his waist in the slop of the dip
haul a whole flock through
and still tell a tale
over the clamouring misery of bleat.
He could walk all day
in a pelt of rain and a sack for a coat.
To put down a runt
or one with a goitre
or one with a sprain or a maggoty arse –
that was beyond him quite.
The days for the slaughterman’s truck
he was away over the moor.
He knew where the first primrose showed.
Water Lilies by Michael Brown is my kind of poem. I loved its simplicity and lightness of touch and found it moving. There were very few love poems among the entries and even fewer good ones. This, it seems to me, is an example of how it should be done.
The build up of atmosphere both in the sunset over the Wirral and in the painting of water lilies in the gallery is so skilfully done and then that startling direct address to the loved one. It doesn’t matter who the loved one is. It is a poem about someone precious and a precious moment shared.
There is an undertone of danger in the poem in words like ‘skulks’, ‘gentle wake of damage’ and ‘some force’ and an urgency in the speaker to try and hold onto the person and the moment before they pass which I found very touching.
Third prize: Water lilies by Michael Brown
We are watching the sun’s slow dive
into the Wirral. You want to touch
the water-stars of its last light.
Soon it will be time for us
Outside this frame of hush
that weightless walk back
from the Tate —
where I had wanted to fall
inside the green water lilies
that lay like time
or surface tension.
Do you remember them —
caught in paint,
their lawlessness of oil ?
And here a ferry from Ireland
skulks home to Birkenhead,
its gentle wake of damage
some force fetched to land.
Welcome to Liverpool
I want you to stay
like this. In the time
that remains before the train —
I must hold, hold this.
Bull in field, Boggle Hole by Julia Key was my eventual choice for the York Prize. It fought off several heavyweight contenders so I was delighted to find myself talking to a very modest young woman on the phone, someone who is in the very early stages of a promising writing career.
I just loved the authenticity of this description of the bull resting in the field and of the speaker’s startled recognition of its beauty and power.
It is a very sexy poem. The crescendo at the end when the bull’s ‘one great bovine snort’ seems to harness the waves’ mighty power leaving the child aware of ‘something not yet real/But possible now, like the smell of spring’ is beautifully done. Marvellous stuff.
York prize: Bull in field, Boggle Hole by Julia Key
Your unsuspected presence snaps our chatter,
The warning silenced by lichen and sea spray.
Rustle through nettles; Dad whispers your beauty.
My fingers want to acquiesce,
To touch the heavy drapes of your skin.
Instead, my eye strokes your bristly haunch,
Follows the ridge and furrow of sculpted bone;
Velvet hide that hangs in folds of runny toffee.
Behind, on green baize, your three burnished girls, aligned,
Graze a horizon empty as my mind is now,
Save the awe, unbidden, that salted wind and chlorophyll alone
Could have honed such magnificence.
Numbed by needles of drizzle, we drink you in.
I cannot read your liquid eye, but in its pool
A parchment sky, the screaming gulls, flat fields of winter wheat
You stir, then one great bovine snort;
The gate lets out your belly laugh.
White horses thunder in,
This one thin spit of sand
Washed clean, for something not yet real
But possible now, like the smell of spring.
All four worthy winners will see their poems sent off to the Forward Prize. We will cross our fingers for them.
I hope you will enjoy reading these and also the wonderful highly commended and commended poems. Many congratulations to everyone. It was a pleasure and a privilege to read your poems.
The commended poems
AFTER HARRIS BIGG-WITHER by Pat Borthwick
What was it about Harris Bigg-Wither
changed Jane Austen’s mind overnight?
Had she not liked the ring he’d chosen?
It was discreet — a tiny diamond
set between two delicate amethysts.
Or was it the awkward way he’d asked,
down on one knee in the library, if she’d
be his wife forever? Forever, such a huge word
as she later imagined his demands might be,
huger than the dark cupboard under the stairs
where he put things he no longer had use for,
knowing there, they would soon be forgotten.
Had her heart been beating in a regular rhythm
Forever would have made it race and skip
before falling into his arms with cheeks afire,
her writing desk abandoned for the evening, spilt ink
across a loveless plot. Yes, she promised Harris, Yes.
But overnight her head persuaded her otherwise.
A lady’s imagination is very rapid, she thought
while she wrote the letter of disengagement, hoping
Harris would suffer no lasting harm to his pride.
Corporal Yukio Araki, age 17, of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron, 27th May 1945. By Richard Westcott
The school girls wave their cherry blossom branches
then he flies south towards Mount Kaimon,
wearing the Rising Sun, his waist hemmed in
by a thousand single stitches.
Yukio remembers the flop-eared puppy
passed between them the night before –
his life ahead – and those branches that waved
between girls, releasing their fragrance.
There is the spirit: there in the passage and passing
from one to another – each girl with her branch,
and of one little dog who is scented by milk
with no fears of his own, yet
shifting his weight to balance himself.
Yukio flies on. He must aim for the middle –
the gap between gunwale and waterlme –
while bearing the Rising Sun.
Each stitch disappears before it emerges.
The school girls have gone back indoors.
Some other pilot will steady the bowl
which whitens the tips of a puppy dog’s ears.
Yukio has said goodbye to the mountain.
The gap narrows. As he draws close
he’s sure he sees waving again, and deep
in his throat as he cries, he tastes milk.
Drone Pilot by Norman Hadley
Sometimes we turn the heat up in the room
to simulate the place we ain’t.
We slide the blinds to keep the Santa Barbara
glare outside and focus on the screen
the metal albatross is seeing, keep coordinates
of all the mosques on Post-It notes.
When it’s Thursday, just beyond the wall,
we gotta think it’s Friday where those little guys
crouch through the sights for the final time.
You want to call this yellow? Buddy, go ahead.
Sometimes it feels you’re really in the plane,
the sway of the seat on its struts of air just like the thermals
catching outspread hawk-wings and it shakes so ya feel
the rockets roaring up from vengeful shoulders.
Maybe I will ditch, one day, in a meteor of flaming tar.
This ain’t like other wars; you wouldn’t get to pace
around the compound in your stripes,
exchanging cigarettes through wire, no nods of honour
with your oppo from the Luftwaffe; these guys would film
your slaughter, maybe make it last a week or two,
the bloodsplash on the lens, the streaming media.
So we stay here, stay high and rise above the whitest clouds.
Family Values by William Holloway
I screamed when I saw the teacloth.
Knew exactly what it wrapped…
Grandma took my bleeding sex to
dustbin. Older sisters clapped.
Mother told me It is written. No! Not
written. Anywhere. Grandma said You
should be grateful sharp knife, family who care.
Sisters reckon One-day husband will
be very happy man. Is true. After
operation. I can’t feel but husband
Husband Sayeed is the choice of
Uncle Malik. Grandma, too. Malik told
my husband Beat her If she is not
good to you.
Grandma fixed his brother’s contract
With her niece’s garment shop; says
If Sayeed is not careful, Malik will give
him the chop.
I have contract with my husband we
don’t share with brothers’ wives. If we
have good-luck daughters, we will
lock up Grandma and her knives.
Home by Genevieve Carter
Like Hockney, I too saw
in Woldgate Woods.
In Wetwang Slack, in
Burton Fleming and in
In the hawthorn bushes on Kilham Lane and
in the windings west of Thwing.
growing with the moss on the
monolith at Rudston
and hanging in the air between
the smells of muck and sugar
I coloured in
the old railway stations at
Hessle and Wressle
and painted Bridlington’s beaches
But I also saw
a lot of cars sail swiftly
past my thumb
because you can’t trust folk nowadays
and you don’t want to go picking up hitch-hikers
because they could be a gypsy
Kings at the Table by Marie-Aline Roemer
and now I won. You’d always tell me, who finishes first
is King, but it’s not a game if you won’t eat. I
forgot how much cream on one spoon
for brown-sugar porridge and how much butter to slap on sliver
of bread. There was never enough
butter for you, butter on potatoes, butter in soup, butter steeped in
butter. Come back mother I forgot how to mash
peas into my cabbage so they’d go down fast without spices. I can’t play
this alone, and how can you expect me to eat all this
by myself. I can’t recall how to drizzle oil on yolks, for the kind that I
retched over at six, eyed with the fear of god
at seventeen and need right now, mother. How did
you burn the egg white so black and over-bake the soft rolls like you
did, and how many minutes is too many so that the spinach is soft as
lard like your spinach always was,
sitting there swimming in eyes of fat, so that I never
wanted to be King but somehow sometimes
won. You never let me win at six mother don’t let me win now;
there’s a sea of fat on the plate I made it just for you
just the way I always hated, butter within butter, within
all the things that I never understood about you, like how a hard life
can make you crave those soft fats and starches. You always wanted to be
King, mother, but you’re forgetting about eating
and about the daughter eating besides you, and right now I don’t want to remember about
needing to finish in your own time. I’m getting fat
for you, mother, just so you’ll look me in the eye and say, enough being King
for you, I never let you win at six and I won’t start now.
MR. WILLETT’S SUMMERTIME by Martin Malone
An Act to provide for the Time in Great Britain and Ireland being in advance of Greenwich and Dublin mean time respectively in the summer months. Date of Royal Assent: 17th May 1916.
Where do you begin with time? There’s just so much
to go on, with its indefinable something of a lover
and what you most adore, sharing the bed
but somehow always beyond your certain touch.
You rise early, saddle a horse and ride out to Petts Wood.
The morning, incandescent with summer, is running over
itself to get at it and it and it and daylight is everywhere
wasted upon the sleepers beyond drawn down blinds.
It’s for toil and lovers you would save this, though the times
beat you to it, grab the minutes for coal and zero-hours
that fuel a different summer. Now we’ve time to die
over and over before our letters reach home
and afterwards doesn’t always come behind before,
if at all. So the barman calls ‘Time!’, the whistle sounds
and, after synchronising our watches, we move off
around the point you notice that loosening cough.
1916, and, like many a medal, your moment arrives
post-mortem, the blinds still drawn in Petts Wood.
Whip and Top by Doreen Gurrey
Homemade, string whiplash thin, knotted through
a this ‘ll do stick, then curled tight as a bobbin round the top –
I could launch mine from a standing start.
We chalked the tops, spider’s webs of blue, yellow, red
or else marked fractions, dartboard accurate, colouring each section
green, now pink, now white, to send them spinning,
whipping them on, leg over leg down the council pavement
as the colours merged, then separated into Saturn’s rings.
Shop bought, your whip was leather, knotted at the end
to give a ringmaster’s crack and you were flagrant with it-
it suited you and your temper, always the first to storm off
if your potato fist was last in, or Mr Wolf saw you move,
whatever time of day it was.
You were getting off a bus the last time I saw you,
your young daughter dawdling, feeling the sharp end
of your tongue, the colour draining from her face.
Who Safely Graze by Wendy Klein
We’re up early with the island sheep, under a sky
the colour of Larus canus, the common gull.
The clouds part to reveal swathes of sapphire
that play heavenly hide and seek above us
above the fine contours of hills smoothed
by retreating ice sheets. This high ground
free of trees is perfect for the seaweed-eating sheep –
North Ronaldsays, and here they are, just
over the fence from us, short-haired, fine-boned,
unchanged since the Bronze Age. You are cold,
pull up your hood, rummage in your pockets
for gloves as they gather to greet us.
Dish-faced, friendly, their heads are framed
by curling horns, noses wet and curious,
lips smiling; we begin to believe the poet who wrote:
In reality sheep are brave, enlightened and sassy.
They’re clustering now behind the fence,
eager to communicate, a sight to be sung to,
and it has to be Bach; they will, you’re sure,
appreciate the counterpoint, and we start with
‘Sheep May Safely Graze,’ but soon switch
to ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’ because we both know
the words in German, which seems to please them
even more that our la da da-ing. They lean
against the fence in what could be ecstasy,
and an old ewe closes her eyes, nuzzles
her companion. If they could hum along they would.
Work by Kim Moore
He says his hands are the worst. He’s lost his grip.
Years of working without gloves when he was young.
He’d wait for the hot aches, then the pins and needles
and once they’d come, he knew he’d be alright,
could work all day and his hands would just stay numb.
Now the cold turns the ends of his fingers white.
He says that those who say they aren’t afraid are daft,
but then he catches himself. No, not afraid. Aware.
His first fall from a house roof, he swears the building
shrugged him off. A broken hip and when it set
one leg shorter than the other. Back ache for thirty
years. And who’s to say it wasn’t luck the second time
that dropped him thirty feet and gave him broken ribs,
a knock to the head that made his temper strange.
And his hands of course. They wouldn’t close for weeks.
Even now, three pairs of gloves can’t keep him warm.
Sometimes when he picks things up they drop.
The other day it was a cup. Just slipped right through
his fingers. The last time he fell, he thought he was done,
but then there was the sky. There’s always the sky.
1973 by Julia Deakin
That was the summer I worked in Kendals
Electricals when city department stores
stocked everything – tellies, washing machines
the lot – which young lads humped around
watched by girls from Records and Audio,
where I remember moaning to one called Stella
that I had to read all of Shakespeare
and she said should be fun I love him and I feared
for my intellect, thinking I’d done well
preferring Leonard Cohen to the Chi-lites,
and later in the canteen that boy
with the long straight hair and wide-mouthed smile
chatted me up so blatantly, and yes I said yes
and we kissed on Deansgate one of those
full-on clinches passers-by had to swerve round,
and all that June and July in his juddery Ford
we became connoisseurs of Mancunian dusks
till he played me off and I played it cool
as if it had been a rehearsal for the real thing
which would come soon surely,
though what I then wanted more than virginity
was my School Prize book token for French
which I left in his glove compartment and
probably got spent on Alex Comfort
or a text book on town planning.
Araschnia Levana: How Dock Leaves Work by Claire Collison
My name today — she slips
under the mirror’s silver –is Map.
She holds the seesaw
in horizontal with sheer
thigh power – it’s all
in the balance – And the month’s
Yam. This is Cheshire, 1970
Pam lives in a caravan a field away
with her mum, who’s Dutch;
her accent rich as raisins and spitty,
the sleeves of her kimono soup
dipped. She’s expecting
a carrot-top boy; will have
him soon on a corduroy beanbag — which
is not filled with beans, but hard white beads
Pam shows me how to pick the flowers
off female stingers to look hard,
how dock leaves work.
With two sticks of chalk, her
perfect centre parting pressed to the wall
she alphabets left and right; at full stretch
steps from a pattern you could
fold on itself.
After the boy’s born,
before summer’s properly done
they’ve gone. My dad says
they didn’t have the paperwork.
I find the beanbag in a ditch, spilling
its white eggs.
Bottle Bairns by Pauline May
Let ers tell yer ‘ow I shared me crisps with
ower Liam for ower breakfast, Walkin ‘im
Let ers tell yer ‘ow teacher said I weren’t
listenin’-and were reet too – nee chance -Me
heed were back round at owers -‘Ow’s ower
mam? What’s she doin’ now?D’ y’ nah wot I mean?
Let ers tell yer ‘ow I am gerrin’ big now,
Gerrin’ old, eight years old an’ gerrin’ big like, eh? –
Up at six ter quiet like, quiet like,
Gawn round t’ cupboards for them bottles an’ them cans
An’ ‘oy what’s left, t’ sweet and sicky stuff,
Down t’ sink like –
While she still sleeps an’ snores an’ sleeps nowon ‘an on
Wot it is
Is I were reet shocked
at hometime that she’s
got there – ter pick ers up –
Ter garn back ter owers,
But we’d ‘ad ter wait outside corner shop and
could ‘ear all the clinkin’
from ‘er plastic bagsfrom out t’ door
Let ers tell yer ‘ow we garn back ter owers like an’
mam said there might be
some bissits for ower tea.
An’then I ‘eard t’ door
An’ Shirley-Social-Worker come in, all eyes,
Looking ‘ard at everything like new
‘Ow Shirley had a reet big box
from food-bank-place like, Shirley said.
Let ers tell yer ‘ow Liam and me
wah joined us ‘ands an’
danced an’ sang an’ sang an’ danced
round t’ box nowon an’ on.
CORDELIA IN PRISON by Jennifer McGowan
She is left a moment. Footsteps recede.
She can hear nothing familiar—even
the voice of her father a corridor, a world
away has a foreign lilt, a wind
from a place she has never seen.
Silence. Then metal approaches, swing
by clank, and the key turns. The locks,
she notes, are well-oiled here, do not
protest. There are terse-faced men who nod
but do not speak; who slide the rope out hushingly.
She had always known it ends in death.
She tries not to choke or sob,
but go quietly, as in stories. It is difficult.
The men turn away. Is she offending, again,
by saying nothing? She rattles. Grows wings.
Days by Chris Bridge
If there are days like these, what will it matter?
England in April with the oh! of yellow and the pi of pink,
when green is a chart of smart fashion colours
hung on branches many months dead.
I see it all: the dandy in dandelions,
red tulips like embers, the newness of hedge;
and everywhere this bright spring light
that probes, illuminates, asserts,
before summer thickens, refusing access.
Tomorrow they will hand me two sets of results
and the numbers will show if my illness is back.
Either way, the trick is to stare, to find myself here,
as a swallow encircles this paper-blue sky.
I think of slime, how big is a billion,
of the way time enhances each small variation:
cancer and cowslips, just complex mutations.
Both feed the I-am-ness of days like these.
December 2010. By Lesley Quayle
He’d been clearing snow from the path. Others,
younger, grunting curses, smashed ice thick as his
wrist with car-jacks and crow-bar, their breath
draped over the air like gauze. I’d waved through
a window, feathered by frost, glad to be inside
with the stove and hot, sweet tea, content to watch
an old man shovelling snow. That was the year
when water froze in pipes beneath the road, when
rabbits came down from the fell and died,
crouched in their shrivelled skins like refugees,
the year that eighty-two stopped in its tracks and
an ambulance couldn’t make it up the dale.
Ermine Street by Yvonne Reddick
Tonight, while men drink Guzzler
in the Golden Fleece
and women with rosé lips
check their phones,
the Ninth marches north
from Lindum to Eboracum.
Jingling cingula, a flare of bronze trumpets.
The steel hoops of corselets catch moonflashes.
The centurion leads on horseback.
Duccius Rufinus, signifier, holds the standard
blazing with the Ninth’s insignia.
The legion marches along Blossom Street
and through medieval ramparts.
When they cross the Ouse
a lad in Lendal Cellars
hears Latin and chokes on his beer.
They reach the Porta Praetoria,
pass under its arches and towers
beneath the Yorkshire Insurance Building.
The auxiliaries follow Stonegate,
trudge through the fence
of the Treasurer’s House –
a man fixing the plumbing
sees them pass, falls off his ladder.
They go through the opposite wall,
push northeast along the Via Decumana.
Their hobnailed feet tramp
eighteen feet below the city,
into the north and back nineteen hundred years.
Feathers by Sarah Bryson
Outside, under a dull sky
fat white feathers accumulate
covering the tarmac’s black gaps as I watch.
You’re curled up again, in the hard chair
sleeping the sleep of the sedated.
Between us, the open photo album.
I want to show you, so I wake you. But you’re not looking.
Not long ago, I think, you’d have told me who’s who, in detail.
There’s Michael, I say. Michael you echo. My cousin. Your son.
You nearly look at me, properly. Do you know me?
Doreen, I say, it’s snowing and I have to drive.
Should I go now, or stay a little longer?
Stay, you say. The only sign that you know I am here.
Stay, you say. The only sign that you know I am here.
Should I go now, or stay a little longer?
Doreen, I say, it’s snowing and I have to drive.
You nearly look at me, properly. Do you know me?
There’s Michael, I say. Michael you echo. My cousin. Your son.
Not long ago, I think, you’d have told me who’s who, in detail.
I want to show you, so I wake you, but you’re not looking.
Between us, the open photo album.
Sleeping the sleep of the sedated,
you’re curled up again in the hard chair.
Covering the tarmac’s black gaps as I watch
fat white feathers accumulate
outside, under a dull sky.
Fragility by Jo Peters
At the Hepworth Gallery Wakefield
a real man is trundling a trolley across the floor
labelled ‘bandaged head’,
a painted girl at the door of the kitchen pauses,
‘A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over’
is about to hurtle from his frame,
tumble towards the bronze fallen warrior.
A young sepia Hepworth is at Robin Hood’s Bay,
a slight monochrome Hepworth is making;
her solid bench, the hefty tools caught
waiting to obey
the might of her right hand in shaping,
or shaving a curled feather,
and her thinking left
through which she said
‘poured the rhythm of thought.’
in wood, metal, plaster,
reach for the absorbed towering landscape,
‘Works of art in this room are fragile’
pronounces a small white notice in a space
dominated by a huge metal form
whose angular girders make rectangles that grow
to the high ceiling, while
under the single solid circle
one little rectangle
frames the tiny spire of the cathedral.
the small soft people wander below.
Grandmother Wolf by Kathleen Ingleby
She lives in the forest for a reason,
away from accusing eyes or
Deer see the full moon, realise
they can’t outrun her.
Her old bones creak, shift,
grind against each other as
they move beneath her skin.
Their outline is visible in her
shoulders, poking, stretching
but never breaking through;
hidden when thick, dark fur
sprouts, hard as bristles.
The blue-flower dress rips under
pressure, impossible to sew back together.
The bonnet remains on her head.
Wrinkles on her face melt away
under hair, smooth out over her sensitive
snout. Her gums bleed as the teeth grow longer,
sharper, cutting the inside of her mouth.
Her clumsy claws grasp the teapot,
cradle it, but can’t stop it
slipping, smashing on the floor.
Her bloodlust is encouraged
by the crumpled letter in the fire:
‘A sacrifice will be sent, so please spare our village’
A howl tears her throat.
She’s in bed when the knock
comes. A child in red.
Oh Grandma, what
sad eyes you have.
In praise of Wensleydale by Julian Dobson
It’s a sweetness that can only rise from limestone
it’s the sharpness of a certain kind of grass
it’s a flying spark from horseshoe or from grindstone
the imprint of a tractor’s tyres at dusk
It’s a snorting Friesian’s udder at the milking
the reversing of a tanker in a yard
it’s water stained by soil and shot like satin
the first frost glinting in the hazel wood
It’s the press and squeeze and strain of a mutation
it’s the hooting of an owl along your spine
it’s the block, the wire, the moment of incision
the presence and the constancy of rain
It’s the parting of the liquid from the solid
the unstable balance of a dry stone wall
the cavorting of a beck in April sunlight
it is the final crumbling of it all
In the Dales by Nicholas Boreham
The village is packed with tourists.
It’s doing very well. The floral event
in the Parish Church has sold out
and the Pay & Display is full.
This little world’s a heritage site
surrounded by moss-covered walls
and lovely fields and woods.
Property has gone through the roof.
There’s a rather classy restaurant here,
antique dealers, hairdressers,
designer outlets, boutiques
and an outdoor clothing shop.
Old Mr Froggatt crosses the road
with his walking stick and his dog.
He remembers the pea and pie stall,
Carling Sundays, firewood sellers,
sawdust on the butcher’s floor,
tin baths hanging on the outside walls,
TB, hordes of undernourished kids
and unemployed men queuing for the dole.
He enters the pub, ties up his dog
and orders himself a pint. There’s curry
and chips on the lunchtime menu,
Cumberland sausage and mash.
It’s hard to say whether a man
who spends all his life in the same village
gains more peace of mind that way.
How pretty the flowers look in the Church!
Magdalene by Theophilius Kwek
For days afterwards late Spring took its course.
A north wind came through the window-slats
and plovers returned to walk on water.
In the shorter shadows the city’s groves
filled out with leaves, promised black olives
as clouds wept and bowed over the temple.
We broke bread on the roof. Said fumbling prayers
to keep the hours, returned to usual squares,
gathered each evening in our knit circles.
It was all we could do to live, despite
the wanting the waiting or the altered light
of that once-opened sky, blue as a miracle.
In time we grew acquainted with the weight
of wonder, thought less of the mystery of things,
thought them more believable. Some went back
to Galilee. Others made for other seas,
nets and fresh tackle. I watched them leave,
then stood alone in the tug of wild hyssop
at the city’s sleeve, strong as love or the facts
of being known: brief night, the lightness of stone.
Mary, Mary by Lesley Perrins
When the ballet teacher stands you in a row,
what seems to need watering is you,
small, pink bean, your arms and legs pale shoots.
She will be the one to prick you out
harden you off for growth.
You and I never lack for discipline,
we pin and lacquer every wisp of fringe
stitch elastic to hold your shoes on tight
when you point your toes; never forget
your little can, to mime the watering.
I take you to the Coliseum at New Year,
party dresses on for The Nutcracker,
and after all the dry ice and fairy dust
I ask you what you liked the very best;
‘The men’, you say,’ they jump much higher.’
On New Year’s Eve we gather by Mary C Newsham
One of us has brought curry powder in a brown box
and gives it to me, telling me how much to use and
what to mix it with. Another has brought silver rings
shaped like flowers, and, over tea from polystyrene,
we talk about our years, and how we have, collectively,
and individually, made it through.
Next to us a child is screaming that he wants his father
to come back. He is having blood taken from his arm,
he is having his height checked. The child is screaming
no, no, no. Another of us offers him a biscuit, and he
stops wailing and says, yes.
I think – to stop the howling that easily.
There is a very young man talking to his very old
interpreter. They have just met and they are laughing.
I think – to have just met.
I think – to be laughing.
I think – to know that this could very easily-
more easily than most-
be the last New Year’s Eve either of you see
and to be laughing
more easily than most.
There is a man who has written a list of building supplies
on the back of his appointment letter.
I think – everything in its right place.
I think – this year I will write about things other than heartbreak.
Rievaulx Abbey with Elsa by Natalie Shaw
Your ice powers make the walls rise.
I watch light fall through high windows
right onto the grass at our feet. You stamp
and start to sing. Your bobble hat
bobs – one, two, three – as you climb
the stone staircase to survey
the whole of your realm. A boy, splendid
in Jack Wolfskin, claps. He begins
his Gaudete, processes the transept.
Rejoice: the great roof collapses
and is replaced by the sky.
We celebrate the flagstones,
worn away to grass, to air.
Slow Dancing to Electro Funk by Rob Mackenzie
Three years of barely touching and when finally
we are drunk enough for excuses to be plausible
and get it together on the dance floor, pressing
close and hard as adjoining pages in a book
upended and snapped shut and detonated;
when our lips mingle and I taste the fruit of
your balm – strawberries? – slowly in the funk;
when I know I must drink further until we are
drunk only on kissing, enough for excuses to be
unnecessary, that’s when I stroke your hair,
hair never touched in those years of friendship;
when I feel how soft it is, softer than remotely
plausible, I forget everything I once knew.
The North by Ann Osbourn
Now the North’s got bistros
and the black soot of the mills
has been blasted off the sandstone.
There’s a vintage clothing shop in Shipley,
a home-made ice-cream stand by the canal,
and art and music festivals where Hockneyites swan
in felt hats and knitted accessories.
Fish and chips are nouveau cuisine,
mushy peas with mint sauce a must,
but beer is still sold with a head on it.Pickled eggs in a jar behind the bar at the Midland,
Peter Harris putting a ferret down his trousers
in Bingley shopping precinct to impress his mates
(and the blue-violet flash of ambulance lights),
the pigeon-fanciers club
that used to meet in the Brown Cow on a Tuesday,
each with his own wicker basket (Friday it was whippets),
crown green bowling in the park.
Mr Chappell saying to my mother the other day:
Thank you very much for yer Christmas card, Mrs Osbourn
and my mother saying to Mr Chappell:
Thank you very much for yours, Mr Chappell
and Mr Chappell saying:
Ah didn’t send yer one.
The Orange Girl and the Philosopher by Jon Pinnock
‘May I enquire,’ said the elderly gentleman
to the young lady on his right, ‘What it is exactly
that you do?’
‘Well,’ she said, surveying the range of cutlery
with evident alarm, ‘I used to be a singer.’
‘Really?’ said the man, ‘I used to – ‘
‘ – but since I married Juan, I’ve moved into
modelling, and perfumes and fashion design
and stuff. And charity work of course –
that’s why I’m here, innit – and I’ve
written two children’s books and three
‘Really?’ said the man, ‘I’ve written – ‘
‘ – and I’m working on a novel now
and I’m thinking of taking up
scriptwriting. I’ve got so many ideas,
The old man looked at her, marvelling at
her orange skin tones, and wondering what
you could fill three autobiographies with. Then
he tore a hunk of bread off his roll, and ate it
‘So what do you do?’ she said, eventually.
‘I’m a philosopher,’ he said, in a tired, old voice.
‘I look at the world and I try to understand how
it works, so we can use that information to lead
‘Oh,’ said the girl. T did that once.Didn’t like it.’
Wave at Aeroplanes by Jane Burn
for bad spots – I want to shrill look up! The skylights are squares of heaven!
I am blinded by haloes – they fall as irritation on predictive text, as they fall
in blessings on my head. Look up! The mechanical stairway swaps us, one up,
one down – there is nothing I can do for her frowns save lift my arms,
madwoman on a metal slide, sponging the last of the sun.
Look! To top shelves in supermarkets, where the weird things are – discover
arrowroot, boxes of Trill. Health for your budgerigar. Budgerigar! Such
a word for a small, blue-green bird! A word as big as Apocalypse; so much
more than feathers! I picture the frailest shells of falcon beaks cracking on
droplets of spherical seed. Kissing their bell-rung mirrors, hanging from
nails in summer – cuttlefish biters, watching the free. Look up!
I look for fucks from broken lovers. Don’t come to me if you are all brand new –
I will dirty you. Eyes with blossoms of marigold agony; you and me, we can grow
gardens of disaster. Look up! Together we can be lifeboats – we can be umbrellas.
Come to my arms – I will not be afraid! Look up! Wonder where the dead are,
missing from your cosset – some days if you could only touch them one more time!
The Gone do not return except in backs of minds – they do not care, have already
found their truth. Tears are only lava lamps at funerals – blobs of up, then down and
going nowhere, mourners lining holes like jars of wails. Hold them while they are alive!
Look up! See dizzy bumbles pissed on pollen, wave at aeroplanes taking everyone
to and from. Or wait for constellations, make Pyxis or Columba – pretend you know
where they are! Nod sagely at satellites. Look up! Dandelion clocks and carrier bags!
We do not need this study of pavements – counting the cracks is somebody else’s job.
Full list of winners
Wendy Pratt: Amazing Grace
John Foggin: Norman
Michael Brown: Water Lilies
Julia Key: Bull in field, Boggle Hole
Pat Borthwick: After Harris Bigg Wither
Richard Westcott: Corporal Yukio Araki, age 17, of the 72nd Shinbu Squadron, 27th May 1945.
Norman Hadley: Drone Pilot
William Holloway: Family Values
Genevieve Carver: Home
Marie-Aline Roemer: Kings at the Table
Martin Malone: Mr. Willett’s Summertime
Doreen Gurrey: Whip and Top
Wendy Klein: Who Safely Graze
Kim Moore: Work
Julia Deakin: 1973
Claire Collison: Araschnia Levana: How Dock Leaves Work
Pauline May: Bottle Bairns
Jennifer A McGowan: Cordelia in Prison
Chris Bridge: Days
Lesley Quayle: December 2010. (Starbotton)
Yvonne Reddick: Ermine Street
Sarah Bryson: Feathers
Jo Peters: Fragility
Kathleen Ingleby: Grandmother Wolf
Julian Dobson: In Praise of Wensleydale
Nicholas Boreham: In The Dales
Theophilus Kwek: Magdalene
Lesley Perrins: Mary, Mary
Mary-Clare Newsham: New Year’s Eve
Natalie Shaw: Rievaulx Abbey
Rob A. Mackenzie: Slow Dancing to Electro Funk
Anne Osbourn: The North
Jonathan Pinnock: The Orange Girl and the Philosopher
Jane Burn: Wave at Aeroplanes