Apr 17

Mar 17

Feb 17

Jan 17

Dec 16

Nov 16

Oct 16

Sep 16

Round 9, Final
Listen

Jul 16

Jun 16

May 16

Apr 16

Mar 16

Feb 16

Jan 16

Dec 15

Nov 15

Oct 15

Round 9 begins

Round 8, Final
Listen

Jul 15

Jun 15

May 15

Apr 15

Mar 15

Feb 15

Jan 15

Dec 14

Nov 14

Oct 14

Sep 14

Round 7, Final
Listen

July 14

Jun 14

May 14

Apr 14

Mar 14

Feb 14

Jan 14

Dec 13

Nov 13

Oct 13

Sep 13

Round 6, Final
Listen

Jul 13

Jun 13

May 13

(no Apr 13 POTM)

Mar 13

Feb 13

Jan 13

Dec 12

Nov 12

Oct 12

Sep 12

Round 5, Final
Listen
with kind permission of Carcanet

Jul 12

Jun 12

May 12

Apr 12

Mar 12

Feb 12

Jan 12

Dec 11

Nov 11

Oct 11

Sep 11

Round 4, Final
Listen

Jul 11

Jun 11

May 11

Apr 11

Mar 11

Feb 11

Jan 11

Dec 10

Nov 10

Round 3, Final
Listen

Sep 10

Aug 10

Jul 10

Jun 10

May 10

Apr 10

Mar 10

Feb 10

Jan 10

Dec 09

Nov 09

Oct 09

Round 2, Final
Listen

Aug 09

Jul 09

Jun 09

May 09

Apr 09

Mar 09

Feb 09

Jan 09

Dec 08

Round 2 begins, Nov08

Round 1, Final
Listen

Sep 08

Aug 08

Jul 08

Jun 08

May 08

Apr 08

Each month, a small selection of our members’ poems are considered for the SecondLightLive Poem of the Month slot on the Home page. The poems (since the start of the fourth round), are selected by avoiding the alphabetical orders used previously.

The Judge, a Committee member, chooses the winning poem and commends 4 others to carry forward for consideration again in the next month. At the end of the round, when all members’ poems have been included in a selection, all the winners of the round are reviewed and an overall winner selected by Second Light’s founder and organiser, Dilys Wood.

Then we start again..!

Committee Members are not eligible to enter the competition. New pages are eligible for entry from the start of the next round.

Apr 17 – Round 10 – month 8, Judge: Kate Foley

Round 10, Month 8: Kate Foley judged the April competition and has chosen Alison Brackenbury’s No as her winning poem. Her selection of commended poems are by Helen Ivory, Gill McEvoy, Jane McLaughlin and Simone Mansell Broome.
 

No

No one is ever good enough,
or kind enough.
No one stays awake
through the lovely rush of rain which fills our dark.
No one can hold the music.
They are counting coins or frowning
they are toppling, they are drowning.
No one is good.
 
But nothing is as quick as us,
no screen can match us
tape’s whirr catch us
nothing tilts like sun
to light from sad.
Nothing in all history
can reach to take your hand from me,
the dark, the rain’s gift, O
we should be glad.
 

Alison Brackenbury

Poem published: The Times Literary Supplement.

 

Judge’s comment:
 
Brackenbury packs into a few lines the whole mystery of ‘the rush of rain that fills the dark’, ‘the tilt of the sun’, so that we feel the bleakness of our ‘counting’, ‘toppling’, ‘drowning’ selves, set against that magical ‘music’. Yet, at the last, without ornament or sentiment, because we can feel the touch of another’s hand, ‘we should be glad’.
 

Kate Foley

Bluebeard the Chef, by Helen Ivory
Glass Bird in a Shop Window, by Gill McEvoy
The Lacemaker Travels to Seville, by Jane McLaughlin
Five Changes, by Simone Mansell Broome  
 

 

Mar 17 – Round 10 – month 7, Judge: Katherine Gallagher

Round 10, Month 7: Our judge this month, ‘from a very strong field’ is Katherine Gallagher. She has selected Mimi Khalvat’s poem The Valley as her winner. The four commended poems are by Alison Brackenbury, Gill Hortiz, Iris Anne Lewis and Daphne Milne.
 

The Valley

Through a thin spray of flowers from the valley
(and frailer for the shyness you gave them with),
through sprigs of blue, their minute suns, many
and angled to many corners of the earth,
I saw, not the valley or even the hill
that rose in front of me, but half-imagined
plateaux that lay beyond these disused mills:
meadows waist-high, horizons mountain-rimmed.
 
Wildflowers grow there in abundance, so many
you could reap armfuls of them, cauldrons
of colour stoked with their dyes, cornflowers, teasels
snarling your hair and on your headscarf, apron,
shirt and shawl, the whole sky would spill a pinny
studded with seeds. But thank you, thank you for these.
 

Mimi Khalvati

this poem published in collecton The Meanest Flower, Carcanet, 2007

Judge’s comment:
 
From a very strong field, I have chosen Mimi Khalvati’s beautiful sonnet, The Valley for its subtle development from the original image (the gift of a ‘thin spray of flowers from the valley’) to an expansiveness of ‘half-imagined / plateaux’ , ‘meadows waist-high, horizons mountain-rimmed’, vistas vibrant with wildflowers, ‘cauldrons / of colour stoked with their dyes’ ̵ ‘the whole sky’ evoked in the reach of an eye and the brevity of a sonnet.
 

Katherine Gallagher

No, by Alison Brackenbury
What Lies in the Winter Wood, by Gill Horitz
Woodland Burial, by Iris Anne Lewis
Storm St Ives, by Daphne Milne  
 

 

Feb 17 – Round 10 – month 6, Judge: Joy Howard

Round 10, Month 6: Our judge this month is Joy Howard. Her winning poem choice is Metempsychosis in the Olšany Cemetery by Mary Robinson. The four commended poems are by Pru Bankes Price, Jill Munro, Angela Platt and Margaret Wilmot.
 

Metempsychosis in the Olšany Cemetery

What would Plato think of this?
– dry crumbs in a home-made bird-feeder
knocked up from wire and scraps of kindling …
 
Perhaps he would smile an aftershock of recognition
when something that was a careless might be
becomes is.
 
Jays are gate-keeping in the trees,
chaffinches and sparrows bathe on the dusty path
and somewhere Jan Palach’s soul takes wing
 
as light as a burning feather
 
 
 
“Metempsychosis” – the transmigration of souls, an idea alluded to by Plato (after Pythagoras).
The Olšany Cemetery in Prague is the last resting place of the remains of Jan Palach, the student who set fire to himself in Wenceslas Square in January 1969 after the Soviet Union’s occupation of Czechoslovakia the previous year. His memory became a focus for Czech nationalism and anti-Communist protests.
 

Mary Robinson

this poem first published in Envoi 160, Oct 2011

Judge’s comment:
 
At once terse and memorable, Robinson’s poem is a gem. With telling economy of space and phrasing, she plots a route and leads the reader down paths of complex thought. The beautiful imagery of birds is used in juxtaposing a metaphysical notion and all too brutal reality, and is wholly successful in that. A poem to engage with, and one which merits close and repeated readings.
 

Joy Howard

Odda’s Chapel, by Pru Bankes Price
Man from La Paz, by Jill Munro
Eye Examination, by Angela Platt
Clay-Lady, by Margaret Wilmot  
 

 

Jan 17 – Round 10 – month 5, Judge: Myra Schneider

Round 10, Month 5: Myra Schneider judged this month’s competition and selected Anne Ryland’s poem, For a Daughter as her winner. Her four commended poems are by Maggie Butt, Angela Platt, Marg Roberts, and Merryn Williams.
 

For a Daughter

My name would not be your middle name.
 
You wouldn’t inherit my listomania, I promise:
I’d renounce list-making in honour of your birth.
 
The term Muscular Dystrophy would not be sewn within you.
 
I would not pass on my stony ova
or the euphemisms stuffed up the sleeve like handkerchiefs.
 
Thank You wouldn’t be your mantra; it trapped me at the amber light.
 
You wouldn’t stare at every dog and see only its bite.
 
You would never know that ‘worry’ derives from ‘wyrgan’, to strangle:
I’d lock the door to my mother’s worrymongery
 
but I would be your guide in the storehouse of the thesaurus,
assure you there’s no such curse as being too clever.
 
I’d even show you how to blow a trumpet in a long and steady tone.
 
My desk and my blue propelling pencil would be yours.
 
I’d hand you your great-grandmother’s last letter to her daughter
from the hospital – ‘bye bye, dear’
 
All my words would be yours, so you’d observe me on the page,
learn all that I am and was and should have been.
 
And, my daughter, each night I’d hum you a lullaby.
You would remember me as a song, not an apology.
 

Anne Ryland

Poem published: Mslexia, No. 34. Runner-up, Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition, 2007.

Judge’s comment:
 
‘For a Daughter’ immediately caught my attention and it impressed me more each time I read it. Anne Ryland says so much in this list poem written in end-stopped couplets and single lines. The list is of promises made to a would-be daughter. She uses the list to characterize her mother’s ‘worrymongery’ and repressiveness by stating what she would not pass on to a daughter. At the same time she shows that her own submissive behaviour is due to her mother. The poem turns round in the middle when Ryland describes how she would offer ‘my words’, revealing a strong and exuberant side of herself. The poem is poignant – near the beginning of it we learn in she won’t pass on her ‘stony ova’. With its striking language and imagery and honesty it is also potent.
 

Myra Schneider

Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
Eye Examination, by Angela Platt
Question, by Marg Roberts
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams  
 

 

Dec 16 – Round 10 – month 4, Judge: Hylda Sims

Round 10, Month 4: Our judge this month is Hylda Sims. Her winning poet is Nicola Warwick, with her poem You hated those plums. Her four commended poems are by Dorothy Baird, Maggie Butt, Hilaire, and Anne Ryland.
 

You hated those plums

They frightened you, the plums
I bought; the blood-raw hue,
foreign skin, the wet
of the edges where I cut one open
and displayed it like two chambers
of a heart. Forgive me –
I didn’t mean to kickstart
your tension headache.
I was at home with them –
childhood memories
of skinning knees as I climbed
the tree to pick them.
I should not have played that trick
and peeled one, cold from the fridge,
while, eyes closed, you held out your palm
so you thought you were nursing
an eyeball. Wide-eyed, you caught
the stains on my hands
as if I were Lady Macbeth.
I’m so very sorry. I can’t explain –
I’ll go now and buy apples,
a punnet of peaches, or chance you
with a mango, you new soul,
you greenhorn, you remarkable fruit virgin.
 

Nicola Warwick

Poem published: Iota 89, May 2011

Judge’s comment:
 
I loved this poem for its wry, dark humour, for its sly parody on William Carlos Williams’ ‘This is Just to Say’. It’s a revelation of how much we depend on our eyes to accompany touch. There are some great phrases like ‘nursing an eyeball’, ‘you remarkable fruit virgin’, and I enjoyed the ‘skinning knees’ versus the ‘peeled’ plum.
 

Hylda Sims

For a Daughter, by Anne Ryland
It Never Stops, by Dorothy Baird
Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
Snake Valley, by Hilaire  
 

 

Nov 16 – Round 10 – month 3, Judge: Wendy French

Round 10, Month 3: Wendy French is our competition judge this month. She has selected Sarah Westcott’s poem Pool as her winner. The four poets whose work is commended are Anne Boileau, Angela Croft, Anne Ryland and Jay Whittaker.
 

Pool

I wait, quickening,
reflecting light,
holding darkness.
Will a hand break my skin,
rise out, bearing a knife?
 
Feel the fingers of a child,
stirring. Dog tongue;
ticklish, urgent.
Indents of rain
or tears –
a wish-bone, drifting.
 
Look down
to see my bed
ribbed with light,
soft and rich –
all the bright coins.
 
When the moon is high
lie on the bank,
come close,
smell wet clay,
breath, returned.
 
Sense your unborn
coming up,
her daughter
and her daughter,
each ripple
clear as plainsong.
 

Sarah Westcott

Votive wombs were offered to the gods to help with fertility problems in Etruscan times. They were left by sacred pools, much like coins are thrown into wishing wells today.
 

Judge’s comment:
 
Sarah Westcott’s Pool, is a beautiful well-crafted and controlled poem based on a legend about fertility. Westcott handles the material with compassion and skill. I was with her with every word in the poem. There is not one word that is out of place and Pool is a small gem just as a pool can be a gem when it suddenly appears. I am so glad that I have been introduced to this poem.
 

Wendy French

Study to be Quiet, by Anne Boileau
Dancing with Chagall, by Angela Croft
For A Daughter, by Anne Ryland
Canopy, by Jay Whittaker  
 

 

Oct 16 – Round 10 – month 2, Judge: Anne Stewart

Round 10, Month 2: This month’s judge, Anne Stewart, has chosen Dark Matter, by Daphne Gloag, as her winner. The four poets whose work is commended are Anne Boileau, Angela Croft, Anne Ryland and Sarah Westcott.
 

Dark Matter *

That Volvo must be doing 70, I said
as we drove home from the museum. Words
as bridges, the road smooth as thought, sun low,
its brightness undone. Not so much traffic now.
Words as cushions. The engine’s so quiet, you said.
 
It was a kind of peace.
What did you like best today? I asked you. –
Well, the wise men – their huge star – on that ivory…
oh look at that,
I knew that car would pull out.
My silent agreement merged with the quiet.
 
Long as memory it seemed, the road:
it could have gone on for ever, knowing nothing
of the souls it carried.
Today, I said, won’t last for ever
but our poems will remember it.

 
Clarity of being, bright surfaces
plain to see. Nothing to explain, except the comfort
of the banality of breath, except the ease
of words and silence
smooth as our speed,
 
except the way
two beings held together, hid one life,
just as in the galaxies
what cannot be seen
holds together the luminous stars.
 

Daphne Gloag

*Invisible matter – dark matter – is generally thought to be the main reason for the gravity holding the galaxies together.
 

Poem published in earlier version in Ambit and included in collection A Compression of Distances

Judge’s comment:
 
It was a tough choice again this month – such high calibre poems. However, Daphne Gloag’s Dark Matter shone out. I love the tangle of the universal and the elemental, the ‘banality of breath’ as words marry long-term lovers exactly as ‘what cannot be seen’ holds together the stars. Profound, intelligent without boasting cleverness. Gloag’s approach and skill are enviable.
 

Anne Stewart

Study to be Quiet, by Anne Boileau
Dancing with Chagall, by Angela Croft
For A Daughter, by Anne Ryland
Pool, by Sarah Westcott  
 
Round 9: A recording of Maggie Norton’ Overall Winner of the Year (to August 2016) poem is now in our digital archive. listen to the poem.

 

Sep 16 – Round 10 – month 1, Judge: Joy Howard

Round 10, Month 1: This month’s judge is Joy Howard. She has selected Ann Alexander’s poem To the front, as night is falling. The four poets whose work is commended are Jan Bay-Petersen, Nicky Mesch, Sarah Westcott and Sue Wood.
 

To the front, as night is falling

Those who set up home by the sea
must consider the tides, and we do.
 
At the end of the day we walk to the sea, and talk
of the incoming, outgoing, neap and full,
high, ebb, spring and flood of the tides.
 
We consider the moon that sucks the tides;
full, horned, gibbous and pale,
waxing and waning, ringed and red.
 
The children, the ecstatic dogs,
louche youths under the granite walls,
have gone to earth.
 
Unobserved,
we sniff the wind that tickles the waves:
simoom, sirocco, willywar, breeze;
dip our squealing toes in the gravelly sea;
imagine the world that lies beneath –
its mountains and rifts, its wrecks, its bones;
the uplifting, collapsing of rock.
 
      Each morning he gets up,
      shakes his memory and the day to life –
      and if his eyes, his ears, his legs
      are every day a little less,
      the balance holds.
      Evening will come.
 
Walk me to the sea, he says then,
holding out his hand
to save me from drowning.
 

Ann Alexander

First Prize, Grey Hen Poetry Competition 2013 and published at www.greyhenpress.com;
Published in Old Things (Ward Wood 2016)

Judge’s comment:
 
The poet’s precision of language, her concise and telling phrase-making: ‘ecstatic dogs / louche youths under the granite walls’, ‘he gets up / shakes the memory and the day to life’, make this very moving poem one whose echoes remain in the mind. It is a dignified testament to long-lasting love and deep grief, tellingly placed in the everyday ordinariness and extraordinary beauty of a seaside town. As such, and as a poem, pretty near perfect.
 

Joy Howard

It’s a Two and You’re Dead, by Jan Bay-Petersen
Testing Her Metal, by Nicky Mesch
Pool, by Sarah Westcott
Imagine yourself to be water, by Sue Wood  
 
Round 9: A recording of Maggie Norton’ Overall Winner of the Year (to August 2016) poem is now in our digital archive. listen to the poem.

 

Aug 16 – Round 9 – Final; Judge: Dilys Wood

August, the end of our annual round (the 9th) of the monthly online poetry competition. Dilys Wood has selected her overall winner, Mrs Tennyson is Interviewed in the Morning Room at Farringford, by Maggie Norton. A recording of Maggie reading her poem has been added to our digital archive.
 
Judge’s comment:
 
It was very hard to make a choice from poems already chosen as ‘winners’ by others. The modes covered were widely different – intense personal and autobiographical material, profound meditations, and two life-stories of women of the past, of which the chosen poem (Mrs Tennison is Interviewed in the Morning Room at Farringford) was (marginally) the more ambitious. Maggie Norton’s poem is on the lines of Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife collection – that is, a monologue from a woman married to a famous man, in this case revealing his condescension and her self-sacrifice to the point of wearing herself out (“a weary dragging pain that chains / me to this sofa”).
 
Mrs Tennyson’s gushing delusions about her god-like husband are conveyed in the language, tone, pace and music of the poem, reminding us that this is the work of a poet as well as a writer with an excellent sense of dramatic irony. There is full appreciation of the submissive language and expectations of a period when women were called ‘helpmeets’, but the poem’s conscious evocation of Old Testament ideas of women eternally subordinate to men has also up-to-date relevance.
 

Mrs Tennyson is Interviewed in the Morning Room at Farringford

And Life with the Great Poet?

I feel so privileged, being Alfred’s helpmeet
copying his works, for his hand is clarity itself.
All correspondence I attempt to answer in his style
and ink the pens for signatures during tea.

Interests?

Oh, yes, indeed, of course I have.
His poems I set to music on the pianoforte
and compose the hymns for family celebrations.

Between ourselves, my dear, I confess
to writing fiction of an autobiographical derivation,
but pray don’t make a note of that, for he
does not know of it but it is a comfort
that I might show it to the grandchildren.

Encouraged?

I always have, yes indeed.
Being late to marry at thirty-six
I had a very full life before and during
our long engagement, when dear Alfred
and I together made a name for him.

Family Life?

He’s built a sphere of love around us
in the houses I run both here and Aldworth.
So much to thank God and dear Alfred for,
so much, so much, and bless him,
he allows me to place upon his desk
handwritten notes (in what he charmingly
calls ‘my poetic prose’) on subjects
he might care to work up into poems.

Ah, yes – your interests?

Though not so much of late have I attended
to his needs, being easily fatigued
with a weary dragging pain that chains
me to this sofa, and dear Alfred
is so patient with what he terms
‘a womanly trouble’. He is my rock,
my fortress and my strength. What would I do without him?
 

Maggie Norton

Poem: Strokestown International Poetry Competition
in collection Onions and Other Intentions
 

Listen to the poem: Mrs Tennyson is interviewed in the morning room at Farringford

 

Jul 16 – Round 9 – month 10, Judge: Katherine Gallagher

Round 9, Month 11: Katherine Gallagher is our judge this month and her winning poem is What Lies in the Winter Wood, by Gill Horitz. Her selection of four commended poems are by Anne Ballard, Clare Crossman, Daphne Gloag and Anne Ryland
 

What Lies in the Winter Wood

End of day, end of year – and she’s thinking what’s next,
her head against the pane and the wind slamming the gate.
 
When she looks up, the trees are moving through the half light
towards her, through snow piled over the vanished road.
Not a single thought holds her back.
All the meanings held by the trees she remembers,
and how their barks can be unrolled and written upon.
No ordinary wood moves like this, and time is short.
 
Through the holly tunnels she sings a low song to the owl
and the night leans down, savouring her wintry breath.
What will I take from this? she thinks, looking back
as the moon hurries her along. To believe just once
that such a place exists, the imaginary heart
where everything worth moving towards lies.
 

Gill Horitz

Poem published in Smiths Knoll, Issue 50

Judge’s comment:
 
I chose this passionate and intriguingly mysterious poem for its tightly-woven exploration of what lies behind the ‘Winter Wood’, a question we have no doubt asked ourselves many times as each year sweeps by. The first two lines set the tone: ‘End of day, end of year – and she’s thinking what’s next, / her head against the pane and the wind slamming the gate.’ That gate-slam, symbolic and arresting, introduces a momentum for the rest of this beautifully-observed poem.
 

Katherine Gallagher

Paternal Relations, by Anne Ballard
The Winter Crown, by Clare Crossman
Dark Matter, by Daphne Gloag
For a Daughter, by Anne Ryland  

 

Jun 16 – Round 9 – month 10, Judge: Hylda Sims

Round 9, Month 10: Our judge this month is Hylda Sims and she has chosen Merryn Williams’ poem My Cousin, as her winner. The four poems she has commended are by Lesley J Ingram, Christine Michael, Pru Bankes Price and Anne Ryland
 

My Cousin
Edith Hemp d. Bournemouth 1930

She came here–not to rest–to sweep the stairs
and empty chamber pots. The gilded chairs
still stand here, the enormous mirrors throw
my face back as they did hers, aeons ago.
Down these plush corridors she moved, her feet
not echoing–dusting, leaving all things neat.
Somewhere her midget room, a great way up
these stairs. Invisible beneath her cap
to Bournemouth’s guests, but I know who she was;
my flesh, my blood, thrown early from the nest.
A small skimped woman when she was alive,
all siblings lost, unmatched at forty-five.
No trace, not one. Still stands the Grand Hotel
but now she rests. Somewhere in Bournemouth still.
 

Merryn Williams

Judge’s comment:
 
Not one duff poem here and as usual hard to choose. I’ve picked this poem before and must choose it again: Merryn Williams’ My Cousin, a beautifully brief, well-observed, illustration of poverty versus wealth, toil versus luxury, diligence versus decadence – blame my politics for choosing this important and timely poem as number one above many other, excellent pieces.
 

Hylda Sims

Unzipping, by Lesley J Ingram
New Year’s Day, by Christine Michael
Odda’s Chapel, by Pru Bankes Price
For a Daughter, by Anne Ryland  

 

May 16 – Round 9 – month 9, Judge: Wendy French

Round 9, Month 9: Wendy French is the judge of this month’s competition. Her winner is Mrs Tennyson is Interviewed in the Morning Room at Farringford, by Maggie Norton. The four commended poems are by June Hall, Anne Ryland, Merryn Williams and Lynne Wycherley.
 

Mrs Tennyson is Interviewed in the Morning Room at Farringford

And Life with the Great Poet?
 
I feel so privileged, being Alfred’s helpmeet
copying his works, for his hand is clarity itself.
All correspondence I attempt to answer in his style
and ink the pens for signatures during tea.
 
Interests?
 
Oh, yes, indeed, of course I have.
His poems I set to music on the pianoforte
and compose the hymns for family celebrations.
 
Between ourselves, my dear, I confess
to writing fiction of an autobiographical derivation,
but pray don’t make a note of that, for he
does not know of it but it is a comfort
that I might show it to the grandchildren.
 
Encouraged?
 
I always have, yes indeed.
Being late to marry at thirty-six
I had a very full life before and during
our long engagement, when dear Alfred
and I together made a name for him.
 
Family Life?
 
He’s built a sphere of love around us
in the houses I run both here and Aldworth.
So much to thank God and dear Alfred for,
so much, so much, and bless him,
he allows me to place upon his desk
handwritten notes (in what he charmingly
calls ‘my poetic prose’) on subjects
he might care to work up into poems.
 
Ah, yes – your interests?
 
Though not so much of late have I attended
to his needs, being easily fatigued
with a weary dragging pain that chains
me to this sofa, and dear Alfred
is so patient with what he terms
‘a womanly trouble’. He is my rock,
my fortress and my strength. What would I do without him?
 

Maggie Norton

Poem: Strokestown International Poetry Competition  

Judge’s comment:
 
I chose this poem because it takes the reader to another era into a time when it was impossible for women to write and have recognition. The poem is written in such accessible language that made it painful to read. It is cleverly constructed and took me out of myself into another time, another life. In that way it is a refreshing piece of work. Not sentimental or incriminating in any way. Pure fact.
 

Wendy French

Yellow Bird, by June Hall
For a Daughter, by Anne Ryland
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams
Leaving Burray, by Lynne Wycherley  

 

Apr 16 – Round 9 – month 8, Judge: Joy Howard

Round 9, Month 8: Our judge this month is Joy Howard. She has selected Shirley Bell’s poem The Scarecrow Christ as her winner and her selection of commended poems are by Dorothy Baird, Rose Flint, Merryn Williams and Lynne Wycherley.
 

The Scarecrow Christ

The fields are flat and brown, it’s hard to think
they’ll ever stand high with corn, flare with rape
again this summer. For now the scarecrows lurch
at crazy angles. They trail old coats and rags.
Polythene bags flap around the suggestions of
their shoulders. And yet the wind lifts
their shoddy clothes and they are touched with
magic; they always seem about to fly.
 
It’s Sunday and I’ve taken you to Chapel.
Everything is grey and earnest. There’s no
incense here, though a sense of well-meaning
sifts gently through the air. I don’t think I belong.
It’s Lent and the sermon is all about temptation.
I feel I would not pass those tests. Now I see
distraction in the corner of my eyes; a painting.
When I can, I take a picture on my phone.
 
It shows me strips of cloth, snarled around
an empty cross, a tenuous fabric
lifting in air currents, tangled with light.
Something. Nothing. Faith, elusive as a sigh.
A scarecrow pinned to a stick.
Leaning forwards, with the wind stirring its tatters.
And always on the point of alteration,
by some sudden unexpected angle of the sun.
 

Shirley Bell

Poem published in behind the glass , 2013  

Judge’s comment:
 
There is a feeling of unease in the chapel setting of the poem. The scarecrow, her chosen metaphor for the rags of faith that remain, presents as a shabby crucifixion. But a trick of the wind, a shaft of sunlight are suggestive of “Something. Nothing. Faith, elusive as a sigh”. Firmly grounded in a sense of place, this subtle poem transports us to the realms of the metaphysical.
 

Joy Howard

Wondering about God, by Dorothy Baird
Moontrade, by Rose Flint
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams
Leaving Burray, by Lynne Wycherley  

 

Mar 16 – Round 9 – month 7, Judge: Katherine Gallagher

Round 9, Month 7: Katherine Gallagher is judge this month and she has has selected Iris Anne Lewis’s poem, Woodland Burial as her winner. Her 4 commended poems are by Shirley Bell, Rose Flint, Daphne Schiller and Anne Sherry.
 

Woodland Burial

A different type of pillow talk
we chose the plot together,
you rooted to the hospice bed
by tubes delivering opium sap.
 
You wanted oak and ash to
shelter you in broadleaved woods,
and in return to nurture them
with mouldered bone and flesh.
 
Tethered still to life, you slip into a
shadowed sleep. Death creeps closer,
steals your breath and shifts you to
a different state. I close your eyes.
 
Drifts of bluebells mark your spot.
Light, leaf-dappled, casts patterns on
your shaded grave. Bare branches arc
a latticed vault against the winter skies.
 
Encased in willow, you now begin
your slow and secret work in deep
secluded dark, becoming one
with earth and plants and rain and sun.
 

Iris Anne Lewis

Judge’s comment:
 
From its very first line, ‘A different type of pillow-talk, we chose the plot together,’ Iris Anne Lewis engages the reader with exactness of tone, image and phrasing to make this a beautifully intimate love-poem. ‘Tethered still to life, you slip into a / shadowed sleep’. The parallels and ironies charge the moment till like a coda, ‘Bare branches arc / a latticed vault against the winter skies’.
 

Katherine Gallagher

The Scarecrow Christ, by Shirley Bell
Moontrade, by Rose Flint
Daphne du Maurier at Ferryside, by Daphne Schiller
Long View, by Anne Sherry  

 

Feb 16 – Round 9 – month 6, Judge: Ruth O’Callaghan

Round 9, Month 6: This month’s judge is Ruth O’Callaghan. Her winning poet is Angela Croft with her poem Dancing with Chagall. Her 4 commended poems are by Shirley Bell, Jill Munro, Marg Roberts and Sue Wood.
 

Dancing with Chagall

It’s all very well allowing him to fling
you up into the air
your purple skirt waving like a flag
above the rooftops
your feet in the clouds
 
but what will you do if it turns to rain
up in the sky without a hat
 
those strappy shoes, that scrap of cloth
that hardly passes as a blouse
slipping off your shoulder
to show your luminous skin
your fragile bones
 
him with fire in his eyes clasping
your hand as if he’d never let you fall
 
and you so very, very brittle
 

Angela Croft

first published in French Literary Review  

Judge’s comment:
 
So many poets take for their springboard a work of art creating for themselves an often impossible task insofar as the poem they are offering has to equal, to some degree, the excellence of the original work. Angela Croft’s Dancing with Chagall exactly captures the spirit of the painter, a whimsiness yet with an underlying sense of reality and, yet again, the going beyond reality.
 

Ruth O’Callaghan

The Scarecrow Christ, by Shirley Bell
Man from La Paz, by Jill Munro
Question, by Marg Roberts
Imagine yourself to be water, by Sue Wood  

 

Jan 16 – Round 9 – month 5, Judge: Hylda Sims

Round 9, Month 5: Hylda Sims is this month’s judge and she has selected Ruth Hanchett’s poem deciding, as her winner. Her 4 commended poems are by Moira Andrew, Maggie Butt, Angela Croft and Thelma Laycock.
 

deciding

holds you in
 
like a tight belt
 
 
until
 
 
it springs into the light
 
or struggles through your dark
 
or moves gently with dignity,
 
releasing
 
 
you
 
 

Ruth Hanchett

Judge’s comment:
 
I chose this sparely penned piece in the end because, unlike some of the other entries with their interesting stories, it is definitely not organised prose but a carefully, delicately structured poem, fulfilling an important aspect of the genre: only necessary words. And these few, carefully chosen, words tell us something deep, important, almost abstract, about the human need for resolution.
 

Hylda Sims

My mistake, by Moira Andrew
Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
Dancing with Chagall, by Angela Croft
Nocturne in blue, by Thelma Laycock  

 

Dec 15 – Round 9 – month 4, Judge: Myra Schneider

Month 4 of Round 9: Myra Schneider is the judge this month and her selected winner is Maggie Sawkins, for her extract from her long award-winning poem Zones of Avoidance. Her 4 commended poets are Kaye Lee, Di Slaney, Jay Whittaker and Pam Zinnemann-Hope.
 

Zones of Avoidance

     (a short extract)
 
I’m reading ‘The Confessions of an English Opium Eater’ –
I want to understand what drove my daughter out in the snow
 
with no coat or socks, in search of a fix.
I want to understand what divinity led her
 
to set up camp in the derelict ‘pigeon house’
after running out of sofas to surf.
 
     *
 
I was a Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds girl myself.
I liked the way it made inanimate objects move,
 
until that day in Balham when my guy sang Rock n Roll Suicide
from a third floor window, and an Alsatian leapt
 
from the wood grain of the station door, and policemen
were penguins in disguise.
 
     *
 
Tough Love. The mantra of the support group for those
beaten by their loved one’s addiction.
 
When I was busted at nineteen and the bedsit landlord
tipped my belongings onto the street, the last person
 
I would’ve turned to was my mother.
You’ve made your bed. Lie on it. Lie on it. Lie on it.
 

Maggie Sawkins

Poem published in Zones of Avoidance is a remarkable piece of poetry. Maggie Sawkins approaches difficult and important subject matter by skilfully juxtaposing her daughter’s addiction and illness with her own experience of drug-taking when young. The spare writing with precise details is very alive and it reveals how much Sawkins longs to help her daughter in spite of the fact that she herself had a mother she couldn’t possibly turn to. The sharpness of the jibe she knew she would receive from her mother and the mocking repeat of “lie on it” heightens the poignancy.
 

Myra Schneider

Hand in Hand, by Kaye Lee
West of Dolgellau, by Di Slaney
Canopy, by Jay Whittaker
Marriage to Lazar – 1905, by Pam Zinnemann-Hope  

 

Nov 15 – Round 9 – month 3, Judge: Anne Stewart

Month 3 of Round 9, our judge this month is Anne Stewart. She has selected Kathleen M Quinlan’s poem Flight from the Countryside as her winner and her four commended poets are Margaret Eddershaw, Danielle Hope, Di Slaney and Jay Whittaker.
 

Flight from the Countryside

     World Bank: For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s people live in cities.
 
I miss the stars the most.
 
Not that first twinkling
nursery-rhyme character
wished upon at the bedroom
window in the still-twilight blue.
 
Not the familiar patterns – imagined
silver dippers and rescued sisters outlined
in connect-the-dots on charcoal skies.
 
Not even Perseid’s meteors – August nights
on a blanket in the back yard, wondering
which way to turn to catch
the next stolen kiss.
 
But, the unbounded arch of the Milky Way –
its band of scattered moon-dust
spilling over me the night
the peepers announced spring.
 
These riches were in our grasp –
a trillion diamonds
gifted from heaven.
 
And we left it all behind.
 

Kathleen M Quinlan

Poem published in Bloodroot Literary Magazine, 2013.
 

Judge’s comment:
 
Aside from the technical aspects of this poem all working extremely well together for me, I was taken particularly with its movement – swirling and eternal – and that it invites the reader to consider how humanity moves through its ages. It made me picture Neanderthal man, dumbfounded that anyone would choose to lose the magic of the stars…
 

Anne Stewart

Golden Rule, by Margaret Eddershaw
In the Kitchen, by Danielle Hope
West of Dolgellau, by Di Slaney
Canopy, by Jay Whittaker  

 

Oct 15 – Round 9 – month 2, Judge: Wendy French

Round 9, Month 2… Wendy French is the judge this month and she has selected Alison Brackenbury’s poem No as her winner. Her four commended poets are Caroline Gill, Kathleen M Quinlan, Di Slaney and Jay Whittaker.
 

No

No one is ever good enough,
or kind enough.
No one stays awake
through the lovely rush of rain which fills our dark.
No one can hold the music.
They are counting coins or frowning
they are toppling, they are drowning.
No one is good.
 
But nothing is as quick as us,
no screen can match us
tape’s whirr catch us
nothing tilts like sun
to light from sad.
Nothing in all history
can reach to take your hand from me,
the dark, the rain’s gift, O
we should be glad.
 

Alison Brackenbury

Poem published: The Times Literary Supplement.
 

Judge’s comment:
 
Alison’s poem is masterful. It tricks the reader by its rhythm and assonance. It tricks the reader into thinking the skill of the poem lies in its technical strength but there is far more to this poem than just that. It’s the deep and personal yet universal meaning in these few words that make this poem sing out to us.
 

Wendy French

Elegy for Idris Davies, by Caroline Gill
Flight from the Countryside, by Kathleen M Quinlan
West of Dolgellau, by Di Slaney
Canopy, by Jay Whittaker  

 

Sep 15 – Round 9 – month 1, Judge: Kate Foley

Round 9 begins! Our judge for this month’s competition is Kate Foley and she has selected Lynda O’Neill’s poem Double English as her winner. Her four commended poets are Caroline Gill, Gill Learner, Jay Whittaker and Justina Hart.
 

Double English

Her flowing clothes were always black –
never a twin set. They swished as she
patrolled the corridors,
crunching Polos and tutting.
She had high frequency hearing
and an x-ray gaze behind her
spit-on-the-brush mascara.
Other teachers wore no lipstick
or played safe with dolly mixture pink.
She favoured an Edith Piaf gash.
 
As we suffered Assembly on canvas chairs
she sat with the Catholics in the Library.
More laughter than scripture, they said,
and a bottle of Gordons in her bag
with its crocodile snap.
 
We’d known our place since the age of eleven
but she thought we deserved her best.
‘I’m going to have a bash at
Middle English with this Chaucer,’ she’d say.
Next week her ice blue eyes
would rock’n’roll with warmth
as she smacked her Revlon lips
over a chapter of Pride and Prejudice.
 

Lynda O’Neill

Poem published: South 37, ISSN 0959-1133
 

Judge’s comment:
 
If you’d been rumbled by the ‘high-frequency hearing’ or ‘x-ray gaze’ of this teacher you’d never cross the line again. Nor would you forget a word of the Middle English, re-enforced by the warmth and humour of her ‘rock’n’roll eyes’. Though her style went out with the mods and rockers you’d have been imprinted with a grasp of what ‘style’ is. A deceptively modest poem draws a complex and powerful persona.
 

Kate Foley

Elegy for Idris Davies, by Caroline Gill
Lost, by Gill Learner
Canopy, by Jay Whittaker
A Wire to Grief, by Justina Hart  

 

Aug 15 – Round 8 – Final; Judge: Dilys Wood

August completes our annual rounds of the Poem of the Month competition. At the end of Round 8, our founder and the co-ordinator of Second Light, Dilys Wood, who judges the final each year, has selected her overall winning poem, Marion Tracy’s Stones. Marion’s recording of the poem has been added to digital archive (link to her reading is beneath her poem).
 
Judge’s comment:
 
My choice is Marion Tracy’s twenty-four line poem Stones which combines many skills, including narrative tension, the use of dialogue and more than a touch of surrealism. As always the final selection was hard, as all the poems in the short-list had already been chosen for qualities like lyricism, originality, honed language and profound insights into their chosen subject. There was almost no way of choosing between them. What finally swayed the balance was the paradox that in Stones an event which seems trivial and random (the sound of small stones falling on a house roof) causes a group of people in the house to remember so much and speculate so widely. So the poem becomes an object lesson in different responses, each person like a court witness with a different take on the evidence. If this introduces a Kafkaesque element, it also introduces humour – a bonus in a poem which, is, in it’s own way, quite serious. The range of references in the poem is very wide and the poet has found a place for some striking descriptions, such as “Stones are plums falling down like blue stars”. The final line of the poem cleverly serves as closure, being both a reductio ad absurdum and a suggestion that the whole action may have been a dream: “Why, laughs his wife, it’s all the stones that ever got stuck in my shoe.
 

Stones

He hears a sound, plip plop. It’s small stones thrown
or wet insects on glass. The noise is getting bigger.
It sounds as if stones are being shovelled onto the house.
He asks his cousin if she’s experienced anything like this.
 
He frowns when she says, It must be possums.
He smiles when his neighbour says, Perhaps it’s like
when my wife left me.
He laughs when his wife says,
Yes, I’ve been hearing it for a while, it’s like memories of home.
 
He looks up through the leaves of the tree.
Stones are coming down through the branches.
Stones are bouncing off each branch in turn.
Stones are plums falling down like blue stars.
 
His neighbour looks and says, Who can be responsible?
Is it the work of clever children?
His cousin gasps and says,
Is it the work of aliens, these bright disks as they fall?
Is it, asks his wife, all the words that need saying?
 
In the room, the stones are all over the bed.
The stones are all over the rug but there’s no holes
in the ceiling. He looks up and there’s no footprints on the roof.
The stones are raining down and he asks his cousin,
 
Why do the stones not fall straight down but seem to turn in the air?
He asks his neighbour, Why do the stones have no shadow?
Why do the stones fall on my house and not on yours?

Why, laughs his wife, it’s all the stones that ever got stuck in my shoe.
 

Marion Tracy

Poem published: Poetry Review Vol 103:1 Spring 2013.
 

Listen to the poem: Stones

 

Jul 15 – Round 8 – month 11, Judge: Joy Howard

The final month in Round 8, before our Overall winner will be selected and invited to record their winning poem for our digital archive. Our judge, Joy Howard, has selected Melinda Lovell’s poem, Woodlanders as her winning entry. Her four commend poets are Maureen G Coppack, Claudia Jessop, Kathleen M Quinlan and Sarah Westcott.
 

Woodlanders

For one August week they robbed me
of my walk, a loop in the woods.
An electric fence skewered the path
to stop their three sheep short
 
An odd economy. They forgot
their patch is an old right of way
for any shade-lover, same clan,
to pass by, hat over eyes
 
Why, with their courtly camps
scoring the glade with chores and games
sitting cool among berries and husks
in their rickety nut palace
 
did they forget my haunting
my scudding through shores of leaves
collecting nothing growing
but the ghosts between the trees?
 

Melinda Lovell

poem first published in Tears In The Fence

Judge’s comment:
 
Mysterious and compelling, this poem draws the reader in, only to pile on the surprises with yet more mystery. Whether ultimately fathomable or not, the absolute precision in the choice of each word leaves an impression that is lasting. Haunting, it could be said. But by who, where and why is left to the imagination. Just don’t go down to the woods today.
 

Joy Howard

Wading Through Green, by Maureen G Coppack
Day Starting on an Upper Floor, by Claudia Jessop
Flight from the Countryside, by Kathleen M Quinlan
Pool, by Sarah Westcott  

 

Jun 15 – Round 8 – month 10, Judge: Wendy French

Round 8, Month 10 – only one more month before the Overall judging for the year. This month, our judge is Wendy French. She has selected Angela Kirby’s poem Trizonia as her winning entry and her four commend poets are Ann Alexander, Maria Jastrzębska, Anne Ryland and Susan Jane Sims.
 

Trizonia

O most excellent donkey who,
not having heard of the sleep button,
woke me three times this morning
with your ancient and execrable lament,
do you bemoan the start
of your over-burdened day
and the end of your brief night’s rest
in this unpromising patch of scrub
or do you, perhaps, grieve for me
who today must leave this incomparable islet
where there are neither cars
nor motorcycles, where nothing
very much happens, apart
from the occasional birth or marriage
and the rather more frequent deaths,
where there is little to see, just Iannis
repainting the peeling mermaid
on his taverna, and his grandmother
taking a broom to the six hollow-ribbed cats
who have stolen yet another chicken-leg,
and the three old men who,
having finished their backgammon
and the last of the ouzo, now take
the sun’s path home across the harbour
in a boat as blue as that clump of scabious
you are considering?
 

Angela Kirby

published in anthology, Speaking English, Five Leaves Press, 2007

Judge’s comment:
 
‘do you grieve for me … where nothing much happens’ and yet everything happens in these few lines. Another world is painted: no traffic, Iannis’s peeling mermaid (nothing is permanent), grandmother, old men – all the opposite of nothing happening … the donkey, witness to all. The poet has to leave this world but has given it to her readers.
 

Wendy French

To the front, as night is falling, by Ann Alexander
Old Knives, by Maria Jastrzębska
For a Daughter, by Anne Ryland
Outside, by Susan Jane Sims  

 

May 15 – Round 8 – month 9, Judge: Hylda Sims

Round 8, Month 9. Our judge this month is Hylda Sims. Her winner is Lyn Moir with her poem Dream Cigarette… The four commended poems are by Anna Avebury, Kym Lloyd, Anne Ryland and Joolz Sparkes.
 

Dream Cigarette


Not the ritual post-coital, languorously passed from hand to hand,
smoke sucked further down than orgasm’s launch-pad: that’s not the one
comes back in dreams. No, I’m doing something ordinary, some daily task
so boring I’ve no idea what it is, and you’re there with me: it’s as I said,
a dream. We do this thing, we talk, we pass the time companionably
or not, depending if we argue, but the closeness never goes. That’s when
I realise I’m smoking, cigarette in hand as normal as the punctuation mark
it often was, marking conversation stresses with a jab. Still in the dream
I know that this is wrong, recall, in parallel with whatever task we’re doing,
that evening forty years ago when as usual I offered you my Senior Service
and you, who always carried Player’s Navy Cut, said "No, let’s give up now."
Asleep, I feel a twist of longing. Awake, I’m made aware it must have been
a real addiction. But then of course, in dreams I only ever smoke with you.
 

Lyn Moir

Poem published: commended in the Second Light Competition 2006 and published in Skeins of Geese – The 100 Poets Anthology (2008) (a StAnza publication).

Judge’s comment:
 
A witty, delightful and succinct lament for past addictions – cigarettes; lover. ‘The ritual post-coital’… how many of us recall that previous pleasure (and do people still smoke in bed?) This poem manages to be wryly nostalgic without sentimentality or sadness – not easily done and very well done here – a super, unpretentious piece of work.
 

Hylda Sims

Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
Shall I Call You Eve?, by Kym Lloyd
For a Daughter, by Anne Ryland
Gloucester Re-imagined: A dedication to anyone who gets dug up in a car park 200 years later , by Joolz Sparkes
 

 

Apr 15 – Round 8 – month 8, Judge: Katherine Gallagher

Round 8, Month 8. Katherine Gallagher is this month’s judge and she has selected Rose Flint’s poem Moontrade as her winner. Her four commended poets are Anna Avebury, Judith Kazantzis, Kaye Lee and Anne Ryland.
 

Moontrade

Lily left in a flooding month but only once I saw the Moon
and she was caught in the fur of the midnight city
like a white ghost bur twitched from a dream’s seagrasses.
Then nothing. Only the nightly count, the empty cup.
 
Days or weeks I was on the road, on the hill, on my way
till I came round a corner and she’d come clear, risen up
full from the valley to rest on a woolsack of clouds
where she watched the city’s scurrying bullion; guinea brass
to her silver coin. And this Moon is questioning me:
 
how am I spending my time? I’m going too fast, forgetting

tonight, in one of the hours of her long lidded night
she’ll look through the window of my daughter Lily
in Mexico City, pour her silvers over her sleeping,
soothe the cicadas, the clicking Spanish guitars.

Later rain will muffle Moon under his coat and bundle her
into the deep cave of the mind where she’ll lie unseen
and subversive. So far she’s always escaped, in time.
Next month I’ll keep better watch. Ask her to come
lit in a white flame dress
that spills love to the world’s four corners.
 
I’ll call her out with a cry/poem/prayer: Moon, Moon
this misty city can’t make anything out of your night currency
but I’ll do a trade with you. I’ll set my cup in the window
of every month and sing you into its circle
if you will gift my daughter with a good dream
as she lies sleeping in the City of Magic Possibilities.

 

Rose Flint

Poem published in collection, Mother of Pearl, PS Avalon, 2008.

Judge’s comment:
 
This poem struck me with its protagonist’s relentless determination and love. The poet enlists the help of the Moon, majestically “risen up / full … to rest on a woolsack of clouds” to “gift my daughter with a good dream … in the City of Magic Possibilities.” Not Plath’s ‘cold, alien’ moon but, resourceful, dependable, with great tenderness and hope.
 

Katherine Gallagher

Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
Eurynome, by Judith Kazantzis
Hand in Hand, by Kaye Lee
For a Daughter, by Anne Ryland
 

 

Mar 15 – Round 8 – month 7, Judge: Anne Stewart

Round 8, Month 9. Our judge this month is Anne Stewart, and her winner is Angela Croft, for her poem Dancing with Chagall. Her four commended poets are Anna Avebury, Rose Flint, Kaye Lee and Anne Ryland.
 

Dancing with Chagall

It’s all very well allowing him to fling
you up into the air
your purple skirt waving like a flag
above the rooftops
your feet in the clouds
 
but what will you do if it turns to rain
up in the sky without a hat
 
those strappy shoes, that scrap of cloth
that hardly passes as a blouse
slipping off your shoulder
to show your luminous skin
your fragile bones
 
him with fire in his eyes clasping
your hand as if he’d never let you fall
 
and you so very, very brittle
 

Angela Croft

first published in the French Literary Review

Judge’s comment:
 
I love the assurance, how the scene, pace and attitude are set so immediately and clearly and maintained (without ever losing musicality) through the poet’s linguistic choices “those strappy shoes…” How brilliantly the risk of love – “but what will you do if it turns to rain” – of trusting your life to that one person who excites you, is expressed here.
 

Anne Stewart

Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
Moontrade, by Rose Flint
Hand in Hand, by Kaye Lee
For a Daughter, by Anne Ryland
 

 

Feb 15 – Round 8 – month 6, Judge: Kate Foley

Round 8, Month 6. Kate Foley, the judge of this month’s competition, has selected Jean Atkin’s The Children of Lir, as her winning poem. Her four commended poets are Anna Avebury, Elizabeth Burns, Rose Flint and Sue Rose.
 

The Children of Lir

His hands were folded. He seemed
to be waiting. I saw him lower
his eyes to earth
 
as I landed, a brother at each wing tip.
Behind us the sea lough tolled with the bell.
When it had stopped, he spoke.
 
I remember the coarseness of his robe,
his mudstained feet. His voice was narrow
as reeds. Rain fell.
 
We heard him out.
I searched my brothers’ eyes: and then
we spread our wings. I felt the loosening
 
of flight feathers, saw them fall;
I watched smooth plumage snow
from thinning bones.
 
I folded, for the first time, shriven fingers
and with my stranger’s hand I touched – and found
skin slack on flesh and desert dry.
 
My hair curved round me
long and faint and grey.
White down fanned to ground.
 
Shameless, my favourite brother stood
and stared into the sky. I saw him lank
and naked.
 
His eyes filled. I took his hand.
 
The monk prayed. Rain fell.
 

Jean Atkin

Poem published: Poetry Ireland Review 106 (2012).

Judge’s comment:
 
Quiet, spare and lyrical, this poem distills the essential story of The Children of Lir so that it’s not necessary to know the myth before understanding the mystery that is its key. The ‘sea lough tolled with the bell’ and the holy man spoke with a voice ‘narrow as reeds’. With a few meticulously placed images the surprise of the Children at their wakening to ‘thinning bones’ and ‘skin slack on flesh’ is poignantly recorded. Does the ‘loosening / of flight feathers‘ perhaps also speak to our own surprise at how late it has become?
 

Kate Foley

Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
Letter to Katherine Mansfield, by Elizabeth Burns
Moontrade, by Rose Flint
S31082011, by Sue Rose
 

 

Jan 15 – Round 8 – month 5, Judge: Myra Schneider

Round 8, Month 5. This month our judge is Myra Schneider. Her selected winner is Marion Tracy’s poem Stones. Her four commended poets are Moira Andrew, Justina Hart, Marg Roberts and Sue Rose.
 

Stones

He hears a sound, plip plop. It’s small stones thrown
or wet insects on glass. The noise is getting bigger.
It sounds as if stones are being shovelled onto the house.
He asks his cousin if she’s experienced anything like this.
 
He frowns when she says, It must be possums.
He smiles when his neighbour says, Perhaps it’s like
when my wife left me.
He laughs when his wife says,
Yes, I’ve been hearing it for a while, it’s like memories of home.
 
He looks up through the leaves of the tree.
Stones are coming down through the branches.
Stones are bouncing off each branch in turn.
Stones are plums falling down like blue stars.
 
His neighbour looks and says, Who can be responsible?
Is it the work of clever children?
His cousin gasps and says,
Is it the work of aliens, these bright disks as they fall?
Is it, asks his wife, all the words that need saying?
 
In the room, the stones are all over the bed.
The stones are all over the rug but there’s no holes
in the ceiling. He looks up and there’s no footprints on the roof.
The stones are raining down and he asks his cousin,
 
Why do the stones not fall straight down but seem to turn in the air?
He asks his neighbour, Why do the stones have no shadow?
Why do the stones fall on my house and not on yours?

Why, laughs his wife, it’s all the stones that ever got stuck in my shoe.
 

Marion Tracy

Poem published: Poetry Review Vol 103:1 Spring 2013.

Judge’s comment:
 
Marion Tracy’s very original Stones quickly stood out for me for me. I was struck too by its use of dialogue and form. The poem is a metaphorical fable which suggests poems or nursery rhymes in which questions are asked by the narrator and a group of characters respond in turn each time with possible answers. There is a teasing twist in the search to explain the mysterious falling stones as the answer given at the end doesn’t carry the significance which the poem seems to be leading up to.
 

Myra Schneider

My mistake, by Moira Andrew
A Wire to Grief, by Justina Hart
Question, by Marg Roberts
S31082011, by Sue Rose
 

 

Dec 14 – Round 8 – month 4, Judge: Ruth O’Callaghan

Round 8, Month 4. Our judge this month is Ruth O’Callaghan and she has selected Yellow Bird as her winning poem. Congratulations to the winning poet, June Hall, and to our four commended poets: Vivienne Blake, Diana Pritchard, Sue Rose and Merryn Williams.
 

Yellow Bird

after ‘Yellow Bird’, a pastel by Hugo Colville

Out of a hole in the man’s chest pops a bird.
In the sag of his torso there’s a hollow round the place
where smart surgeons have jig-sawed and cut away
so the tin man goes on ageing when rage bends him
squared in on himself, shoulder and elbow bent.
His cornered body, once upright and steel-strong,
now light with emptiness, is grown grey, suit-coloured,
its geometric planes drawn in pain.
 
Hunched, one-legged in his own shadow, he cranes
to the bird’s bright wink, chin pegged to his shoulder,
a thin cushion for the night when the flight
of the yellow bird is unseen so no-one knows where
it’s been till it opens its beak and speaks secrets ranging
beyond tears and grief to a comfort that’s strange as
a bird on the wing for a man clamped in a square tin can,
sealed in a vacuum.
 

June Hall

first published in Equinox as ‘Post-Operative Man’;
published in collection bowing to winter, 2010

Judge’s comment:
 
The Yellow Bird encompasses both human experience and the human condition on many levels. Here we encounter the mythological bird, the creation, in the guise of so many male figures ‘the sag of his torso’ indicative of all the failed ambitions, hopes and fears embodied in ‘the tin man’ which reverberates with all our childhood baggage. There is an economy that ‘speaks secrets’.
 

Ruth O’Callaghan

Birdwatching, by Vivienne Blake
One Wrong Foot, by Diana Pritchard
S31082011, by Sue Rose
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams
 

 

Nov 14 – Round 8 – month 3, Judge: Hylda Sims

Round 8, Month 3. Hylda Sims is this month’s judge and she has selected Death as her winning poem. Congratulations to the winning poet, Pauline Prior-Pitt, and to Hylda⋕s four commended poets: Vivienne Blake, Gwyneth Box, Vivienne Fogel and Diana Pritchard.
 

Death

She clings to my lips, my breath,
covers my breasts when I dress,
strings pearls round my neck,
fashions her words in my mouth.
“Forever” she says, and again
“Forever”, and “Never, ever again”.
 
And in bed, her head on the pillow
with mine, nightmare screams,
dreams caught in her cloak
falling into the depths below.
 
And day after day at the sea, she
beckons me into the slow dancing waves,
splashes my face, licks my cold skin,
swims below me, above me, beside me,
twists her legs round me,
pulls me close in to kiss,
 
whispers the bit about less
than a grain of sand in the surf,
and never again and forever.
She knows about this.
 

Pauline Prior-Pitt

in collection, Holding Close, 2010, Spike Press

Judge’s comment:
 
I didn’t care for it at first – too near the bone. But as I read and re-read I knew it had to be the one. It says something original and deep, frightening but almost comforting; a truth told simply, subtly, without sentiment about how she, yes, she – the not so grim reaper-ess – is always with us, our familiar, our doppelganger who walks, moves, lives with us. This is about getting to know our very own death. Quite a poem!
 

Hylda Sims

Birdwatching, by Vivienne Blake
The Playground Dreams, by Gwyneth Box
Notebook, by Vivienne Fogel
One Wrong Foot, by Diana Pritchard
 

 

Oct 14 – Round 8 – month 2, Judge: Anne Stewart

Round 8, Month 2, and our judge is Anne Stewart. Her winning poem is Reference Library – congratulations to Shirley Wright – and her four commended poets are: Elizabeth Birchall, Gwyneth Box, Sue Rose and Pam Zinnemann-Hope.
 

Reference Library

Here is the dark half-world
where roots weave earth
tight against the spin, the turn
of leaves, where night
 
owls swoop on echoes
from the wildwood, a vole perhaps,
the musk of history, things
dank or rustling.
 
Heads bow as though
to avoid the casual swipe
of low branches, the crack
and biro-click that herald
 
autumnal fruit. See
how it is garnered, one word,
one phrase at a time, acorns
in a grove of oaks from whence
 
all this transfigured landscape
had its being. Chairs creak,
tables groan beneath their load
of elbows and narrow fingers
 
fingering the black and white;
we might pause for coffee,
whisper thoughts on metempsychosis,
pick mushrooms from the forest floor.
 

Shirley Wright

Winner of 2nd Prize, Wells Literature Festival 2012;
published in Bristol Women Writers anthology Unchained., 2013

Judge’s comment:
 
Such a variety of styles – but when it came to choosing, it was Shirley Wright’s poem Reference Library that won me over. Its careful shaping to present the various ‘othernesses’ in the poem; that reverence for learning and for so much more. But I was particularly struck by its success in capturing that most incongruous activity: sharing the experience of isolation…
 

Anne Stewart

OXFORD UNITED: Luminox, March 2007, by Elizabeth Birchall
The Playground Dreams, by Gwyneth Box
S31082011, by Sue Rose
Marriage to Lazar – 1905, by Pam Zinnemann-Hope
 

 

Sep 14 – Round 8 – month 1, Judge: Joy Howard

This is the first month of the ‘new round’ (8) and our Judge is Joy Howard. She has selected Jennie Osborne’s poem Salmon as her winner. Her four commended poets are: Caroline Carver, June Hall, Sue Rose and Pam Zinnemann-Hope. Congratulations to all…
 

Salmon

It’s too early
for salmon leaping
or too late.
 
I’m in the right place
thinking perhaps
no time is wrong
 
That I feel at home here
or anywhere
that isn’t home
 
and as I stand in that knowledge
the salmon come, leaping.
 

Jennie Osborne

Poem published: The Rialto, Autumn 2013.

Judge’s comment:
 
For such a deceptively simple little poem, ‘Salmon’ is seriously full of thought-provoking ideas. I was reminded that this fish is an ancient Celtic symbol of wisdom. There is a powerful paradox here: the leap of recognition that everywhere is home, everything possible, is inspired by the salmon, a creature whose homing instincts are inexorable.
 

Joy Howard

Sedna the Sea Goddess, by Caroline Carver
Yellow Bird, by June Hall
S31082011, by Sue Rose
Marriage to Lazar – 1905, by Pam Zinnemann-Hope
 

 

Aug 14 – Round 7 – Final; Judge: Dilys Wood

August completes our annual rounds of the Poem of the Month competition. Dilys Wood, founder and co-ordinator of Second Light judges the final and she has selected Jill Townsend’s Sun Block as the overall winner of Round 7. Jill has recorded the poem for our slowly-growing digital archive and you can listen to her read it by clicking on the link below the poem.
 
Judge’s comment:
 
There was the usual agonising over an overall choice as all the poems have that edge of sheer originality and expressive language that got them chosen for Poem of the Month in the first place. My reasons for selecting Jill Townsend’s Sun Block is that, within its short span of 15 lines, it springs a number of surprises in terms of both ideas and metaphorical language. The poem is full of edginess and, in fact, goes back and fore – conveying see-saw feelings of hope and anxiety which never quite resolve. I liked the way the last line doesn’t try to put the lid on things (as some last lines do rather too obviously) but leaves us with a mystery – “If I cry the grass scatters”. The realistic picture of a swan, “his little orange paddles / powering” leads on to the Leda legend, and rightly or wrongly the grass references in the poem took me to the Book of Isaiah and the idea that flesh is grass, which may relate to the “shuddering / glimpse of no future” in lines 13-14.
 

To hear Jill Townsend read Leaving, see link below.

Sun Block

At last the sun gives some warmth.
My body unwinds, learns itself
sinuous as the river.
Sweet grass flows beneath my hand
like the hair of an overheated child.
 
Through half-closed eyes I see
a swan, his little orange paddles
powering against the calm,
the barely resisting water.
 
My eyes close. Seed heads hiss
and part to the sudden shadow
of his spreading wings:
                                                  a shuddering
glimpse of no future trembles through me
and a voice saying Easy, Leda.
If I cry the grass scatters.
 

Jill Townsend

First published in the Agenda on-line supplement to the Rilke issue, Vol.42 3-4
and in print in Seeking Refuge ed. Jan Fortune (Cinnamon press).
Listen to the poem: Sun Block

 

July 14 – Round 7 – month 11; Judge: Wendy French

Round 7, Month 11… the last before selection of the overall winner for the year…
 
Our judge this month is Wendy French and her winner is ‘a short extract’ from Zones of Avoidance, by Maggie Sawkins – Zones of Avoidance was the winner of the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. Tough competition, then, and our commended poets are: Caroline Carver, June Hall, Sue Rose and Merryn Williams.
 

Zones of Avoidance

     (a short extract)
 
I’m reading ‘The Confessions of an English Opium Eater’ –
I want to understand what drove my daughter out in the snow
 
with no coat or socks, in search of a fix.
I want to understand what divinity led her
 
to set up camp in the derelict ‘pigeon house’
after running out of sofas to surf.
 
     *
 
I was a Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds girl myself.
I liked the way it made inanimate objects move,
 
until that day in Balham when my guy sang Rock n Roll Suicide
from a third floor window, and an Alsatian leapt
 
from the wood grain of the station door, and policemen
were penguins in disguise.
 
     *
 
Tough Love. The mantra of the support group for those
beaten by their loved one’s addiction.
 
When I was busted at nineteen and the bedsit landlord
tipped my belongings onto the street, the last person
 
I would’ve turned to was my mother.
You’ve made your bed. Lie on it. Lie on it. Lie on it.
 

Maggie Sawkins

Zones of Avoidance (multimedia live literature performance, directed by Mark C Hewitt), 2013;

Judge’s comment:
 
This was particularly hard for me to judge (to remain neutral) as Maggie Sawkins, a friend whose work I admire (as indeed I do all of the commended poets) was awarded the Ted Hughes prize for her innovative work, the poem/film of Zones of Avoidance. However this short poem/extract here stands alone as a very fine piece of writing. It is controlled yet full of feeling of the need to try and understand another person, your child. The language is simple, straightforward, there is no pretence for the poem to be anything other than what it is, a search for understanding with the heart felt ending, ‘You’ve made your bed lie on it’.
 

Wendy French

Sedna the Sea Goddess, by Caroline Carver
Yellow Bird, by June Hall
S31082011, by Sue Rose
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams
 

Jun 14 – Round 7 – month 10; Judge: Hylda Sims

Round 7, Month 10… Hyda Sims is our judge this month and she has selected Maggie Butt’s poem Lipstick as her winner. Her four commended poets are: Philippa Lawrence, Lynda O’Neill, Sue Rose and Veronica Zundel.
 

Lipstick

In war time women turn to red
swivel-up scarlet and carmine
not in solidarity with spilt blood
but as a badge of beating hearts.
 
This crimson is the shade of poets
silenced for speaking against torture,
this vermillion is art
surviving solitary confinement,
 
this cerise defies the falling bombs
the snipers taking aim at bread-queues,
this ruby’s the resilience of girls
who tango in the pale-lipped face of death.
 

Maggie Butt

published in collection Lipstick, Greenwich Exchange, 2007

Judge’s comment:
 
I love this poem for its ebullience; its cunning reds and the superb pallor of the last line; its admiration of those war-time, high-gloss, never-seen-without-your-face-on feisty women; for its pacifism; for its feminism. I suspect judging poems is as much a matter of personal taste as a recognition of quality. All the poems in the selection I was given are well-made and interesting. Maggie’s looks beyond the family, the personal… It’s political – my kind of poem.
 

Hylda Sims

Screen Test, by Philippa Lawrence
Double English, by Lynda O’Neill
S31082011, by Sue Rose
‘Dear God, all the children can run except me’, by Veronica Zundel
 

May 14 – Round 7 – month 9; Judge: Katherine Gallagher

Round 7, Month 9… This month’s judge, Katherine Gallagher has selected Elizabeth Rapp’s poem Ice Garden as her winner. Her four commended poets are: Maggie Butt, Clare Crossman, Philippa Lawrence and Lynda O’Neill.
 

Ice Garden

I begged him for a garden,
hollyhocks and delphiniums.
He gave me grottoes of ice.
No birds sing here: only the sound
of moonlight dreaming snow at midnight.
 
I have become bone carved from ice.
I spin on a needle’s point,
watched by an angel huddled
in snow with icebound wings;
his stricken face as I twirl and twirl.
 
Those dark and subtle hands
have locked me in this kingdom,
this palace of death-white ice.
Floors are as slippery as his lies.
I wander through cubes of refracted light
 
where indigo and jade dance on my silver dress,
turn into birds of paradise.
But today a small brown bird
perched on my wrist, then
gave me a pomegranate seed
from his beak.
 

Elizabeth Rapp

Poem: Winner of the A.A. Sanders poetry prize, 2000

Judge’s comment:
 
I have chosen Elizabeth Rapp’s Ice Garden for its narrative mystery, eco-symbolism, colour and transformation – beginning with the princess (or is it queen)’s having begged for a nature garden but no, ‘no birds sing here: only the sound / of moonlight dreaming snow…’ She has been fooled by ‘his lies’. One isn’t told more about her ‘captor’, but at the end Rapp heightens the contrast between the worlds of icy sterility and joy in ‘a small brown bird’s’ arrival with the gift of a pomegranate seed, symbol of fertility and life. A beautifully-structured piece, with an effective simplicity.
 

Katherine Gallagher

Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
The Winter Crown, by Clare Crossman
Screen Test, by Philippa Lawrence
Double English, by Lynda O’Neill
 

Apr 14 – Round 7 – month 8; Judge: Joy Howard

Round 7, Month 8… Our judge this month is Joy Howard. She has selected Day Starting on an Upper Floor, by Claudia Jessop, as her winning poem. Her four commended poets are: Dorothy Baird, Maggie Butt, Joanna Ezekiel and Margaret Williams.
 

Day Starting on an Upper Floor

Early morning
I raise the blind, and see
the stacked city
re-invented by sunlight.
 
Other people’s windows turn
to changing screens
of marbled inks
where glass records the change of days,
 
a face, suddenly framed
or a glimpse
of someone, folding
white clothing, carrying
a child from room to room,
buttoning a shirt while walking
over the floor.
 
I am so high up here,
attending to the detail
I think I am alone with it,
but a woman
watering a plant
raises her face; we share her pouring stance, arrested
over her green leaves,
 
we see each other
before the day.
 

Claudia Jessop

Poem published in collection The Woman Who

Judge’s comment:
 
This apparently straightforward but memorable poem is one whose imagery stayed in my mind. An ordinary day, ordinary lives, captured by acute observation of the moment. It wakes you up (appropriately) to the importance of a momentary glance,a meeting of eyes, in making a connection with another human being. A poem that makes you both see and think.
 

Joy Howard

Wondering about God, by Dorothy Baird
Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
Priceless, by Joanna Ezekiel
Breathing Space, by Margaret Williams
 

Mar 14 – Round 7 – month 7; Judge: Hylda Sims

Round 7, Month 7… Hylda Sims was our volunteer judge this month. She has selected Vivienne Blake’s Birdwatching as her winning poem. Her four commended poets are: Dorothy Baird, Maggie Butt, Alwyn Marriage and Joolz Sparkes.
 

Birdwatching

Sweet and sour aurora chorus:
unwilling slugabed sleepers
wake up.
 
Earlybird seekers of breakfast
hopping and pecking here and there.
Winners.
 
A flypast of oystercatchers,
Red Arrows, veiled in black and white
Stylish
 
A swimpast of mallard parents
with a ribambelle of fluffballs.
Too cute.
 
The mugging by high-handed gulls
of an innocent ham sandwich.
A crime.
 
A patient hovercraft kestrel
aloft and quivering to plunge.
Snatched shrew.
 
Formation dancing by starlings
glimmering across the twilit stage.
Curtain.
 
*
 
A soggy stiff-jointed stillness
of a witness, longing for tea
goes home.
 
 
 
     note: Ribambelle is a French word for a string of something, usually children.
 

Vivienne Blake

Judge’s comment:
 
Vivienne Blake’s Birdwatching is a succinct description of birds of different feathers, skills and predatory habits with a nod to similar human parades and carry-ons. There’s humour, affection, and clarity. A well-crafted structure of three-line stanzas, each with its brief third line, give rhythm and shape. The last stanza, contrasting these fluent flocks with the watcher – damp, stiff and needing tea – made this poem the winner for me.
 

Hylda Sims

Wondering about God, by Dorothy Baird
Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
La Matelote, by Alwyn Marriage
Gloucester Reimagined, by Joolz Sparkes
 

Feb 14 – Round 7 – month 6; Judge: Kate Foley

Round 7, Month 6… Kate Foley is our judge this month and she has chosen Gerda Mayer’s poem, The Inheritor as her winner. Her four commended poems are by Marion Ashton, Jean Atkin, Anna Avebury and Maggie Butt.
 

The Inheritor

I the sophisticated primate
Have stunted fingers on my feet,
And almost I control my climate,
And Everything is what I eat.  

I wrote the story of Creation
When I discovered nudity;
‘The world is yours for exploitation.’
I gave this charter unto me.  

I traded in for my survival
My peaceful heart, my flealined coat;
Did down my vegetarian rival.
I have Creation by the throat.
 
 
 
          the third line refers to ‘cloud seeding’
          of which there was some talk in the seventies
 

Gerda Mayer

Poem published:
(under its previous title The Survivor), Encounter magazine, 1978;
The Knockabout Show, Chatto; Poets for the Young, Chatto & Windus;
Bernini’s Cat.

Judge’s comment:
 
Trenchant, witty and finally rather pathetic, this short poem has homo sapiens down to a T. Every line packs a punch. Poor old HS, omnivorous, exploitative and rather prudish has ’traded in / my peaceful heart, my flealined coat’ but perhaps we can be glad that the capacity to craft such a pungent, many-layered poem has survived with the species.
 

Kate Foley

Breakdown Pond, by Marion Ashton
The Children of Lir, by Jean Atkin
Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
 

Jan 14 – Round 7 – month 5; Judge: Myra Schneider

Round 7, Month 5… our judge this month is Myra Schneider. Myra has chosen Alex Toms’ poem, On Entering the Eel Catcher’s Workshop as her winner and her four commended poems are by Anna Avebury, Mary Hodgson, Gerda Mayer and Denni Turp.
 

On Entering the Eel Catcher’s Workshop

A bell jangles above your head. In the gloom
it sounds like shattered glass.
 
Invisible fingers stroke your face;
you brush them aside, realise it’s only
 
a spider’s zip wire. As your eyes adjust,
shrouded shapes reveal themselves:
 
round shouldered barrels bound for London,
an outboard motor
 
that’s stuttered itself into silence.
In the corner, an abandoned punting pole
 
puts down new roots. Unfinished willow traps
sprawl on the workbench, gaping mouths
 
already hungry. Beside them lies
a sly knife, its blade spotted with sap.
 
On the walls, former eel catchers
regard you sternly behind dust-grimed glass.
 
And right at the back of the shop,
glimpsed only for a second,
 
a look and a glittering smile
from the Eel Catcher’s lovely daughter
 
before her slender form
dives deeper into the darkness.
 

Alex Toms

Poem Highly Commended in the Essex Poetry Festival Open Poetry Competition, 2012, judged by Pascale Petit.

Judge’s comment:
 
The haunting atmosphere of this poem immediately caught my attention. The eel catcher’s workshop is evoked through precise physical details of objects and tools presented in striking images which suggest the sinister. They build up from a bell sounding “like shattered glass” to the “glittering smile” of the living person at the end who is glimpsed before she “dives deeper into the darkness.” The writing is original and extremely well controlled.
 

Myra Schneider

Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
Flints, by Mary Hodgson
The Inheritor, by Gerda Mayer
Triawd y Gorffennol: Above Braich Quarry, by Denni Turp
 

Dec 13 – Round 7 – month 4; Judge: Ruth O’Callaghan

Round 7, Month 4… Ruth O’Callaghan, our judge this month, has made her selection as follows. Winner: Nicolette Golding with ; and her four commended poets are Anna Avebury, Gill Horitz, Joan Poulson and Denni Turp.
 

The Seal Wife

I do OK, attend the W.I., make a nice Victoria sponge, am sociable, fit in.
My husband is a good man, works to fill our house with things,
But tell me why would a good man hide my skin?
 
I am lonely, hungry for the sea, tired of human company. He knows
my longings. I do as he does, go where he goes,
wheel my Tesco trolley in these heavy clothes,
 
eat far too much these days, weight’s piling on my hips and thighs.
I nibble mackerel in the bath, pour salt in, watch it dry,
Hide receipts, sit on rocks, cry.
 
Nights I pull on headphones, when we make love I close my eyes,
trawl CDs for echoes of my mother’s song. His body never tells me lies
but I go diving under softer skies
 
and when he falls away, sleep with one eye open.
Tomorrow I rise early, beloved one,
to search this place, as I have always done.
 

Nicolette Golding

Judge’s comment:
 
The Seal Wife engages from the outset. The voice, that of an ordinary woman ruminating on her role in life, gives a different slant to the seal myth. Although Golding utilises full on end rhymes these are never intrusive and her progression in tone from the flat ‘I do OK’ to the lyrical ‘Tomorrow I rise early, beloved one,’ is equally smooth.
 

Ruth O’Callaghan

Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
What Lies in the Winter Wood, by Gill Hortiz
Fiery-winged, by Joan Poulson
Triawd y Gorffennol: Above Braich Quarry, by Denni Turp
 

Nov 13 – Round 7 – month 3; Judge: Wendy French

Round 7, Month 3… Our judge for November 2013, Wendy French, has selected Danielle Hope’ poem In the kitchen as her winner. Her four commended poets are Caroline Gill, Angela Kirby, Ann Seagrave and Lynne Wycherley.
 

In the kitchen

I’ve heard voices for some time so I enter.
My father pauses mid-sentence, stares
at the black table leg. His eyes wary,
mouth open as if caught on camera
scrumping apples. The radio splutters softly.
 
How two years have shrunk him.
His spade hands now scooped out
as he struggles unsteadily to sit.
He has only the remnants of pride to force
his wooden breaths, shore his shoulders back.
 
‘Talking to mum?’ I ask. ‘It’s private
between her and me’. Outside a car passes.
He reaches to rub thick cream
onto where his right ankle still won’t heal.
The steady drip of the kitchen tap like a clock.
 

Danielle Hope

Poem published in collection, Giraffe under a Grey Sky, Rockingham Press

Judge’s comment:
 
Danielle’s poem was heart wrenching and poignant but not sentimental in any way. It reminds the reader of time passing. And is the sort of poem that you can keep going back to and find another layer behind the written word.
 

Wendy French

Elegy for Idris Davies, by Caroline Gill
Trizonia, by Angela Kirby
Aviatrix, by Ann Segrave
Leaving Burray, by Lynne Wycherley
 

Oct 13 – Round 7 – month 2; Judge: Joy Howard

October 2013, Round 7, Month 2… Our judge this month is Joy Howard of Grey Hen Press. Joy has selected her winner: Angela Croft’s Dancing with Chagall and her four commended poets: Susan Davies, Laurna Robertson, Ann Segrave and Lynne Wycherley, whose poems will be included in those sent to a different judge next month.
 

Dancing with Chagall

It’s all very well allowing him to fling
you up into the air
your purple skirt waving like a flag
above the rooftops
your feet in the clouds
 
but what will you do if it turns to rain
up in the sky without a hat
 
those strappy shoes, that scrap of cloth
that hardly passes as a blouse
slipping off your shoulder
to show your luminous skin
your fragile bones
 
him with fire in his eyes clasping
your hand as if he’d never let you fall
 
and you so very, very brittle
 

Angela Croft

Judge’s comment:
 
This poem reads like a dance. It’s light, airy, free-flowing, and also visual – the movement and colour of the painting it is based on is beautifully evoked. The artistic matrix of power, control and frailty is examined with a light hand, making it all the more telling. This poem makes you think about who your work belongs to, or whether indeed it has a life of its own.
 

Joy Howard

23 Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill, by Susan Davies
Praise Song, by Laurna Robertson
Aviatrix, by Ann Segrave
Leaving Burray, by Lynne Wycherley
 

Sep 13 – Round 7 – month 1; Judge: Anne Stewart

September 2013, seconds out, Round 7! Our judge this month is Anne Stewart and she has selected Jill Townsend’s poem Sun Block as her winner. Her commended poets are: Susan Davies, Justina Hart, Laurna Robertson and Ann Segrave, whose poems will be included in next month’s judging ‘for another chance with a different judge’…
 

Sun Block

At last the sun gives some warmth.
My body unwinds, learns itself
sinuous as the river.
Sweet grass flows beneath my hand
like the hair of an overheated child.
 
Through half-closed eyes I see
a swan, his little orange paddles
powering against the calm,
the barely resisting water.
 
My eyes close. Seed heads hiss
and part to the sudden shadow
of his spreading wings:
                                                  a shuddering
glimpse of no future trembles through me
and a voice saying Easy, Leda.
If I cry the grass scatters.
 

Jill Townsend

First published in the Agenda on-line supplement to the Rilke issue, Vol.42 3-4 and in print in Seeking Refuge ed. Jan Fortune-Wood (Cinnamon press)

Judge’s comment:
 
No examination of motive, no elaboration of circumstances. Just the brutal truth of such events: a woman is safe then, in the space of a breath, with that chilling “glimpse of no future”, she is destroyed. An innocuous beginning used expertly to give way to the shock of rape in Townsend’s spare, incisive and powerful telling of the Leda story.
 

Anne Stewart

23 Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill, by Susan Davies
A Wire to Grief, by Justina Hart
Praise Song, by Laurna Robertson
Aviatrix, by Ann Segrave
 

Aug 13 – Round 6 – Final; Judge: Dilys Wood

August completes our 6th round of the Poem of the Month competition. Dilys Wood, founder and co-ordinator of Second Light judges the finals and she has selected Gill McEvoy’s poem Glass Bird in a Shop Window as the winner.
 
Judge’s comment:
 
It’s a hard choice when looking at poems which have all been selected for striking qualities of originality, strong writing and honed presentation. I could not fault any of these poems. My choice of Gill McEvoy’s Glass Bird in a Shop Window relates to that quality of multum in parvo that we all tend to aim for and can’t always bring off. This poem of short lines and 7 short stanzas has much to say about the intense and lonely work of any ‘maker’ (whether glass worker or poet). “Among deep silences of snow” the glass worker perfects his bird image, drawing on a deep understanding of the natural world. Then there is a parallel act of imagination and the poet’s poem, compared to a living bird, flies up, “A shudder of snow / ushers its escape”. Reflective but also sensual, from end to end this poem links strong images of winter landscape.
 

Glass Bird in a Shop Window

Surely the maker of this bird is
one whose winter months are lived
among deep silences of snow,
 
who understands the blue and purple
bruise of folds among the drifts,
who knows
 
the strange transparencies of ice,
the way light toes on it
a fragile dance?
 
I have been standing here so long
my feet have slipped into
boots of fur,
 
snow is settling on my shoulders
under dank green pine
and snow-locked birch.
 
Ice splits; a bird flies up.
Freckles the freezing air
with blue.
 
A shudder of snow
ushers its escape.
 

Gill McEvoy

Poem: Third Prize in the English Fellows’ Association Poetry prize, 2010.
Listen to the poem: Bird in a Shop Window (read by Anne Stewart)

 

Jul 13 – Round 6 – month 11; Judge: Katherine Gallagher

This is the final monthly judging of this round. Our judge, Katherine Gallagher, has selected Margaret Eddershaw’s Golden Rule as her winner. Her four commended poets are Janet Fisher, Sue Johnson, Laurna Robertson and Ann Segrave.  

Golden Rule

In a forgotten drawer
my father’s wooden rule,
brass-hinged to unfold
sideways and lengthways
for measuring boat timbers.

I hear the slap and click
of its closing,
before I can say ‘lifeboat’,
see it vanish
into that long pocket
on the thigh of blue overalls.

Indicator of his precision
love of numbers
a life measured
in feet and inches
business takings
cricket scores
football pools
bingo calls.

His emotions kept in check,
marked off by pencil,
held in columns,
buttoned up in cardigans,
till an outburst
a sea-squall soon past.

Now he’s gone to talk
spans and cubits
and dead-reckoning with Noah.
 

Margaret Eddershaw

Poem published: Iota, 2007

Judge’s comment:
 
This multi-layered, tightly-written tribute to the poet’s late father centres around her discovery ‘in a forgotten drawer / my father’s wooden rule, / brass-hinged to unfold / sideways and lengthways / for measuring boat timbers.’ Elegaic in tone, the exactness of descriptions and sounds reverberates, creating echoes and ironic interplays to present a rounded portrait of her boat-builder father who has now ‘gone to talk / spans and cubits / and dead-reckoning with Noah.’ that other boat-builder.
 

Katherine Gallagher

Brittle Bones, by Janet Fisher
blue moon (a late night observation), by Sue Johnson
Praise Song, by Laurna Robertson
Aviatrix, by Ann Segrave
 

Jun 13 – Round 6 – month 10; Judge: Hylda Sims

Our judge for the June competition is Hylda Sims. She has selected as her winner My Cousin by Merryn Williams. Her four commended poets are Simone Mansell Broome, Alison Michell, Lyn Moir and Martha Street.  

My Cousin
     Edith Hemp d. Bournemouth 1930

She came here–not to rest–to sweep the stairs
and empty chamber pots. The gilded chairs
still stand here, the enormous mirrors throw
my face back as they did hers, aeons ago.
Down these plush corridors she moved, her feet
not echoing–dusting, leaving all things neat.
Somewhere her midget room, a great way up
these stairs. Invisible beneath her cap
to Bournemouth’s guests, but I know who she was;
my flesh, my blood, thrown early from the nest.
A small skimped woman when she was alive,
all siblings lost, unmatched at forty-five.
No trace, not one. Still stands the Grand Hotel
but now she rests. Somewhere in Bournemouth still.
 

Merryn Williams

Judge’s comment:
 
A beautifully crafted, sonnet of rhymed and half-rhymed couplets. Class and deprivation; vulgar luxury versus mere subsistence; the anonymity of those who do the real work – themes older than the Edwardian un-moneyed spinster of the poem and contemporary as the plight of many an immigrant worker… important subjects but difficult to make a good poem while stating the case. Merryn manages to do both brilliantly!
 

Hylda Sims

Five Changes, by Simone Mansell Broome
Cross My Palm, by Alison Michell
Dream Cigarette, by Lyn Moir
Let the Trees, by Martha Street
 

May 13 – Round 6 – month 9; Judge: Kate Foley

Due to unforeseen circumstances we were unable to run the competition in April 2013. We therefore move straight to May 2013 with a selection by judge Kate Foley. Her winner is June Hall’s Yellow Bird and her commended poets are Alwyn Marriage, Alison Michell, Nicola Warwick and Merryn Williams.
 

Yellow Bird

after ‘Yellow Bird’, a pastel by Hugo Colville

Out of a hole in the man’s chest pops a bird.
In the sag of his torso there’s a hollow round the place
where smart surgeons have jig-sawed and cut away
so the tin man goes on ageing when rage bends him
squared in on himself, shoulder and elbow bent.
His cornered body, once upright and steel-strong,
now light with emptiness, is grown grey, suit-coloured,
its geometric planes drawn in pain.
 
Hunched, one-legged in his own shadow, he cranes
to the bird’s bright wink, chin pegged to his shoulder,
a thin cushion for the night when the flight
of the yellow bird is unseen so no-one knows where
it’s been till it opens its beak and speaks secrets ranging
beyond tears and grief to a comfort that’s strange as
a bird on the wing for a man clamped in a square tin can,
sealed in a vacuum.
 

June Hall

first published in Equinox as ‘Post-Operative Man’;
published in collection bowing to winter, 2010
 

Judge’s comment:
 
Haven’t seen the picture? Then you’re free to follow the strange yellow bird as it bursts from it’s prison in the chest of a man grown ‘suit-coloured’ through the strong, surreal images of the poet towards a ‘comfort that’s strange’ – but curiously tender – as is the whole, small, beautifully made packet of this poem.
 

Kate Foley

La Matelote, by Alwyn Marriage
Cross My Palm, by Alison Michell
You Hated Those Plums, by Nicola Warwick
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams

(no April 13 selection)

Mar 13 – Round 6 – month 7; Judge: Joy Howard

Our judge this month is Joy Howard and she has selected Gill McEvoy’s Glass Bird in a Shop Window as her winner. Her commended poets are Anna Avebury, June Hall, Alison Michell and Nicola Warwick.
 

Glass Bird in a Shop Window

Surely the maker of this bird is
one whose winter months are lived
among deep silences of snow,
 
who understands the blue and purple
bruise of folds among the drifts,
who knows
 
the strange transparencies of ice,
the way light toes on it
a fragile dance?
 
I have been standing here so long
my feet have slipped into
boots of fur,
 
snow is settling on my shoulders
under dank green pine
and snow-locked birch.
 
Ice splits; a bird flies up.
Freckles the freezing air
with blue.
 
A shudder of snow
ushers its escape.
 

Gill McEvoy

Poem: Third Prize in the English Fellows’ Association Poetry prize, 2010.
 

Judge’s comment:
 
A spare but linguistically rich evocation of being transported to another world through the medium of the everyday experience of window shopping. The sense of deep cold, the play of light in a winter landscape of the Far North are brilliantly present, and we are there among the pine and birch, our breath catching at the sudden imagined flight of a glass bird.
 

Joy Howard

Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
Yellow Bird, by June Hall
Cross My Palm, by Alison Michell
You Hated Those Plums, by Nicola Warwick

Feb 13 – Round 6 – month 6; Judge: Wendy French

This month’s selection, made by our judge, Wendy French, is: winner – Angela Kirby with Trizonia; commended poets – June Hall, Kaye Lee, Liz Loxley and Gill McEvoy.
 

Trizonia

O most excellent donkey who,
not having heard of the sleep button,
woke me three times this morning
with your ancient and execrable lament,
do you bemoan the start
of your over-burdened day
and the end of your brief night’s rest
in this unpromising patch of scrub
or do you, perhaps, grieve for me
who today must leave this incomparable islet
where there are neither cars
nor motorcycles, where nothing
very much happens, apart
from the occasional birth or marriage
and the rather more frequent deaths,
where there is little to see, just Iannis
repainting the peeling mermaid
on his taverna, and his grandmother
taking a broom to the six hollow-ribbed cats
who have stolen yet another chicken-leg,
and the three old men who,
having finished their backgammon
and the last of the ouzo, now take
the sun’s path home across the harbour
in a boat as blue as that clump of scabious
you are considering?
 

Angela Kirby

published in anthology, Speaking English, Five Leaves Press, 2007
 

Judge’s comment:
 
I chose Angela’s poem as the tone and form of the poem fit beautifully with the content of the poem which is about loss and leaving. This emotional dialogue with the self is expressed through the poet addressing the primitive animal, the donkey. The poem is a snap-shot of another way of life across the harbour.
 

Wendy French

Yellow Bird, by June Hall
Hand in Hand, by Kaye Lee
The Thickness of Ice, by Liz Loxley
Glass Bird in a Shop Window, by Gill McEvoy

Jan 13 – Round 6 – month 5; Judge: Myra Schneider

Our judge for January is Myra Schneider. Her selection for winning poem is The Beginning by Helen Ivory. Her four commended poets are Justina Hart, Angela Kirby, Kaye Lee and Gill McEvoy.
 

The Beginning

When they nailed the cabinet shut,
the rabbit knew it was quite dead.
Innards and eyes were replaced
by straw and glass,
its heartbeat had become a rustling.
 
When it tried to drag itself
from the mounting,
its hide shredded like paper,
but still it climbed up on two legs,
kicked open the door with new cloven hooves.
 
The crepuscular light of the workshop
hinted at other creatures
trapped in glass boxes.
In each one, a shifting
of fur or scales, the glint of a claw.
 
The key to the door was easy to find,
and the rabbit unlocked it
with dexterous fingers.
He slipped a dark cloak around his shoulders
and trotted into the high street.
 
Across the road, a fish with wings
played the accordion
in the shelter of a shop door
and a cat with the face of a bird
was scanning a newspaper.
 
The streets were filled with people
on their way home from work,
too busy to notice the new born dead in their midst,
following the rabbit in slow procession
towards the freshly built structure of ribs and human hair.
 

Helen Ivory

published in collection, The Breakfast Machine, 2010, Bloodaxe Books, ISBN 978-18522487-3-4
 

Judge’s comment:
 
This poem is an extraordinary surreal fable about wilful destruction, an imaginative feat which I find more powerful with each reading. A rabbit which is the victim of a taxidermist refuses to die even though its hide “;shredded like paper when it tried to tear itself from its mounting”. It releases the other stuffed creatures. Out in the street they and the threat they now offer are not noticed. The graphic and very physical writing with its sinister warning is seamlessly sustained.
 

Myra Schneider

A Wire to Grief, by Justina Hart
Trizonia, by Angela Kirby
Hand in Hand, by Kaye Lee
Glass Bird in a Shop Window, by Gill McEvoy

Dec 12 – Round 6 – month 4; Judge: Ruth O’Callaghan

2013 is off to a fine start with the result of our December 2012 monthly online poetry competition. 6th round, month 4. Our judge is Ruth O’Callaghan and her selected winner is Testing Her Metal by Nicky Mesch. Helen Ivory and Angela Kirby remain in the running and are joined by Justina Hart and Eleanor Nesbitt…
 

Testing Her Metal

But he could be gentle –
the night he turned her
an inch at a time, painstakingly
slotting the panels of her skirt,
the muscled serpent on his arm
lapping salt as he tightened
the unfamiliar studs at her waist,
oiled her shiny new joints,
buffed the cones
on her breastplate
to a blush.
 
She shuddered at the glint
spilling from his calloused hands –
waist-length wiry coils,
curly copper lashes,
perfect O for a mouth –
and tried to catch her breath
but already he was easing
metal around her head
and welding it in place.
 

Nicky Mesch

Poem published in anthology, In the Telling, Cinnamon Press, ISBN 978-1-9056149-2-9.
 

Judge’s comment:
 
As usual a very hard decision to choose an outright winner but Mesch’s Testing Her Metal is an incisive metaphor for so many relationships in life – and not simply the overtly sexual frisson evoked in the opening lines. Control is key throughout – see also relationships? – and definitely within the commended poems whether it is Kirby’s extended syntax or Nesbitt’s lack of sentimentality.
 

Ruth O’Callaghan

A Wire to Grief, by Justina Hart
The Beginning, by Helen Ivory
Trizonia, by Angela Kirby
For My Tortoise, Joey, by Eleanor Nesbitt

Nov 12 – Round 6 – month 3; Judge: Joy Howad

It’s the 3rd month of the 6th round…; our judge is Joy Howard, and she has selected Welsh Winter (again, very seasonal!) by Frances Green as her winner. Mary Hodgson and Nicky Mesch are commended again this month, and joined by Helen Ivory and Angela Kirby…
 

Welsh Winter

Along the Gribbyn where the Solva meets
in fresh-limed assignation with her ocean
 
late afternoon lets fly a sudden fist
of hard blue air. Nets and traps are
 
dragged in; doors slammed, bolted
as cold cracks heavily down the lanes.
 
And up across the headland, time-worn
age-torn lichens are roused by frost
 
from knots of gorse and dressed to dazzle;
a million microscopic warnings,
 
pitched too high above the human ear,
cried out against the deep white night to come.
 

Frances Green

Judge’s comment:
 
This poem grabbed my attention immediately because it gave me the feeling of cold in an intensely physical way. After a second and third reading I stopped shivering and began to admire the inner working of the poem. Spare lines and tight structure perfectly reflect the wintry subject; the scene is illuminated briefly and brilliantly as if held in a sudden shaft of winter sunlight.
 

Joy Howard

Flints, by Mary Hodgson
The Beginning, by Helen Ivory
Trizonia, by Angela Kirby
Testing Her Metal, by Nicky Mesch

Oct 12 – Round 6 – month 2; Judge: Wendy French

Round 6, Month 2 and our judge this month is Wendy French. Her selection for Winner is Clare Crossman for her poem The Winter Crown (very seasonal!). Her four commended poets (links to their poems below) are Mary Hodgson, Gerda Mayer, Nicky Mesh and Amanda Parkyn.
 

The Winter Crown
(poem at Christmas)

From the small wood, I cut spiked sloes,
regal and hardy, against winter’s grain.
 
I threaded them through the willow ring,
wired on a paper butterfly, woven with gold silk.
 
I tied on foil stars, for girls with glittering bracelets,
silver pendants dropping from their ears.
 
Pine and sandalwood for boys
in dinner suits, dignified and tall as trees.
 
I placed it in the church porch beside the others.
Who had chosen laurel, lilies to lie on stone.
 
Ribbons of blue and green for first love,
to keep the memory of the lost, the dead.
 
Ghosts, amongst twisted strands of bryony stalk,
as dry as straw, and the red dogwood canes.
 
The light inside was gold, all the lead lights lit.
Carols rang, for miracles, (how a lemon tree flowers in December).
 
An old man died, bombs blasted lives away,
a child was found in a dark hole.
 
Those unbroken circles,
that catch and hold how we connect.
 
In the hope of angels passing over,
to reach across borders with their wings
 
where all crowns are barbed with distance.
 

Clare Crossman

Judge’s comment:
 
In the end after much deliberation I chose Clare Crossman’s poem, The Winter Crown because it took me into another world where I had to imagine many things and that for me is what a good poem achieves. It starts in familiar territory and gradually leads you further and further away from comfort zone to what living is really about – being aware of one’s neighbour and all that is going on in the world.
 

Wendy French

Flints, by Mary Hodgson
The Inheritor, by Gerda Mayer
Testing Her Metal, by Nicky Mesch
Skin, by Amanda Parkyn

Sep 12 – Round 6 – month 1; Judge: Anne Stewart

The start of our 6th round: 16 poems by 16 Second Light members. Our judge this month, Anne Stewart, has selected Thelma Laycock’s Women with a pearl earring as her winner and the four commended poets are Hilaire, Helen Jagger, Sonia Jarema and Amanda Parkyn (links below).
 

Women with a pearl earring

If, when you see a pearl, it is a lake under mist,
a drop of water, a point of brightness, a dot of fierce white light,
then you will recall Vermeer’s girl with her earring,
her blue and yellow scarf binding bright hair but not so bright
as the hair of Catharina, his wife, who owned the earring,
blonde hair with sherry-brown eyes, unusual, but not
remembered like her maid with that curious twist of her head,
and you may know Adele, may have sat with her and her
doctor husband at their smart flat, seen her shake down her dark hair,
putting on her scarlet gypsy dress to go out and afterwards you
may have sat with them on their balcony in the early hours sipping
red wine and she might have told you how years ago as her
night shift raced towards morning she was asked to fold clothes
in a darkened room, brushed back Diana’s bright hair, removed
one earring like the Seine under mist, a drop of water, a point of
brightness, a dot of fierce white light, that she had raised it to her
lips and dropped it on to a silver tray; perhaps she told you that now
in moments of quiet she still hears the little sound it made.
 

Thelma Laycock

Footnote: Adele, the French nurse who attended to the body of Princess Diana, reported having found a single pearl earring.

Poem published in collection, A Persistence of Colour, 2011, Indigo Dreams.

Judge’s comment:
 
‘Diana’ poems are not easy. This one is superb. Delicate and tender, with skilful repetition – particularly that ‘dot of fierce white light’ – it moves us seamlessly from an historic/iconic reference point to the modern day people’s princess. And that ‘little sound it made’? – not such a little sound, when it speaks volumes for the woman who touched the world.
 

Anne Stewart

Snake Valley, by Hilaire
The List Thing, by Helen Jagger
The Lioness, by Sonia Jarema
Skin, by Amanda Parkyn

Aug 12 – Round 5 – Final; Judge: Dilys Wood

August completes our 5th round of the Poem of the Month competition. Dilys Wood, founder and co-ordinator of Second Light judges the finals and she has selected Mimi Khalvati’s poem The Valley as the winner.
 
“I’ve chosen this poem for its complexity, vitality and unexpectedness. It’s a meditation arising from being given a “thin spray” of wild flowers. The poem celebrates the associative power of the imagination: in no time the poet is airborne above a (North of England?) region of valleys and mountains rich in wild flowers; there are subtle references to cloth-making and dyeing; the poem then returns to the giver, clothing her in a tangle of flowers and seedheads, as if hinting at the complexity and creative potential of each person. From this list of exciting poems, I hesitated to choose one by so well-known a poet, but could not ignore how swiftly and in how broad a loop this short poem moves.”
 
To hear Mimi Khalvati read The Valley, see link below.

The Valley

Through a thin spray of flowers from the valley
(and frailer for the shyness you gave them with),
through sprigs of blue, their minute suns, many
and angled to many corners of the earth,
I saw, not the valley or even the hill
that rose in front of me, but half-imagined
plateaux that lay beyond these disused mills:
meadows waist-high, horizons mountain-rimmed.
 
Wildflowers grow there in abundance, so many
you could reap armfuls of them, cauldrons
of colour stoked with their dyes, cornflowers, teasels
snarling your hair and on your headscarf, apron,
shirt and shawl, the whole sky would spill a pinny
studded with seeds. But thank you, thank you for these.
 

Mimi Khalvati

Poem published in collection, The Meanest Flower, 2007, Carcanet,
a PBS Recommendation and shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize.

Reproduced here and recorded with the kind permission of the publisher Carcanet.
Listen to the poem: The Valley

 

Jul 12 – Round 5 – month 11; Judge: Myra Schneider

Our final monthly selection in this round (round 5) has been made by Myra Schneider and she has selected Helen Jagger’s poem The List Thing as her winner. Helen’s poem, along with the 10 earlier monthly winners, is eligible for the Overall Winner judging by Dilys Wood.
 
Myra’ 4 Commended poets will be given ‘an extra shot’ in the coming round 6. They are: The Thickness of Ice, by Liz Loxley, Nappies on my Neighbour’s Washing Line, by Sue Moules, Double English, by Lynda O’Neill, an dScattering the Ashes in the Fingerbone River, by Margaret Wilmot.
 
The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poets’ pages, is given below.
 

The List Thing

I can’t do the list thing, work my way through
your parts as if you were a jointed model, a corpse
on the dissecting table. You’re too alive, too whole, too known.
 
I can’t relish you by touch and taste and sight and smell
in the silent ways we once devoted nights and days to,
lying in grass or sand or sheets.  Those were days and ways
 
of exploration, of obsession, of spying in unfamiliar places.
Now we’re in possession such intimacy is odd,
although that dip sliding from waist to hip still mesmerises,
 
your breath on the nape of my neck still opens
the evening to fields of whispering nerve ends, cocked
as taut as the ears of foxes on our first night walk.
 

Helen Jagger

 

Judge’s comment:
 
“ What I find outstanding about The List Thing is its handling of subject matter that’s difficult to write about: physical love and the changing experience of intimacy in a long-lasting relationship. This compact twelve-line poem begins on a low key colloquial note with a nice touch of humour and encompasses with telling detail the nature of early love which cannot be kept. The poet moves on to an ending that almost stands the poem on its head with an image of passion which is as beautiful as it is unexpected. ”
 

Myra Schneider


The Thickness of Ice, by Liz Loxley
Nappies on my Neighbour’s Washing Line, by Sue Moules
Double English, by Lynda O’Neill
Scattering the Ashes in the Fingerbone River, by Margaret Wilmot

Jun 12 – Round 5 – month 10; Judge: Joy Howard

Our June competition was judged by committee member and founder of Grey Hen Press, Joy Howard. She has chosen The Children of Lir, by Jean Atkin, as her winner. Her selection of four commended poems are The List Thing by Helen Jagger, Nappies on my Neighbour’s Washing Line, by Sue Moules, Double English by Lynda O’Neill and Submerged by Sheila Spence.
 
The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poets’ pages, is given below.
 

The Children of Lir

His hands were folded. He seemed
to be waiting. I saw him lower
his eyes to earth
 
as I landed, a brother at each wing tip.
Behind us the sea lough tolled with the bell.
When it had stopped, he spoke.
 
I remember the coarseness of his robe,
his mudstained feet. His voice was narrow
as reeds. Rain fell.
 
We heard him out.
I searched my brothers’ eyes: and then
we spread our wings. I felt the loosening
 
of flight feathers, saw them fall;
I watched smooth plumage snow
from thinning bones.
 
I folded, for the first time, shriven fingers
and with my stranger’s hand I touched – and found
skin slack on flesh and desert dry.
 
My hair curved round me
long and faint and grey.
White down fanned to ground.
 
Shameless, my favourite brother stood
and stared into the sky. I saw him lank
and naked.
 
His eyes filled. I took his hand.
 
The monk prayed. Rain fell.
 

Jean Atkin

Poem published: Poetry Ireland, Review 106 (2012).

 

Judge’s comment:
 
“ Spare but memorable imagery gives a quality of immediacy to this re-telling of an old myth. The sense of place is palpable, the dramatis personae strikingly present. The transformation of the swans into the old people they have become is bleakly haunting, echoing the ascetism of the monk who calls them in, his voice ‘narrow as reeds’. ”
 

Joy Howard


The List Thing, by Helen Jagger
Nappies on my Neighbour’s Washing Line, by Sue Moules
Double English, by Lynda O’Neill
Submerged, by Sheila Spence

May 12 – Round 5 – month 9; Judge: Katherine Gallagher

Our judge for the May competition is Katherine Gallagher. She has selected Laurna Robertson’s poem Praise Song as her winner and four commended poems: The List Thing by Helen Jagger, Double English by Lynda O’Neill, The Seamstress at Queille by Sue Rose, and Invocation to a Kingfisher by Mary Sheepshanks.
 
The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poets’ pages, is given below.
 

Praise Song

For a drowned mountain range surfacing,
scoured by salt winds, bathed in pearl light,
shawled in mist.
 
For fretted voes and geos; stranded
pillars of rock, hill lochs and peat
banks, sheep on the scattald.
 
For beaches of shell sand; for wet shingle
that is moorit and shaela. For red
granite cliffs lit by sunset.

For stretches of rust pink Thrift,
Eyebright, Wild Orchis and Lady’s Smock,
honey sweet Clover and Bird’s-foot Trefoil.
 
For puffins skimming under water; for dark caves
glowing with gannets, their etched eyes watchful;
for sea-gulls oobing before rain.
 
For cliffs falling sheer to rock pavements,
for seals splashing ashore to nurse pups
whose howls float through the air.
 
For tarred roofs, tethered cows, netted
hay-ricks, fish drying on gables. For boats
drawn to noosts above tide lines.
 
For wild reels to fiddle tunes,
the kiss of the wave, the slap of the sea,
for crescendos of wind diminishing.
 
For islands caught in a time-warp of childhood.
For islands that taught how the world would be.
 

voes and geos:  bays and gullies
scattald:  common hill grazing
moorit and shaela:  shades of native sheep
oobing:  mournful crying

 

Laurna Robertson

Poem published: Northwords Now, The New Shetlander.

 

Judge’s comment:
 
“ From a very strong field, I’ve chosen Laurna Robertson’s Praise Song, for its remarkable use of sound – lulling, sustained evocations of landscapes and life in the Shetlands – ‘For islands caught in a time-warp of childhood. / For islands that taught how the world would be’. The poet delivers an assonance-consonance-pitched beautifully-paced musical poem along with a range of images, each triplet beginning ‘For…’. Overall, a constant delight, finishing on the envoi quoted above… ”
 

Katherine Gallagher


The List Thing, by Helen Jagger
Double English, by Lynda O’Neill
The Seamstress at Queille, by Sue Rose
Invocation to a Kingfisher, by Mary Sheepshanks

Apr 12 – Round 5 – month 8; Judge: Kate Foley

Our judge for this month’s competition is Kate Foley. Her winner is Nicolette Golding, with The Seal Wife. Her selections for Commended poems are Mended Fence, by Anna Crowe, The List Thing, by Helen Jagger, Nectarine, by Carolyn King and Fiery-winged by Joan Poulson.
 
The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poets’ pages, is given below.
 

The Seal Wife

I do OK, attend the W.I., make a nice Victoria sponge, am sociable, fit in.
My husband is a good man, works to fill our house with things,
But tell me why would a good man hide my skin?
 
I am lonely, hungry for the sea, tired of human company. He knows
my longings. I do as he does, go where he goes,
wheel my Tesco trolley in these heavy clothes,
 
eat far too much these days, weight’s piling on my hips and thighs.
I nibble mackerel in the bath, pour salt in, watch it dry,
Hide receipts, sit on rocks, cry.
 
Nights I pull on headphones, when we make love I close my eyes,
trawl CDs for echoes of my mother’s song. His body never tells me lies
but I go diving under softer skies
 
and when he falls away, sleep with one eye open.
Tomorrow I rise early, beloved one,
to search this place, as I have always done.
 

Nicolette Golding

 

Judge’s comment:
 
“ Unpretentious, well-made but packing a quiet killer-punch, Golding’s poem chronicles the ennui of a ‘Tesco’ life when your wild, original seal-skin self has been stolen. However, Poulson’s passionate and grumpy Fiery Wings ran it very close, as did Crowe’s acutely observed, cleverly knitted Mended Fence, King’s tender but unsentimental Nectarine and Jagger’s sharp delineation of the effects of intimacy on passion. ”
 

Kate Foley


Mended Fence, by Anna Crowe
The List Thing, by Helen Jagger
Nectarine, by Carolyn King
Fiery-winged, by Joan Poulson

Mar 12 – Round 5 – month 7; Judge: Anne Stewart

Our judge for this month’s competition is Anne Stewart. Her winner is Mimi Khalvati, with The Valley. Her selections for Commended poems are Golden Rule by Margaret Eddershaw, Cross My Palm by Alison Michell, Fiery-winged by Joan Poulson, and Death by Pauline Prior-Pitt.
 
The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poets’ pages, is given below.
 

The Valley

Through a thin spray of flowers from the valley
(and frailer for the shyness you gave them with),
through sprigs of blue, their minute suns, many
and angled to many corners of the earth,
I saw, not the valley or even the hill
that rose in front of me, but half-imagined
plateaux that lay beyond these disused mills:
meadows waist-high, horizons mountain-rimmed.
 
Wildflowers grow there in abundance, so many
you could reap armfuls of them, cauldrons
of colour stoked with their dyes, cornflowers, teasels
snarling your hair and on your headscarf, apron,
shirt and shawl, the whole sky would spill a pinny
studded with seeds. But thank you, thank you for these.
 

Mimi Khalvati

Poem published in collection, The Meanest Flower

 

Judge’s comment:
 
“ Amongst my shortlist of five selected poems, all seemingly equally-accomplished and valuable, it was The Valley, with its plateaux, its waist-high meadows and its ‘ whole sky’ spilling a pinny, that was the most insistent to be chosen. This is a hypnotic poem – that is, there’s no escaping the tenderness and beauty both in its content and its lyricism. ”
 

Anne Stewart


Golden Rule, by Margaret Eddershaw
Cross My Palm, by Alison Michell
Fiery-winged, by Joan Poulson
Death, by Pauline Prior-Pitt

Feb 12 – Round 5 – month 6; Judge: Joy Howard

Our judge for this month’s competition is Joy Howard of Grey Hen Press. Her winner is Marion Tracy, with Blog of the Ninth Lady    Stanton Moor. Her selections for Commended poems are Yellow Bird by June Hall, Flints by Mary Hodgson, Five Changes by Simone Mansell Broome, and Ice Garden by Elizabeth Rapp.
 
The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poets’ pages, is given below.
 

Blog of the Ninth Lady    Stanton Moor

Things I like about being a stone:
 
I get to spend a lot of time with my circle of friends.
I can keep an eye on Martin the fiddler
and my best friend, Jane Wainwright, see
they don’t get up to their old tricks.
Us all sleeping with each other.
This yellow lichen on me because it’s the colour
of the petticoat I was wearing
the night I was punished for dancing around being happy.
 

Things I can’t stand:
 
Being awake at 3am without a drink in my hand.
People I don’t like the look of who kiss me
and think that it means something.
Being pissed up against.
How tight it is in here.
When I wake up from a dream about my mother
and everything still looks the same.
The time a young man came up behind me
and touched my back
just gently
and me not being able to turn around and say;
Do that again, please do that to me again.
 

Marion Tracy

Poem published: Obsessed With Pipework Number 50, 2010.

 

Judge’s comment:
 
“ This was a poem I kept coming back to – it seemed to give up more of itself with each re-reading. Big themes of companionship, loss and powerlessness are all handled with the lightest of touches but with a surety that is very moving. The contrast between the modernity of format and voice and the antiquity of legend gives the past immediacy and life. ”
 

Joy Howard


Yellow Bird, by June Hall
Flints, by Mary Hodgson
Five Changes, by Simone Mansell Broome
Ice Garden, by Elizabeth Rapp

Jan 12 – Round 5 – month 5; Judge: Katherine Gallagher

This month’ judge is Katherine Gallagher. She has selected Angela Topping’s poem, How to Capture a Poem, as her winner. Her selections for Commended poems are Family Day, June 1967 by June English, Flints by Mary Hodgson, blue moon     a late night observation by Sue Johnson, and Pins by Helena Hinn.
 
The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poets’ pages, is given below.
 

How to Capture a Poem

Look for one at midnight
on the dark side of a backlit angel
or in the space between a sigh
and a word. Winter trees, those
elegant ladies dressed in diamonds
and white fur, may hide another.
 
Look for the rhythm in the feet
of a waltzing couple one, two, three-ing
in an empty hall, or in the sound
of any heartbeat, the breath of a sleeper,
the bossy rattle of keyboards in offices,
the skittering of paper blown along.
 
You could find a whole line
incised into stone or scrawled on sky.
Words float on air in buses, are bandied
on street corners, overheard in pubs,
caught in the pages of books, sealed
behind tight lips, marshalled as weapons.
 
Supposing you can catch a poem,
it won’t tell you all it knows. Its voice
is a whisper through a wall, a streak of silk
going by, the scratch of a ghost, the creaks
of a house at night, the sound of the earth
vibrating in spring, with all its secret life.
 
You have to listen: the poem chooses itself,
takes shape and begins to declare what it is.
Honour the given, else it will become petulant.
 
When you have done your best,
you have to let it go. Season it with salt
from your body, grease it with oil from your skin.
 
Release it. It has nothing more to do
with you. You’re no more its owner
than you hold the wind. Never expect gratitude.
 

Angela Topping

Poem published: Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh, ed Rupert Loydell, Salt

 

Judge’s comment:
 
“ Angela Topping’s How to Capture a Poem is an imaginative, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, sprightly exploration of that old ‘chestnut’: the process of creating a poem, of stalking it – insight, headaches and mysteries notwithstanding. ‘Look for one at midnight /on the dark side of a backlit angel / or in the space between a sigh / and a word…’ Poems are everywhere, but the trick is to catch one, and even then, ‘it won’t tell you all it knows’. This is a magical poem, carrying wisdom every poet comes to know, needs to know. ”
 

Katherine Gallagher


Family Day, June 1967, by June English
Flints, by Mary Hodgson
blue moon     a late night observation, by Sue Johnson
Pins, by Helena Hinn

Dec 11 – Round 5 – month 4; Judge: Ruth O’Callaghan

The poems this month were judged by Ruth O’Callaghan, who has selected Anne Ryland’s For a Daughter as her winner. Two of her four commendations are: Caroline Gill’s Elegy for Idris Davies and Mary Hodgson’s Flints. The remaining commendations were Ann Alexander’s Lost men, found poem and Moya Pacey’s The Wardrobe. Both Ann and Moya have updated their pages between the judging and the site update, but I am sure you will admire their new poems as much as Ruth admired the old…
 
The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poets’ pages, is given below.
 

For a Daughter

My name would not be your middle name.
 
You wouldn’t inherit my listomania, I promise:
I’d renounce list-making in honour of your birth.
 
The term Muscular Dystrophy would not be sewn within you.
 
I would not pass on my stony ova
or the euphemisms stuffed up the sleeve like handkerchiefs.
 
Thank You wouldn’t be your mantra; it trapped me at the amber light.
 
You wouldn’t stare at every dog and see only its bite.
 
You would never know that ‘worry’ derives from ‘wyrgan’, to strangle:
I’d lock the door to my mother’s worrymongery
 
but I would be your guide in the storehouse of the thesaurus,
assure you there’s no such curse as being too clever.
 
I’d even show you how to blow a trumpet in a long and steady tone.
 
My desk and my blue propelling pencil would be yours.
 
I’d hand you your great-grandmother’s last letter to her daughter
from the hospital – ‘bye bye, dear’
 
All my words would be yours, so you’d observe me on the page,
learn all that I am and was and should have been.
 
And, my daughter, each night I’d hum you a lullaby.
You would remember me as a song, not an apology.
 

Anne Ryland

Poem published: Mslexia, No. 34. Runner-up, Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition, 2007.

 

Judge’s comment:
 
“ Many of the poems had an untold/implied back story or stories, which intrigues the reader. However, Anne’s poem from the outset – the use of the indefinite article within the title – demonstrates her ability to tread that extremely fine line between the intimacy of revelation – conveying her own, presumably, upbringing – whilst maintaining a certain reserve which prevents the poem from becoming either sentimental or egocentric yet retains a passion which eliminates distance. ”
 

Ruth O’Callaghan


Elegy for Idris Davies, by Caroline Gill
Flints, by Mary Hodgson
Ann Alexander page
Moya Pacey page

Nov 11 – Round 5 – month 3; Judge: Wendy French

Our judge this month is Wendy French. She has selected Caroline Carver’s Sedna the Sea Goddess as the winning poem. Her four commendations are Elegy for Idris Davies, by Caroline Gill; Old Knives, by Maria Jastrzębska; blue Moon, a late night observation, by Sue Johnson; and The Wardrobe, by Moya Pacey.
 
The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poems, is given below.
 

Sedna the Sea Goddess

The bird turned into a man
so beautiful
snow lay on his shoulders
like ermine

was he petrel or fulmar?
he didn’t say
 
At first he came
only in dreams
one summer night
lay with her
 
at dawn she left her house
to marry him
 
Who could explain
her father’s rage?
His storms reached
across oceans
 
she knew full joy
only six days     before
 
he killed her husband
threw her in his umiak –
pushed her overboard
when winds frightened him
 
she wouldn’t give in
gripped the boat so hard
he had to chop her fingers off
one by one
did not know
as she sank into her new Kingdom
 
they would transform
become    whales   narwhals   seals   walruses…
 
Among those she loves best
Singing Midshipmen
fish which  like humpback whales
sing to the seabirds
 
make sailors who hear them
believe in mermaids
 

Caroline Carver

Poem published in Acumen.

 

Judge’s comment:
 
“ This poem took me elsewhere and that’s what I want a poem to do. I don’t necessarily mean elsewhere in terms of country but thought. It made me uncomfortable but I thought the skilful way Caroline worked through images from the concrete to surreal was masterfully done. ”
 

Wendy French


Elegy for Idris Davies, by Caroline Gill
blue moon, a late night observation, by Sue Johnson
Old Knives, by Maria Jastrzębska
The Wardrobe, by Moya Pacey

Oct 11 – Round 5 – month 2; Judge: Anne Stewart

Our judge this month is Anne Stewart and she has chosen Maxine Linnell’s Mirror, mirror as the winning poem. Her four commendations are OXFORD UNITED: Luminox, March 2007, by Elizabeth Birchall; Sedna the Sea Goddess, by Caroline Carver; Screen Test, by Philippa Lawrence; and You hated those plums, by Nicola Warwick.
 
The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poems, is given below.
 

Mirror, mirror

One Sunday she woke up late
got out of bed
glanced in the mirror
 
instead of the usual faint
sense of disappointment
she saw
 
nothing.
 
She touched her face
to see if it was still there
mouth nose hair eyes

looked from odd angles
to catch the mirror
unaware
 
but nothing
gazed back.

Who was she
without seeing each morning
who she’d been
and who she’d be
and who she wasn’t?
 
She pressed her face
close to where her reflection
would have been

then she smiled
dragged her lower eyelids down
stuck out her tongue
thumbed her nose
skipped down the stairs
danced into the garden
 
stark naked for joy.
 
“There she goes”
said Susan next door.
“Would you look at her out there?
Can’t she see herself?”
 

Maxine Linnell

Poem published in Nottingham Poetry.

 

Judge’s comment:
 
“ This poem pricked both my sense of humour and my intellect right from the start. From not-quite-ordinary, through immediate twist, and on, with hardly time to draw breath, to intrigue. From the first ‘Ha! Yes…’, my mind raced with questions and appreciation. It’s well-directed, well-controlled, and ends wittily but with a very serious question still to chew on. Just right… ”
 

Anne Stewart


OXFORD UNITED: Luminox, March 2007, by Elizabeth Birchall
Sedna the Sea Goddess, by Caroline Carver
Screen Test, by Philippa Lawrence
You hated those plums, by Nicola Warwick

Sep 11 – Round 5 – month 1; Judge: Hylda Sims

September sees the start of Round 5 (10 to 12 months a round!) and our first judge is Hylda Sims. She has chosen Victoria Field’s The Lost Boys as her winner. Her four commendations are Mammogram, by Anna Avebury; Sedna the Sea Goddess, by Caroline Carver; Screen Test, by Philippa Lawrence; and Mirror Mirror, by Maxine Linnell.
 
The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poems, is given below.
 

The Lost Boys

The theatre’s full of the hard to hear chatter
of lost boys describing
toys no one will buy them for Christmas
 
Some boys get lost when they are so little
no one’s yet pinned a name on them –
they disappear in the hot flame
 
of a hospital furnace
along with bandages, diseased kidneys
love-filled blood from their mother
 
Some have names but never know them
warm, well-fed and teddied
they drift away to wherever it is they want to go –
 
forget to wake up. Childhood’s a big country –
boys want to map it as soon as they can –
toddling towards the sheen of a deep pool
 
pointing a cocked gun at their brother in fun
Some boys lose themselves from the inside out –
once strong bones eaten by ice
 
Boys who think they know where they’re going
on the throb of a motorbike can, in an instant
turn into flowers at the road side –
 
cauls of cellophane holding the rain.
Mothers dream of fleeing cruel kings, boys held firm
in their arms – while, on stage
 
the boys lose themselves in flight, up and away
wild as the wind in bare trees and the heavy curtain
falls over and over again.
 

 

Victoria Field

Poem published in Poetry Ireland Review No. 90, July 2007

 

Judge’s comment:
 
“I chose this poem for its light touch with a shocking and heart-breaking subject.
 
I loved the way it was set within the opening and closing of a theatrical event – Peter Pan of course.
 
I particularly admired its closing lines: ‘up and away… and the heavy curtain falls again and again’.
 
This poem portrays the fragility, fatal adventurousness and vulnerability of young males with great delicacy, turns them into legend, makes the unbearable beautiful.”
 

Hylda Sims


Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
Sedna the Sea Goddess, by Caroline Carver
Screen Test, by Philippa Lawrence
Mirror Mirror, by Maxine Linnell

Aug 11 – Round 4 – Final; Judge: Dilys Wood

At the end of Round 4, the overall winner, chosen by Dilys Wood, is Fiona Ritchie Walker for her poem Leaving:
 
“Choosing was like being stretched on the rack – inevitable with the second sift of work already picked out. The poems were all strongly felt and thought-provoking. I chose Fiona Ritchie Walker’s Leaving. Written in couplets, this poem is economical, forceful, restrained but deeply moving, a well-turned narrative. It’s about an exodus from war, or from a genocide … So much is left unsaid and just two images, “A thundering like rain / but nothing wet”, “I hear scorched stones crack” characterise the background of extreme violence. In the foreground a man breaks his ankle, twisting “like a weeping fig”. You feel the accident is ironic, exactly what would happen. The group – mother, child, grandmother, the man, Mr de Souza – with their few possessions (salt, a silver spoon, bee-hives) stand for humanity in trouble. A fine achievement to pack so much into twenty lines. ”

To hear Fiona Ritchie Walker read Leaving, see link below.

Leaving

A thundering like rain
but nothing wet.
 
Cattle kissed, untied.
We slap them towards freedom.
 
I carry a pot of salt,
our silver spoon.
 
The baby bounces in my mother’s shawl,
rags over his eyes.
 
Mr de Souza bound six hives to his oxcart before dawn.
Now bees dance round our faces.
 
Crossing the river, he stumbles.
His ankle twists like a weeping fig.
 
I bite the hem of my petticoat,
use a strip to stem his bleeding.
 
The pot floats downstream,
salt dissolves.
 
The baby chews on the spoon,
throws it to the ground.
 
Mr de Souza is heavy against my shoulder.
Between his cries, I hear scorched stones crack.
 

 

Fiona Ritchie Walker

Poem published in Ten Years On a New Writing anthology celebrating 10 years of the Norther Writers’ Awards

Listen to the poem: Leaving

Jul 11 – Round 4 – month 9; Judge: Myra Schneider

The Judge for the July competition is Myra Schneider. She has selected Philippa Lawrence’s poem, Screen Test as her winner. The four commended poems going forward into the July competition are: Burns, by Judith Allnatt; Wreck, by Rosalind Johnston; The Inheritor, by Gerda Mayer; and Praise Song, Laurna Robertson

The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poems, is given below.
 

Screen Test

I strip to the waist
in the breast scanning caravan’s cubicle:
an aging Page Three Girl shape,
my bosom milky pink,
blue veined and crêpey
with soft, pale nipples.

The kind, brisk radiologist instructs me
to contort myself in Picasso posture,
elbows raised asymmetrically.
I rest the right half of my 38DD
on the glass X-ray table under spotlights,
try to scoop my left boob out of shot,
hand overflowing.

The angle-poised plate firmly squishes
my right breast down
like a ripe peach –
a Damien Hirst sort of sandwich
which might vie for the Turner Prize.

A leaflet stresses the importance
of buying a bra which fits you.
Chance would be a fine thing!
No such model exists for me
even at Rigby and Peller of Knightsbridge,
the Queen’s corsetières.

My back aches and bends
after decades of bad engineering.
As a teenager and young woman
I was perplexed at men smirking appreciatively
when I said I lived in Bristol.

If only Isambard Kingdom Brunel
could have applied his genius
to designing a suspension bridge
for my bristols,
as Howard Hughes did for Jane Russell,
though she outlawed it.
 

Philippa Lawrence

 

Poem published:
Winner of the Wiltshire Libraries’ Humorous Poem Competition 2001;
in anthology, Images of Women, Arrowhead Press in Association with Second Light 2006: 1SBN 1-904852-14-93;
read on Salisbury’s Spire FM Radio during interview.

Judge’s comment:
 
This is an outstanding humorous poem. I am struck by the way that Philippa Lawrence has written with sharply accurate, inventive and really funny details about a procedure which is in fact unpleasant. She is completely open about the size of her breasts, plays wittily on the word ‘bristol’ making it the base for a marvellous sustained image which she cleverly links to the world of film at the end of the poem. The lively range of reference is skilfully controlled and there is a warmth and immediacy which draws the reader in.
 

Myra Schneider


Burns, by Judith Allnatt
Wreck, by Rosalind Johnston
The Inheritor, by Gerda Mayer
Praise Song, by Laurna Robertson

Jun 11 – Round 4 – month 8; Judge: Anne Stewart

The Judge for the June competition is Anne Stewart. She has selected Merryn Williams’s poem, My Cousin as her winner. The four commended poems going forward into the July competition are: Burns, by Judith Allnatt; Yellow Bird, by June Hall; Praise Song, Laurna Robertson; and Slow Light, by Jill Townsend.

The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poems, is given below.
 

My Cousin
Edith Hemp d. Bournemouth 1930

She came here–not to rest–to sweep the stairs
and empty chamber pots. The gilded chairs
still stand here, the enormous mirrors throw
my face back as they did hers, aeons ago.
Down these plush corridors she moved, her feet
not echoing–dusting, leaving all things neat.
Somewhere her midget room, a great way up
these stairs. Invisible beneath her cap
to Bournemouth’s guests, but I know who she was;
my flesh, my blood, thrown early from the nest.
A small skimped woman when she was alive,
all siblings lost, unmatched at forty-five.
No trace, not one. Still stands the Grand Hotel
but now she rests. Somewhere in Bournemouth still.
 

Merryn Williams

 

Judge’s comment:
 
I love the way this poem brings the cousin back to life, yet keeps her at a distance, as though she is truly here, not simply a ghost or a memory, yet in another dimension and unreachable. I think the poem accomplishes this by the way she moves delicately through the space. I find it tender and loving – very moving.
 

Anne Stewart


Burns, by Judith Allnatt
Yellow Bird, by June Hall
Praise Song, by Laurna Robertson
Slow Light, by Jill Townsend

May 11 – Round 4 – month 7; Judge: Kate Foley

Our judge this month is Kate Foley. Her winning poem is Day Starting on an Upper Floor by Claudia Jessop. The four commended poems going forward into the June competition are: Nappies on my Neighbour’s Washing Line, by Sue Moules; My Cousin, by Merryn Williams; Burns, by Judith Allnatt; and Mended Fence, Barra, by Anna Crowe.

The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poems, is given below.
 

Day Starting on an Upper Floor

Early morning
I raise the blind, and see
the stacked city
re-invented by sunlight.

Other people’s windows turn
to changing screens
of marbled inks
where glass records the change of days,

a face, suddenly framed
or a glimpse
of someone, folding
white clothing, carrying
a child from room to room,
buttoning a shirt while walking
over the floor.

I am so high up here,
attending to the detail
I think I am alone with it,
but a woman
watering a plant
raises her face; we share her pouring stance, arrested
over her green leaves,

we see each other
before the day.
 

Claudia Jessop

Poem published in collection from Cinammon Press, 2009

Judge’s comment:
 
What a strange kind of dailiness, to wake and see the ‘stacked city / re-invented by sunlight.’ Reality is refracted from the ‘changing screens’ of other people’s windows. The quotidian – folding clothes, carrying a child – is invested with distance. Yet the nub of this quiet poem, with its dream-like cityscape, is finally about connection – ‘we see each other / before the day.’
 

Kate Foley


Burns, by Judith Allnatt
Mended Fence, Barra, by Anna Crowe
Nappies on my Neighbour’s Washing Line, by Sue Moules
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams

Apr 11 – Round 4 – month 6; Judge: Katherine Gallagher

Katherine Gallagher judged the competition in April, choosing, from her selection of 18 poems, Anne Ryland as our winner with her ‘evocative’ poem, For a Daughter. As always, four poems are commended and go forward to the judge in the following month. These are: Mended Fence, Barra by Anna Crowe, From Brechin to Auchenblae, 1897 by Pippa Little, Green by Eve Pearce, and My Cousin by Merryn Williams. The judge’s comment on the winning poem, along with links to the four commended poems, is given below.
 

For a Daughter

My name would not be your middle name.
 
You wouldn’t inherit my listomania, I promise:
I’d renounce list-making in honour of your birth.
 
The term Muscular Dystrophy would not be sewn within you.
 
I would not pass on my stony ova
or the euphemisms stuffed up the sleeve like handkerchiefs.
 
Thank You wouldn’t be your mantra; it trapped me at the amber light.
 
You wouldn’t stare at every dog and see only its bite.
 
You would never know that ‘worry’ derives from ‘wyrgan’, to strangle:
I’d lock the door to my mother’s worrymongery
 
but I would be your guide in the storehouse of the thesaurus,
assure you there’s no such curse as being too clever.
 
I’d even show you how to blow a trumpet in a long and steady tone.
 
My desk and my blue propelling pencil would be yours.
 
I’d hand you your great-grandmother’s last letter to her daughter
from the hospital – ‘bye bye, dear’
 
All my words would be yours, so you’d observe me on the page,
learn all that I am and was and should have been.
 
And, my daughter, each night I’d hum you a lullaby.
You would remember me as a song, not an apology.
 

Anne Ryland

Poem published: Mslexia, No. 34. Runner-up, Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition, 2007.

Judge’s comment:
 
I’ve chosen this poem for its poignant mystery, sustained meditative tone, and original approach to the subject of parenthood and childlessness. The first ten lines list attributes that would not be handed down to her daughter: ‘I would not pass on my stony ova / or the euphemisms stuffed up the sleeve like handkerchiefs.’ The remainder focusses on the gifts that would be forthcoming, ending with great irony: ‘You would remember me as a song, not an apology.’
 

Katherine Gallagher


Mended Fence, Barra, by Anna Crowe
From Brechin to Auchenblae, 1897, by Pippa Little
Green, by Eve Pearce
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams

Mar 11 – Round 4 – month 5; Judge: Wendy French

Our judge for the March selection of 18 poems is Wendy French. She has chosen Helen Ivory’s poem, The Beginning as her winner. Maggie Butt and Merryn Williams stay in again with their poems, Lipstick (Maggie) and My Cousin (Merryn) and are joined by two of the new entries: Denise McSheehy’s Salt and Eve Pearce’s Green. Links to the 4 commended poems are given below.
 

The Beginning

When they nailed the cabinet shut,
the rabbit knew it was quite dead.
Innards and eyes were replaced
by straw and glass,
its heartbeat had become a rustling.
 
When it tried to drag itself
from the mounting,
its hide shredded like paper,
but still it climbed up on two legs,
kicked open the door with new cloven hooves.
 
The crepuscular light of the workshop
hinted at other creatures
trapped in glass boxes.
In each one, a shifting
of fur or scales, the glint of a claw.
 
The key to the door was easy to find,
and the rabbit unlocked it
with dexterous fingers.
He slipped a dark cloak around his shoulders
and trotted into the high street.
 
Across the road, a fish with wings
played the accordion
in the shelter of a shop door
and a cat with the face of a bird
was scanning a newspaper.
 
The streets were filled with people
on their way home from work,
too busy to notice the new born dead in their midst,
following the rabbit in slow procession
towards the freshly built structure of ribs and human hair.

Helen Ivory

published in collection, The Breakfast Machine, 2010, Bloodaxe Books, ISBN 978-18522487-3-4

Judge’s comment:
 
I chose this poem because it took me somewhere I haven’t been before. The content, language and expectations from the first line are exciting. I, as the reader and who while reading it, owned the poem, was taken to new places. I worried as to where I was going but needed to be there, to be in sympathy with the world created.
 

Wendy French


Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
Salt, by Denise McSheehy
Green, by Eve Pearce
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams

Feb 11 – Round 4 – month 4; Judge: Hylda Sims

Our judge for February is Hylda Sims and she has chosen Jo Bell’s poem, Last as her winner. Maggie Butt stays in with her poem, Lipstick, in the commended list and three new poets also have commended poems carrying forward to the March competition. They are Gerda Mayer with The Inheritor, Helen Jagger with The List Thing and Merryn Williams with My Cousin. Links to the 4 commended poems are given below.
 

Last

The object you would choose to be remembered by –
the artefact that signifies your life –
will not survive. It’s going to be the busted zip,
the plastic shoelace tip;
the unsuspected screw that holds your Filofax together.
 
Likewise of all the days, the day that I remember
isn’t one I chose.
It wouldn’t make a photo for the mantelpiece.
There is no New York marathon,
no beaded satin dress or crumpled newborn child.
 
One young morning in the flat at Portland Grove
while you made coffee, I lay matted in your quilt.
The radio was on, and half-asleep in student filth
I heard The Lark Ascending for the first time.
I filled up like a fountain pen, inhaling through the nib;
the barrel slowly swelling under pressure.
 
I smelt you on the covers, squinted out at dust specks
dawdling in sunshine wedges past the Anglepoise.
And when they come to prise my fingers from the days,
it will be that one I let go of last.
 

Jo Bell

Poem published: Navigation, Cheshire CC, 2008, 978-1-905702-36-7

Judge’s comment:
 
An original look at life and death. I love the double-edged title, the way the poem recalls a moment of pure delight but with unsentimental, unclicheed precise descriptions. And then that wonderful, chilling, image ‘when they come to prise my fingers from the days’… This poem convinces me that when the time comes it will be like that. (a bit like ‘Bugger Bognor’ as one of our Royals was heard to mutter as he expired!)
 

Hylda Sims


Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
The List Thing, by Helen Jagger
The Inheritor, by Gerda Mayer
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams

Jan 11 – Round 4 – month 3; Judge: Joy Howard

Joy Howard is our competition judge for January. She has selected Fiona Ritchie Walker’s poem, Leaving as her winner. The four commended poems she has selected are: After the Creation by Alice Beer, Last by Jo Bell, Lipstick by Maggie Butt, and Moontrade by Rose Flint. Links to the 4 commended poems are given below.
 

Leaving

A thundering like rain
but nothing wet.

Cattle kissed, untied.
We slap them towards freedom.

I carry a pot of salt,
our silver spoon.

The baby bounces in my mother’s shawl,
rags over his eyes.

Mr de Souza bound six hives to his oxcart before dawn.
Now bees dance round our faces.

Crossing the river, he stumbles.
His ankle twists like a weeping fig.

I bite the hem of my petticoat,
use a strip to stem his bleeding.

The pot floats downstream,
salt dissolves.

The baby chews on the spoon,
throws it to the ground.

Mr de Souza is heavy against my shoulder.
Between his cries, I hear scorched stones crack.
 

Fiona Ritchie Walker

Poem published in Ten Years On a New Writing anthology celebrating 10 years of the Norther Writers’ Awards

Judge’s comment:
 
Out of the 18 poems under consideration this was the one that stayed in my mind, and I kept on wanting to go back to it. What’s it about? Who are these people? I’m not sure, but the language is wonderfully precise and the story-telling powerful. It’s written as a series of two-line sentences that resonate like footsteps – perhaps there’s a war on and these are refugees. By the end, they seem to have lost everything but each other. Haunting and memorable.
 

Joy Howard


After the Creation, by Alice Beer
Last, by Jo Bell
Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
Moontrade, by Rose Flint

Dec 10 – Round 4 – month 2; Judge: Ruth O’Callaghan

Our judge this month is Ruth O’Callaghan. She has chosen Lyn Moir’s poem, Dream Cigarette as her winner. The four commended poems she has selected are: Things I Have Found in Books by Miki Byrne, Risk Assessment by Pauline Kirk, Hand in Hand by Kaye Lee, and Salmon Nude in Olive Trenchcoat (N.F.S.) by Margaret Wilmot. Links to the 4 commended poems are given below.
 

Dream Cigarette


Not the ritual post-coital, languorously passed from hand to hand,
smoke sucked further down than orgasm’s launch-pad: that’s not the one
comes back in dreams. No, I’m doing something ordinary, some daily task
so boring I’ve no idea what it is, and you’re there with me: it’s as I said,
a dream. We do this thing, we talk, we pass the time companionably
or not, depending if we argue, but the closeness never goes. That’s when
I realise I’m smoking, cigarette in hand as normal as the punctuation mark
it often was, marking conversation stresses with a jab. Still in the dream
I know that this is wrong, recall, in parallel with whatever task we’re doing,
that evening forty years ago when as usual I offered you my Senior Service
and you, who always carried Player’s Navy Cut, said "No, let’s give up now."
Asleep, I feel a twist of longing. Awake, I’m made aware it must have been
a real addiction. But then of course, in dreams I only ever smoke with you.
 

Lyn Moir

Poem published: commended in the Second Light Competition 2006 and published in Skeins of Geese – The 100 Poets Anthology (2008) (a StAnza publication).

Judge’s comment:
 
All the commended poets were strong contenders and especial mention must be made of Kaye Lee’s simply written and extremely moving Hand in Hand. However, Lyn Moir’s Dream Cigarette with its long lines makes the form admirably suited to the subject matter. The imagery reflects the everyday in a refreshing way ‘… as normal / as the punctuation mark / it often was.’ whilst the ambiguous ending ‘… But then, of course, in dreams I / only ever smoke with you.’ compels the reader to re-visit the poem.
 

Ruth O’Callaghan


Things I Have Found in Books, by Miki Byrne
Risk Assessment, by Pauline Kirk
Hand in Hand, by Kaye Lee
Salmon Nude in Olive Trenchcoat (N.F.S.), by Margaret Wilmot

Nov 10 – Round 4 – month 1; Judge: Anne Stewart

we start round 4 of the Poem of the Month competition with an increase in the number of poems entered (from 15 each month to 18) and Anne Stewart is our first selector. She has chosen as her winner, Caroline Gill’s poem, Elegy for Idris Davies (see poem and Anne’s comment below). The four commended poems are: Five Changes by Simone Mansell Broome, Things I Have Found in Books by Miki Byrne, Dream Cigarette by Lyn Moir, and Kingfisher by Judith Taylor. Links to the 4 commended poems are also given below.
 

Elegy for Idris Davies

Who hears the bells of Rhymney as they toll?
There are no drams to draw along the tracks:
the empty tarmac waits for laden trucks,
but hollows in the hillside tell their tale.
 
The winch and winder man have long since gone:
deserted pits are crudely steeped in slag.
Would Shelley’s spirit ring out once again
if flames of silver leaped to greet the lark?
 
A sloping cemetery will testify
to times when angry voices could be heard.
An echo rises from the Rhymney bard:
it rocks and rolls a piercing lullaby.
 
The grass is brown: brass bands have lost their sheen,
but April’s music trickles down the rill.
A shaft of sun makes rainbow-puddles shine
in terraced streets, to light the poet’s trail.
 
Allotments snake along the mountain road,
with weathered water butts of blue and green.
A raven waits while seeds of hope are sown,
but wigwam-canes stand vacant and betrayed.
 
A poet plants his footsteps in the mire,
through furnaces and forges razed to soil.
Bare strips of sky and horizontal moor
arouse defiant voices in his soul.
 
Stonemasons shed their monumental tears
in mounds below the monkey puzzle’s arm.
A sombre moon cast shadows on the dawn:
a valley dreams beneath the midnight stars.
 

Note: A dram is a cart for carrying coal

Caroline Gill

Poem published: THE SEVENTH QUARRY (ed. Peter Thabit Jones), no.3, Winter 2006. Also on the Poetry Library Southbank Centre Website.

Judge’s comment:
 
This poem stood out for me from the start. It’s very accomplished technically, no bumps or jags in the pattern or rhyme, and poetically, the pace and language, the turns of subject, are very supportive of the loss and grief expressed, verging on but not descending into pathos. I like it that the three poets are brought in as witnesses, and are not allowed to turn this into ‘a poem about writing’… This seems to me an important poem, successful on many levels, including doing justice to the poet whose ‘Rhymney’ take was so influential on other writers and songwriters.
 

Anne Stewart


Five Changes, by Simone Mansell Broome
Things I Have Found in Books, by Miki Byrne
Dream Cigarette, by Lyn Moir
Kingfisher, by Judith Taylor

Oct 10 – Round 3 – Final; Judge: Dilys Wood

Dilys Wood, founder and coordinator of Second Light Network, has selected Nadine Brummer’s poem The Frog’s Princess as the overall winner from round 3’s winning monthly poems. Her comment on the poem is:
 
“It was hard to make a choice from the eleven eligible poems, all of which were built round striking, original ideas and were very well executed. The Frog’s Princess stood out for its multiple strong qualities. Using this particular fairytale as a framework for insights into a woman’s attitudes, and writing in the voice of the princess, has been done by other women poets, but Brummer drew fresh inspiration from the encounter between woman and frog.
 
I commend the poem for its easy, conversational flow of language (very difficult to achieve) and for the subtle line-breaks. The language had immediacy, with touches of controlled exaggeration and humour: “spasm of green” describing the frog’s surprising quick movement … The most outstanding quality was the breadth of ideas drawn into the familiar story framework, so that the poem continuously moved on a step, and quickly distanced itself from the expected. As in all good poems, a number of ideas are sketched and can take different readers on different journeys. For me the poem was essentially about the reaction of a sympathetic human being to the ‘other world’ of the animal kingdom – fascinated, slightly appalled, but protective, not aggressive.
 
The link is made between animals’ (not just the frog’s) intriguing faces and the look of a very young child, “some new-born child / you swear has been here before”. As in all good ‘voice’ poems, the the princess learns about herself as she talks to us. Her conclusion – that the best part of the experience came before frog turned back into prince – leaves us with a beautifully modulated challenging ending to the poem.”

Nadine has recorded the poem for the Second Light Audio Archive. (see link below)

The Frog’s Princess

That night, finding him in my bed,
within kissing distance,
I wanted to take the stare
off his face – those eyes
all bulge and goggle.
Then I saw their depth, a look
that could take me anywhere
backwards in time. I recalled
an aquarium under the sea where
I’d pressed my face to the glass
of a wolf-eel’s tank, mesmerised
by a little reptilian head
with eyeballs lifting off
like spaceships that settled
into an expression beyond
a seal-pup’s dopey smile
or the pout of fish –
like that of some new-born child
you swear has been here before.
The frog was like him,
but when he gulped and a mouth
smelling of weed or bull-kelp
came close to my lips
I flinched and held out my hand
to stop his jump and touched
a spasm of green, a creature trying
to slither out of himself.
I’ve been so often trapped
In flesh that didn’t feel mine
I wondered what he could see
when he gazed into a pond;
he took my sigh as a signal
to kiss. I loved him best
the moment before he changed,
a small, crouched, alien thing
in need of a body.

 

Nadine Brummer

Poem published: Poem published: Poetry London, May 2003

Listen to Nadine reading The Frog’s Princess

Sep 10 – Round 3 – month 12; Judge: Hylda Sims

This is the last month in this round, aside from adjudication of the overall winner. Congratulations to Gerda Mayer, for her winning poem The Inheritor. Our commended poets are Maggie Butt, Miki Byrne, Lotte Kramer and Alison Michell, whose poems will go into the first batch in round 3 for another opportunity of selection. The winning and commended poems were selected by Hylda Sims

The Inheritor

I the sophisticated primate
Have stunted fingers on my feet,
And almost I control my climate,
And Everything is what I eat.

I wrote the story of Creation
When I discovered nudity;
‘The world is yours for exploitation.’
I gave this charter unto me.

I traded in for my survival
My peaceful heart, my flealined coat;
Did down my vegetarian rival.
I have Creation by the throat.

 

          the third line refers to ‘cloud seeding’ of which there was some talk in the seventies

Gerda Mayer

Poem published:
(under its previous title The Survivor), Encounter magazine, 1978; The Knockabout Show, Chatto; Poets for the Young, Chatto & Windus; Bernini’s Cat.

Judge’s comment:
 
I’ve chosen this poem, firstly for its intriguing, original, succinct, Darwinesque subject matter – the ascent (or descent?) of personkind – an important subject treated with sad, satirical humour. It reminds us who we are and where we are. It is a warning about the arrogance of our species and hints at our probable downfall but expresses this unwelcome news with wonderful brevity and the lightest touch. The poem rhymes nicely and is written in slightly Europeanised English which gives it a disarming oddity fitting to its form and strange but telling imagery. This poem sticks in the mind. It is a poem which, unlike much contemporary verse, can be learned by heart and quoted. It should be!
 

Hylda Sims


Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
Things I Have Found in Books, by Miki Byrne
Bilingual, by Lotte Kramer
Cross My Palm, by Alison Michell

Aug 10 – Round 3 – month 11; Judge: Joy Howard

Our winner this month is Rose Cook, for her poem Casting Off, and our commended poets are Rose Flint, Lotte Kramer, Alison Michell & Angela Topping. Congratulations to all – and there’s only one more judging (Sep) before Dilys Wood selects the overall winner for this round in October. The commended poems will be submitted again to next month’s judge, along with the final 11 other poems in the round. Our judge this month is Joy Howard and her comment on the winning poem is given below.

Casting Off

She should have let him go ages before
he asked her, several times, I heard him,
but she stood thigh deep, her small hands on
the prow of his boat, offering instructions
in a gentle voice, as an air hostess does before
take off, her own fears chained together
like clauses and carefully wrapped around
as fast as he tries to cast off, until he can
take it no more and shouts to her to let go
and to shut up since he knows more about sailing
than she does, so she stands with her arms
at her sides, watching, while the wind takes
her son and his orange sails and carries him out
far on a run, so he cuts through the slate sea
not looking back, but we can just hear his voice:
I know far more about sailing than you do.
 

Rose Cook

Poem published: Everyday Festival, Happenstance, 2009.

Judge’s comment:
 
A powerful evocation of a mother/son relationship at the difficult but necessary time of change. The maritime imagery works beautifully to convey the excitement and danger of travel, of partings. There are no interruptions – no stanzas, no full stops – and this free flow enhances the feeling of being precipitated into a perilous unknown. The time for contemplation will come later. We are in the moment.
 

Joy Howard


Moontrade, by Rose Flint
Bilingual, by Lotte Kramer
Cross My Palm, by Alison Michell
How to Capture a Poem, by Angela Topping

Jul 10 – Round 3 – month 10; Judge: Myra Schneider

Congratulations to our winner this month, Gill McEvoy, for her poem Bridge, and to our commended poets: Jo Bell, Carlotta Miller Johnson, Maggie Norton and Sibyl Ruth, whose poems will be submitted again to next month’s judge, along with 11 other poems. Our judge this month is Myra Schneider and her comment on the winning poem is given below.

Bridge

Its shape an arc between two worlds,
a sudden brief flight into space
and down again, an eyebrow raised.
 
Two stout roots that fuse in No-Man’s land,
it’s frozen in the leap that it began.
 
Consider its masonic handshake
world to world, the messages that pass.
 
Admire its daring jump between two points.
 
Place your hands on its naked bones;
 
touch its loneliness.

 

Gill McEvoy

Poem published: Poetry Nottingham, 2007.

Judge’s comment:
 
From the many poems which appealed to me I finally chose one of ten lines – Bridge by Gill McEvoy. I was particularly struck by the original and telling images which create the sense of space and movement in space, also the personification of the bridge at the end, for which Gill makes subtle preparation. The syntax, which moves from statement to the imperative, is very effective. The shifts from an opening three line stanza, to two line stanzas and then single lines – the last one short, also support this poem. It carries considerable emotional force.
 

Myra Schneider


Last, by Jo Bell
A Week on the Missouri, by Carlotta Miller Johnson
Mrs Tennyson is Interviewed in the Morning Room at Farringford, by Maggie Norton
Curious, by Sibyl Ruth

Jun 10 – Round 3 – month 9; Judge: Anne Stewart

Congratulations to our winner, Anne Ryland, with her poem For a Daughter, selected by Anne Stewart, our judge this month, and to our commended poets: Liz Loxley, Gol McAdam, Gill McEvoy and Christina Van Melzen, whose poems will be submitted again to next month’s judge, along with 11 other poems.

For a Daughter

My name would not be your middle name.
 
You wouldn’t inherit my listomania, I promise:
I’d renounce list-making in honour of your birth.
 
The term Muscular Dystrophy would not be sewn within you.
 
I would not pass on my stony ova
or the euphemisms stuffed up the sleeve like handkerchiefs.
 
Thank You wouldn’t be your mantra; it trapped me at the amber light.
 
You wouldn’t stare at every dog and see only its bite.
 
You would never know that ‘worry’ derives from ‘wyrgan’, to strangle:
I’d lock the door to my mother’s worrymongery
 
but I would be your guide in the storehouse of the thesaurus,
assure you there’s no such curse as being too clever.
 
I’d even show you how to blow a trumpet in a long and steady tone.
 
My desk and my blue propelling pencil would be yours.
 
I’d hand you your great-grandmother’s last letter to her daughter
from the hospital – ‘bye bye, dear’
 
All my words would be yours, so you’d observe me on the page,
learn all that I am and was and should have been.
 
And, my daughter, each night I’d hum you a lullaby.
You would remember me as a song, not an apology.

 

Anne Ryland

Poem published: Mslexia, No. 34. Runner-up, Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition, 2007.

Judge’s comment:
 
I was struck first by the selflessness of not naming a child for your own remembrance, then by the anxiety of that ‘I promise’, a plea to be found trustworthy and credible, so important to the speaker here that it’s not possible to contemplate failure. The pace and impact of the emotive elements in these wishes are perfectly controlled. I like the created word ‘worrymongery’ used to encompass a long, uncomfortable story. Here is tenderness, along with the implication that it skipped this particular generation. I can’t help thinking we’d all like to be this good at parental love.
 

Anne Stewart


The Thickness of Ice, by Liz Loxley
My Mother’s Room, by Gol McAdam
Bridge, by Gill McEvoy
The Twelfth of December, by Christina Van Melzen

May 10 – Round 3 – month 8; Judge: Hylda Sims

Our judge this month is Hylda Sims. Congratulations to our winner, Merryn Williams, with her poem My Cousin, and to our runners-up – Claudia Jessop, Mimi Khalvati, Lyn Moir and Anne Ryland – whose poems will be submitted again to next month’s judge, along with 11 other poems.

My Cousin
Edith Hemp d. Bournemouth 1930

She came here–not to rest–to sweep the stairs
and empty chamber pots. The gilded chairs
still stand here, the enormous mirrors throw
my face back as they did hers, aeons ago.
Down these plush corridors she moved, her feet
not echoing–dusting, leaving all things neat.
Somewhere her midget room, a great way up
these stairs. Invisible beneath her cap
to Bournemouth’s guests, but I know who she was;
my flesh, my blood, thrown early from the nest.
A small skimped woman when she was alive,
all siblings lost, unmatched at forty-five.
No trace, not one. Still stands the Grand Hotel
but now she rests. Somewhere in Bournemouth still.

 

Merryn Williams

Judge’s comment:
 
Five excellent poems and hard to choose the winner. In my view, poems can’t really be ‘ranked’ and in the end it’s a matter of taste. I like poems which tell us something about the way of the world, past and present. I chose My Cousin for its economically expressed subject matter: its retrieval of Edith Hemp, forgotten drudge, from the dustbin of history. In fourteen carefully crafted lines (with some cunning enjambment and repetition) this poem tells us something we need to remember about rich versus poor, ostentation versus exploitation, fame versus obscurity. There’s no sentimentality here, no self-pity, no excess but an elegant evocation of the ornate Victoriana of a Bournemouth Hotel contrasted with the shabby, unenviable life of Merryn’s cousin Edith. ‘…a world ill-divided – those that work the hardest are the least provided’ as an old folksong puts it.
 

Hylda Sims


Day Starting on an Upper Floor, by Claudia Jessop
The Valley, by Mimi Khalvati
Dream Cigarette, by Lyn Moir
For a Daughter, by Anne Ryland

Apr 10 – Round 3 – month 7; Judge: Wendy French

Our judge this month is Wendy French. Congratulations to our winner, Simone Mansell Broome with her poem Five Changes, and to our runners-up – Caroline Carver, Claudia Jessop, Jennie Osborne and Merryn Williams – whose poems will be submitted again to next month’s judge, along with 11 other poems.

Five Changes

If I tried to give you up, it would be like
buying a train ticket from Aberystwyth
to Hastings, on a Sunday or a Bank Holiday —
a reduced service, works on the line…
essential maintenance;
and I’d expected five changes, steeled myself for
Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton, Reading, Gatwick
and Brighton,
had psyched myself to tick them off, one by one,
but found cancellations,
my progress halted, my plans thwarted,
my route re-arranged on a chalked easel
with quirky spellings…inaudible apologies…
and instead of three-down-two-to-go,
time for a coffee, a quick last sidinged pass
at crossword or sudoku,
I’d find I was just travelling — locomoting slowly —
in a large reticulated arc
back
to you.

 

Simone Mansell Broome

Poem published: 1st Prize winner, Carillon magazine competition 2007, and published in Carillon issue 17, Mar/Apr 2007, ISSN 1474-7340.

Judge’s comment:
 
I chose this poem to be the winner for this month because I liked the pace of the lines and the train-like rhythm that ran constantly throughout. It’s a witty poem and yet has a hard edge attached to the meaning of the words. The internal rhymes are skillfully executed and I found myself travelling the journey with the poet. That for me is the mark of a good poem, when the reader is there in the poem trying to find a way through. ‘my route re-arranged on a chalked easel / with quirky spellings… inaudible apologies…’. How often we’ve all been in this situation when we’re not sure what is going on. For me the poem is a metaphor about life and a journey that takes us back (thinking of Eliot) to where we started from.
 

Wendy Fench


Sedna the Sea Goddess, by Caroline Carver
Day Starting on an Upper Floor, by Claudia Jessop
There’s Something About a Woman Swallowing Flames, by Jennie Osborne
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams

Mar 10 – Round 3 – month 6; Judge: Kate Foley

Our judge this month is Kate Foley: our winner is Bee Smith with Being Lazurus’ Wife. Congratulations to Bee, and to our runners-up – Claudia Jessop, Gill Learner, Julie Sampson and Merryn Williams – whose poems will be submitted again to next month’s judge, along with 11 other poems.

Being Lazurus’ Wife


So how did Lazarus’ wife feel
When her husband came back
From his very dramatic second act?
 
Would he seamlessly pick up the old reflexes
The same routine – dinner with his mother
Every Friday night, Saturday night sex,
Or would he have visions of something other?
 
Would he just drop his winding sheet
And suddenly want to buy a Porsche?
Would he demand divorce? Become a
Hippy, a zealot? Or do nothing at all – a life replete
 
Not needing a different wife or
A different life.
 
But still,
When you have been resurrected,
Either to amuse Jesus or serve some
Opaque higher purpose,
When your life has been turned into parable,
 
People will scream and stare. They faint.
Your debtors despair and your creditors stop
Gnashing their teeth. But mostly they want
You to tell them what it’s like to die.
 
But Lazarus, all he wants to talk about is
Being alive. He grows vague about the dying.
He disappoints with no tale of angels or
Gorgons although sometimes into her pillow
 
He will mention the night train to Edinburgh,
All darkness and motion with a sudden flash
When you pause at a level crossing. There was
A clang and a lurch forward and he looked out
 
Through a rain splashed window.
It was that mundane. It was that sublime.
Although for him, this time
They managed to clear the leaves off the line.
 
He reached the station but
It was not a terminus. All change.

 

Bee Smith

Poem published: Shit Creek Review, Issue 3, March 2007 at Shit Creek Review web-site

Judge’s comment:
 
Wry, funny, technically accomplished – what more do you want in a poem about Lazarus’ wife? What you get is Mrs L’s rather tongue in cheek take on Lazarus before the Big One. She, wearily, would not be surprised if he remained the same-old-same-old ‘…Saturday night sex…’ or if he developed his toys-for-the-boys tendencies and splashed out on a Porche. Even Jesus is just amusing himself with this resurrection party trick. Then, for a few lines after ‘…sometimes into her pillow…’ this poem does what good poems do and unsentimentally captures the terror, tenderness and mess of relationships and death.
 

Kate Foley


Day Starting on an Upper Floor, by Claudia Jessop
A worm updates itself, by Gill Learner
Lost Trees, by Julie Sampson
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams

Feb 10 – Round 3 – month 5; Judge: Anne Stewart

Our judge this month is Anne Stewart: our winner is Laurna Robertson with Praise Song. Congratulations to Laurna, and to our runners-up – Anna Avebury, Elizabeth Birchall, Margaret Eddershaw and Sue Moules – whose poems will be submitted again to next month’s judge, along with 11 other poems.

Praise Song


For a drowned mountain range surfacing,
scoured by salt winds, bathed in pearl light,
shawled in mist.
 
For fretted voes and geos; stranded
pillars of rock, hill lochs and peat
banks, sheep on the scattald.
 
For beaches of shell sand; for wet shingle
that is moorit and shaela. For red
granite cliffs lit by sunset.

For stretches of rust pink Thrift,
Eyebright, Wild Orchis and Lady’s Smock,
honey sweet Clover and Bird’s-foot Trefoil.
 
For puffins skimming under water; for dark caves
glowing with gannets, their etched eyes watchful;
for sea-gulls oobing before rain.
 
For cliffs falling sheer to rock pavements,
for seals splashing ashore to nurse pups
whose howls float through the air.
 
For tarred roofs, tethered cows, netted
hay-ricks, fish drying on gables. For boats
drawn to noosts above tide lines.
 
For wild reels to fiddle tunes,
the kiss of the wave, the slap of the sea,
for crescendos of wind diminishing.
 
For islands caught in a time-warp of childhood.
For islands that taught how the world would be.
 


voes and geos:  bays and gullies
scattald:  common hill grazing
moorit and shaela:  shades of native sheep
oobing:  mournful crying

 

Laurna Robertson

Poem published: Northwords Now, The New Shetlander.

Judge’s comment:
 
I had a shortlist of 3 potential winners, but Laurna Robertson’s Praise Poem won me over completely in the end, with its musicality, its brightness of language and imagery, its authenticity, and its effective saving (praise-worthy in itself) of endangered words that paint these tough and craggy “islands caught in a time-warp of childhood”. You can hear the wild alien sounds of the place and feel the sea lapping at your ankles. This poem has a gale in it that would blow you over a cliff… And I’m drawn in by it, enjoying getting to know it even better.
 

Anne Stewart


Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
Oxford United, by Elizabeth Birchall
Golden Rule, by Margaret Eddershaw
Nappies on my Neighbour’s Washing Line, by Sue Moules

Jan 10 – Round 3 – month 4; Judge: Katherine Gallagher

Our judge this month is Katherine Gallagher: our winner is Ann Alexander with The daughter from America. Congratulations to Ann, and to our runners-up – Anna Avebury, Margaret Eddershaw, Laurna Robertson and Vicky Wilson – whose poems will be submitted again to next month’s judge, along with 11 other poems.

The daughter from America


The daughter from America
flies home to watch her mother die.
Hi mom, look, it’s me, your daughter, me –
 
Her voice strides confidently
round the Trauma ward,
a Yankee-doodle-dandy Cornish girl.
 
There are worse places to die,
and ancient Lizzie Annie rides the thermals
of the finest pharmaceuticals.
Still her cloudy eyes flick flick
from face to face, uncomprehending.
 
It’s your daughter, mom, come all this way –
The neon stranger in the corner
rattles words like pills.
 
Lizzie Annie, on the final lap
of her long journey home,
cries out, flutters the sheets.
 
And suddenly the daughter’s heart is back
on Helston’s granite streets.
She grips her mother’s hands
as if to hold her to the world,

cries dear of her, crumpling,
finding the proper words at last.

 

Ann Alexander

Poem published: Scryfa, December 2008

Judge’s comment:
Ann Alexander’s cameo of a daughter’s return home to see her dying hospitalised mother is layered with poignant resonances as the daughter, ‘a Yankee-doodle-dandy Cornish girl’ gradually peels back her ‘American’ self: – ‘It’s your daughter, mom, come all this way’
 
The images are moving, sparsely-drawn. The mother ‘rattles words like pills. / Lizzie Annie, on the final lap / of her long journey home, / cries out, flutters the sheets.’ And suddenly the ironies of all their journeys hone in on the final journey of these two as the daughter ‘grips her mother’s hands / as if to hold her to the world, / … finding the proper words at last.’ Powerful, spare, evocative.
 

Katherine Gallagher


Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
Golden Rule, by Margaret Eddershaw
Praise Song, by Laurna Robertson
Burst Pipe, London N1, by Vicky Wilson

Dec 09 – Round 3 – month 3; Judge: Myra Schneider

Our judge this month is Myra Schneider: our winner is Nadine Brummer with The Frog’s Princess. Congratulations to Nadine, and to our runners-up – Judith Allnatt, Anna Avebury, June Hall and Gill Nicholson – whose poems will be submitted again to next month’s judge, along with 11 other poems.

The Frog’s Princess


That night, finding him in my bed,
within kissing distance,
I wanted to take the stare
off his face – those eyes
all bulge and goggle.
Then I saw their depth, a look
that could take me anywhere
backwards in time. I recalled
an aquarium under the sea where
I’d pressed my face to the glass
of a wolf-eel’s tank, mesmerised
by a little reptilian head
with eyeballs lifting off
like spaceships that settled
into an expression beyond
a seal-pup’s dopey smile
or the pout of fish –
like that of some new-born child
you swear has been here before.
The frog was like him,
but when he gulped and a mouth
smelling of weed or bull-kelp
came close to my lips
I flinched and held out my hand
to stop his jump and touched
a spasm of green, a creature trying
to slither out of himself.
I’ve been so often trapped
In flesh that didn’t feel mine
I wondered what he could see
when he gazed into a pond;
he took my sigh as a signal
to kiss. I loved him best
the moment before he changed,
a small, crouched, alien thing
in need of a body.
 

Nadine Brummer

Poem published: Poetry London, May 2003

Judge’s comment:
I love this imaginative and layered version of The Frog Prince fairy story. The poem is written in the voice of the princess who is maybe the writer or any ‘I’ who has felt ‘trapped / In flesh that didn’t feel mine’ – any misfit. Poignantly, because of this, the princess feels closest to the frog just before he changes into the prince. The language summons up marvellously the physicality of the frog and strange but precise memories which are also potent. The whole poem, in one block and short run-on lines, builds up a strong emotional charge.
 

Myra Schneider


Burns, by Judith Allnatt
Mammogram, by Anna Avebury
Anniversary, by June Hall
Naming Dusk in Dead Languages, by Gill Nicholson

Nov 09 – Round 3 – month 2; Judge: Ruth O’Callaghan

Congratulations to this month’s winner, Elizabeth Stott, for her poem That. The four commended poems are by Judith Kazantzis, Sue Rose, June Hall and Judith Allnatt and these will be submitted again to next month’s judge, along with 11 other poems.

That

All afternoon the tank fills, as, drip-by-drip, the faulty valve lets in more water.
 
In the yard, the family goes about its business:
Mother hangs washing, mutters over grimy collars, threadbare sheets. Jack kicks the
ball on the flagstones – that for the wall, that for the ball bouncing back, a whack on
the shin, a stifled yelp. Jill sits on the coalshed roof, saying nought as she picks the
crumbs from a slice of bread. No school today. It’s the summer, and kids roam the
streets – but not these two.
 
At four o’clock, the first little spurt – no more than a tearfall, a wetness on the stone,
like a blotting paper stain; and Jack looks up at the overflow, dodges the dribble,
kicks his ball to the other side of the drain. That for the wall, that for the ball bouncing
back, a whack on the chest, another on the mouth. Jill looks up, a fret of crumbs on
her lap, a hole in her frock from climbing the shed. Mum’ll give her one for that. The
little talk on women’s things does not exempt her from that.
 
Mum sweeps the lino, prepares tonight’s rehashed dish of Sunday roast.
 
The water’s peeing from the thin pipe overhead. Jill watches as the little stream soaks
the flags like bedsheets. Jack skirts the problem, skidding round it, playing a game
with it, getting wet, laughing.
 
Mum runs the tap, the dribble stops, for now. She has a ritual – let out some water
once an hour to keep the level down, and she ignores the drip, drip drip drip drip that
goes on all the while. Mostly it’s all right, it stops for a bit – a week, perhaps, then
starts again. Today, she forgot to run the tap, too much going on. The ground below is
mossy green, treacherous. A flabby washer, a leaking ballcock – simple to fix. It’s
something Jill’s dad could do if he chose. Mum’s asked him often enough – threatens
to get a plumber in, but they cost. She looks at the clock – the hand reaching up.
She’ll hear the gate open at six o’clock, get that feeling of heartsink. Jack’ll scoot off
and miss his tea, but he’ll get one for that. And Jill – she’s sat there all day, what use
is a girl who moons about, tears her frock, won’t talk, let alone help her? As useful as
knife without a fork. The big hand grabs the twelve.
 
That for the wall, that for the ball bouncing back, that for the rattle of a garden gate,
that for a slow, slow drip – that for a knife without a fork.

 

Elizabeth Stott

 

Judge’s comment:
An accomplished prose poem whose title aptly sums up the result of certain actions yet allows the reader to dwell upon the unspoken ‘That’ which has life-altering effects – the immediate consequences of which leave a girl silent and a boy to constantly miss his food. The sentences have a rhythm that increase the ever-present, unseen menace and heightened by such images as that of the clock: "The big hand grabs the twelve."

 

Ruth O’Callaghan


Burns, by Judith Allnatt
Anniversary, by June Hall
Eurynome, by Judith Kazantzis
The Seamstress at Queille, by Sue Rose

Oct 09 – Round 3 – month 1; Judge: Wendy French

The start of a new round and our judge this month is Wendy French.

Congratulations to this month’s winner, Jill Townsend, for her poem Slow Light. Four commended poems, by Martha Street, Merryn Williams, Margaret Wilmot and Vicky Wilson, will be submitted again to next month’s judge, along with 11 other poems.

Slow Light

Stone light. Close up: chill, heavy beads.
Curling tendrils of fog on fog.
Easy to feel lost, be lost
in this–the jewel-studded threads
of spiders’ webs lit from nowhere,
and life’s debris–twig legs of birds
clutching the feeder as they search
for seed–while fog squeezes the air.
 
Strange here, where I’ve been living
thirty years, I watch my breath
escape to its own element
as if part of me were dying.
What thoughts hung on those molecules?
And what’s given back? Not enough.
A purblind sun searches for clues
while the birds fly off somewhere
and return, so touch sensitive
to the lilac bush, the titbits
whether or not I am here.

 

Jill Townsend

 

Judge’s comment:
 
This is a very accomplished poem reminding me of the way Dylan Thomas reflects on words/thoughts by the joining up of similar sounds and thoughts that take the reader further into the depth of the poem. The first stanza has a strange ephemeral feel to it, an almost other worldliness and then in the second stanza we’re brought back to the passing of time and life and breath and how a universe exists whether we’re part of it or not. I love it!

 

Wendy French


My Shirt, by Martha Street
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams
Salmon Nude in Olive Trenchcoat (N.F.S), by Margaret Wilmot
Burst Pipe, London N1, by Vicky Wilson

Sep 09 – Round 2 – Final; Judge: Dilys Wood

Founder of Second Light Network and coordinator of all things SL, Dilys wood has chosen Jennie Osborne’s poem There’s Something About a Woman Swallowing Flames as the overall winner of round 2, saying:
 
Members may guess that I chose Jennie Osborne’s poem because it is a feisty, feminist poem. This is true in part. The poem is about a woman performer, a flame-eater. At another level, it could be about a woman writing poetry, ‘You don’t think she can do this, her skin is paper thin ....The air catches its breath. / Light fizzes from the copper hair, the copper fingertips.’ Some people still don’t believe the really risky leaps of the imagination are for ‘the weaker sex’. But the poem makes us feel both the woman’s vulnerability and her determination from the opening, ‘She kicks her head back ...’ to the ending, ‘You scent the quick musk of vixen. / She scents the room.’ There are also other strengths. The poem is a narrative and a mini-drama which touches on disaster, ‘the firesnakes / race for her throat, home in on the blaze / under her breastbone.’ It is a quick-paced poem, with a wealth of good detail and it doesn’t repeat itself. Within the rush of action there are moments of stasis, an intake of breath, ‘the oh so flammable curtains.’ Instead of developing one image, images are drawn from twenty different sources and still work because the poet’s eye remains wedded to the thrilling event that we feel she has really experienced and conveys.

Jennie has made a recording of the poem to add to Second Light’s Audio Archive. (see link below)

There’s Something About a Woman Swallowing Flames

She kicks her head back: if you’re quick
you spot the hunted fox in her eyes
before it goes to ground. She is diamond tonight
or something decked out as diamond. She spins
so fast you’re trapped in her sleight of hand,
dazzles fire and ice in a fever of smiles.
You don’t think she can do this, her skin is paper-thin
and her hair crackles with static. Her torches hurl
through the air, juggle saffron, electric blue, flame.
Colours skelter up and down the sharp tongues. Spit.
Curse. Bite at the ceiling, the oh so flammable curtains.
A flick of her wrists and the firesnakes
race for her throat, home in on the blaze
under her breastbone. The air catches its breath.
Light fizzes from the copper hair, the copper fingertips.
Your eyes want to bolt for the door,
sidle home but are held in check.
You scent the quick musk of vixen.
She fills the room.

 

Jennie Osborne

Poem published:
Images of Women, Arrowhead Press in Association with Second Light Publications, 2006;
on CD, Something about a woman, £5 and 50p p&p, direct from Jennie at 23 Brooklands, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 5AR.

Listen to Jennie reading There’s Somthing about a Woman Swallowing Flames

Aug 09 – Round 2 – month 9; Judge: Joy Howard

Our final winner of round 2 is Sally Clark for her poem I Decide To Go To You As The Crow FLies. Congratulations to Sally and to our four commended poets: Maxine Linnell, Amanda Parkyn, Kate Rhodes (for the 7th time in a row!) and Laurna Robertson. Sally’s poem will go into the judging of the Round 2 Overall Winner and the commended poems will be included in the 1st month of round 3…

I Decide To Go To You As The Crow Flies

Exit my bedroom through cavity walls and fuse box,
not winded by mortar or the snick of static,
yet suck my breath into a whistle
as I snag through the hawthorn hedge into the field.
 
Wet grass licks my feet. Another hedge into the first garden,
across rockery, barbeque, compost heap, brush through
leylandii, leave security lights prowling and break
the arrow of a stone cupid when I lose my footing in a fountain.
 
Split one lamppost down the middle.
 
Thought I’d miss the supermarket but meet it
at an oblique angle to squeeze through sliced bread
and hatch out of three chill cabinets;
dips, yoghurts and ready meals.
 
Check out, smelling of garlic and Domestos,
through a tangle of trolleys. More walls,
twenty seven in all now that new estate’s gone up.
A prickle of splinters from the furniture.
 
Your gate; I open,
 
ring the bell without hesitating
and you, catch your surprise before it lands,
pick up your car keys, shrug your feet into shoes
as you close the door behind you.
 
Hushed, gentle, as if you’d found me sleepwalking,
guide me to your car, drive me back home.
Me, sat there, still holding
the words I came with in my mouth.

  

Sally Clark

Poem published: Printed in Magma 42 Autumn 2008.

Sally Clark’s poem is a remarkable feat of narration. She describes a fantasy journey, one full of urgency and purpose, but her imaginary travels are packed with ordinary, mundane, but almost tangible detail. This makes an extraordinarily powerful impression, so that the ending of the dream-state – a return to the reality of a stuck-for-words status quo – seems magnified beyond endurance.
 

Joy Howard

Commended poems:
 

Mirror, mirror, by Maxine Linnell
Skin, by Amanda Parkyn
Wells-next-the-Sea, by Kate Rhodes
Praise Song, by Laurna Robertson

Jul 09 – Round 2 – month 8; Judge: Wendy French

Only one more month to go in this round before Dilys will select the overall winner for round 2…
 
Our winner this month is Angela Kirby for her poem Trizonia. Congratulations to Angela and to our four commended poets: Alison Brackenbury, Alyson Hallett, Amanda Parkyn and Kate Rhodes (6th time in a row!).

Trizonia

O most excellent donkey who,
not having heard of the sleep button,
woke me three times this morning
with your ancient and execrable lament,
do you bemoan the start
of your over-burdened day
and the end of your brief night’s rest
in this unpromising patch of scrub
or do you, perhaps, grieve for me
who today must leave this incomparable islet
where there are neither cars
nor motorcycles, where nothing
very much happens, apart
from the occasional birth or marriage
and the rather more frequent deaths,
where there is little to see, just Iannis
repainting the peeling mermaid
on his taverna, and his grandmother
taking a broom to the six hollow-ribbed cats
who have stolen yet another chicken-leg,
and the three old men who,
having finished their backgammon
and the last of the ouzo, now take
the sun’s path home across the harbour
in a boat as blue as that clump of scabious
you are considering?


 
Angela Kirby

published in anthology: Speaking English, Five Leaves Press, 2007.

Judge’s comment: Several of the poems I was sent stayed with me throughout the day and night for different reasons. The poems are all so well-crafted that the emotional content creeps through each line without being intrusive to the reader. In the end I decided on Trizonia because of the other world the poem took me to. I could hear and see the donkey and the blue of the scabious. I wanted to be there to see the cats steal the chicken legs and the re-painting of the peeling mermaid. I was left wondering if the donkeys are still braying.
 

Wendy French

The following commended poems will be submitted again to next month’s competition:
 

No, by Alison Brackenbury
The Hare in the Moon, by Alyson Hallett
Skin, by Amanda Parkyn
Wells-next-the-Sea, by Kate Rhodes

Jun 09 – Round 2 – month 7; Judge: Sibyl Ruth

Only two more months to go in this round before Dilys will select the overall winner for round 2…
 
Our winner this month is Caroline Carver for her poem Sedna the Sea Goddess. Congratulations to Caroline and to our four commended poets: Christine Coleman, Anne Kind, Kate Rhodes (5th time in a row!), and Bee Smith.

Sedna the Sea Goddess

The bird turned into a man
so beautiful
snow lay on his shoulders
like ermine

was he petrel or fulmar?
he didn’t say
 
At first he came
only in dreams
one summer night
lay with her
 
at dawn she left her house
to marry him
 
Who could explain
her father’s rage?
His storms reached
across oceans
 
she knew full joy
only six days     before
 
he killed her husband
threw her in his umiak –
pushed her overboard
when winds frightened him
 
she wouldn’t give in
gripped the boat so hard
he had to chop her fingers off
one by one
did not know
as she sank into her new Kingdom
 
they would transform
become    whales   narwhals   seals   walruses…
 
Among those she loves best
Singing Midshipmen
fish which  like humpback whales
sing to the seabirds
 
make sailors who hear them
believe in mermaids

Caroline Carver

Poem published: Acumen.

Judge’s comment: The poem tells a story. Retells it rather. The piece is based around an Inuit folk tale. The language is simple and precise, perfectly measured. The form is spare and restrained. And yet there’s something elusive and uncontrollable here (like the shape-shifting lover) which the reader can’t pin down. This writing is brutal one minute, tenderly lyrical the next. This is a narrative of desire and revenge, loss and transformation. It’s magical.
 

Sibyl Ruth

The following commended poems will be submitted again to next month’s competition:
 

When I Can Choose, by Christine Coleman
My Dad Doesn’t Like Jack, by Anne Kind
Wells-next-the-Sea, by Kate Rhodes
Being Lazarus’ Wife, by Bee Smith

May 09 – Round 2 – month 6; Judge: Anne Stewart

Congratulations to this month’s winner, Elizabeth Rapp, for her poem Ice Garden. Our commended poets this month are Kate Rhodes (4th time in a row!), Denise McSheehy, Clare Crossman and Frances Green (2nd time).

Ice Garden

I begged him for a garden,
hollyhocks and delphiniums.
He gave me grottoes of ice.
No birds sing here: only the sound
of moonlight dreaming snow at midnight.
 
I have become bone carved from ice.
I spin on a needle’s point,
watched by an angel huddled
in snow with icebound wings;
his stricken face as I twirl and twirl.
 
Those dark and subtle hands
have locked me in this kingdom,
this palace of death-white ice.
Floors are as slippery as his lies.
I wander through cubes of refracted light
 
where indigo and jade dance on my silver dress,
turn into birds of paradise.
But today a small brown bird
perched on my wrist, then
gave me a pomegranate seed
from his beak.

Elizabeth Rapp

Poem: Winner of the A.A. Sanders poetry prize, 2000

Judge’s comment: I was told recently that the (competition) winner ‘leaps out at you̵. This is certainly the case here, the shiver up the spine, further inspection confirming a well-wrought and fully accomplished poem, no slip-ups. The form is well-managed and suits the message and delivery. You can feel the cold in this poem, and the movement, the trap and the anxiety, the release in an explosion of light and colour that takes your breath away, finishing with promise, strong and clear; the pomegranate seed and the intimacy of beak-to-lip bringing a whoosh of wider meaning and possibilities. What a great poem.
 

Anne Stewart

The following commended poems will be submitted again to next month’s competition:
 

The Winter Crown, by Clare Crossman
December 1952, by Frances Green
Salt, by Denise McSheehy
Wells-next-the-Sea, by Kate Rhodes

Apr 09 – Round 2 – month 5; Judge: Kate Foley

Congratulations to this month’s winner, Janet Fisher, for her poem Brittle Bones. Our commended poets this month are Kate Rhodes (3rd time in a row!) and Joan Poulson (2nd time), Jane Fraser Esson and Frances Green.

Brittle Bones

birds’ legs, dried stalks
a Chinese vase, a baby’s wave
slivers of green on dead laburnum
tracks translucent up an arm
chalk line on a pavement, a child’s logic
fingers pressing a wine glass stem
change of key on the downbeat
worn paths tracing the grass
a moon thumbprinted on a light sky
an old woman’s face, her knuckles
strands of breath on a sharp morning
cracked glaze on a bedroom jug
its pattern of blue ivy and pouting lip
the roots I clutch at on the way up

Janet Fisher

Poem published: Salt publishing web-page on Salt Publishing site.

Judge’s comment: A powerful sense of fragility and transience is created in this short poem by images which only seem to be random. From the calligraphy of ‘bird’s legs’ to the stasis of ‘dried stalks / Chinese vase’ and on through the fugitive ‘chalk line on a pavement, a child’s logic / fingers pressing on a wine glass stem’, we are being moved skillfully towards a mysterious conclusion. The images haunt each other with delicacy and precision. The ‘I’ who finally appears is clutching at ‘roots … on the way up.’ Which way is up? Perhaps sometimes we must simply settle for being haunted…
 

Kate Foley

The following commended poems will be submitted again to next month’s competition:
 
Four Spanish Widows, by Jane Fraser Esson
December 1952, by Frances Green
Fiery-winged, by Joan Poulson
Wells-next-the-Sea, by Kate Rhodes

Mar 09 – Round 2 – month 4; Judge: Katherine Gallagher

We are pleased to announce that the winning poem this month is There’s Something About a Woman Swallowing Flames by Jennie Osborne. Two of our runners up last month have been commended again: June Hall and Kate Rhodes …

There’s Something About a Woman Swallowing Flames

She kicks her head back: if you’re quick
you spot the hunted fox in her eyes
before it goes to ground. She is diamond tonight
or something decked out as diamond. She spins
so fast you’re trapped in her sleight of hand,
dazzles fire and ice in a fever of smiles.
You don’t think she can do this, her skin is paper-thin
and her hair crackles with static. Her torches hurl
through the air, juggle saffron, electric blue, flame.
Colours skelter up and down the sharp tongues. Spit.
Curse. Bite at the ceiling, the oh so flammable curtains.
A flick of her wrists and the firesnakes
race for her throat, home in on the blaze
under her breastbone. The air catches its breath.
Light fizzes from the copper hair, the copper fingertips.
Your eyes want to bolt for the door,
sidle home but are held in check.
You scent the quick musk of vixen.
She fills the room.

Jennie Osborne

published in anthology, Images of Women, Arrowhead Press in association with Second Light Publications, 2006, ISBN 978-1-904852-14-8

Judge’s comment: Judith Wright said, "Poems should take you somewhere new". Following its eye-catching title, Jennie Osborne’s There’s Something About a Woman Swallowing Flames … passionate, urgent, enigmatic, does just that and dazzles with juxtapositions and sustained tension.
 
At the beginning, the reader is reminded: "if you’re quick / you spot the hunted fox in her eyes / before it goes to ground". The remainder of the poem follows this woman/fox/flame-swallower but concentrates on her performance. "You don’t think she can do this, – (but) Her torches hurl / through the air, juggle saffron, electric blue, flame./ Colours skelter up and down the sharp tongues. Spit". It’s exotic, daring; the fire metaphor "home(s) in" inside her. "The air catches its breath." In spite of everything, our eyes are held, enthralled."You scent the quick musk of vixen. / She fills the room".
 

Katherine Gallagher

The following commended poems will be submitted again to next month’s competition:
 
Brittle Bones, by Janet Fisher
Anniversary, by June Hall
Fiery-winged, by Joan Poulson
Wells-next-the-Sea, by Kate Rhodes

Feb 09 – Round 2 – month 3; Judge: Wendy French

We are pleased to announce that the winning poem is Lipstick by Maggie Butt. This is one of the four poems commended in last month’s competition and chosen this month by judge, Wendy French.

Lipstick

In war time women turn to red
swivel-up scarlet and carmine
not in solidarity with spilt blood
but as a badge of beating hearts.
 
This crimson is the shade of poets
silenced for speaking against torture,
this vermillion is art
surviving solitary confinement,
 
this cerise defies the falling bombs
the snipers taking aim at bread-queues,
this ruby’s the resilience of girls
who tango in the pale-lipped face of death.

Maggie Butt

published in collection, Lipstick, Greenwich Exchange, 2007, ISBN 978-1-8715519-4-5;
published in bilingual (English/Romanian) anthology, And the Story Isn’t Over…, ISBN 978-0-9552040-0-5, and on companion CD, And the Story So Far, poetry p f, 2009

Judge’s comment: I chose Lipstick because of the clever way in which the poem opens right out. It starts with the very domestic/personal/evocative detail of lipstick but then the first line takes the reader straight out of comfort zone in to war-time. The poet is not afraid to tackle the huge implications of war and torture but through the child’s colours of a Windsor and Newton paint box. Here the very personal and impersonal marry to create a disturbing but skilled poem. This is a poem that stays with the reader long after it has been read.
 

Wendy French

The following commended poems will be submitted again to next month’s competition:
 
Anniversary, by June Hall
Eurynome, by Judith Kazantzis
Wells-next-the-Sea, by Kate Rhodes
My Shirt, by Martha Street

Jan 09 – Round 2 – month 2; Judge: Hylda Sims

Our judge this month is Hylda Sims and we are pleased to announce that the winning poem is Dream Cigarette by Lyn Moir.

Dream Cigarette

Not the ritual post-coital, languorously passed from hand to hand,
smoke sucked further down than orgasm’s launch-pad: that’s not the one
comes back in dreams. No, I’m doing something ordinary, some daily task
so boring I’ve no idea what it is, and you’re there with me: it’s as I said,
a dream. We do this thing, we talk, we pass the time companionably
or not, depending if we argue, but the closeness never goes. That’s when
I realise I’m smoking, cigarette in hand as normal as the punctuation mark
it often was, marking conversation stresses with a jab. Still in the dream
I know that this is wrong, recall, in parallel with whatever task we’re doing,
that evening forty years ago when as usual I offered you my Senior Service
and you, who always carried Player’s Navy Cut, said "No, let’s give up now."
Asleep, I feel a twist of longing. Awake, I’m made aware it must have been
a real addiction. But then of course, in dreams I only ever smoke with you.

Lyn Moir

Poem commended in the Second Light Competition 2006 and published in Skeins of Geese – The 100 Poets Anthology (2008) (a StAnza publication).

Judge’s comment: It was hard to choose from an excellent bunch – not one duff poem among them – but finally it had to be Lyn Moir’s Dream Cigarette, for its originality, economy, honesty and humour. It reminds us how the cigarette: 20th Century icon of style and sophistication, especially for women; prop and punctuation to conversation; romantic digestif to sex; has, almost at the touch of a government button, become downright offensive. This poem fixes love and addiction in an utterly unsentimental and believable dream about the pleasure of the past. It’s social history in person and it’s a bit wicked – I like that.
 

Hylda Sims

The following commended poems will be submitted again to next month’s competition:
 
The Frog’s Princess, by Nadine Brummer
Lipstick, by Maggie Butt
The Seal Wife, by Nicolette Golding
My Shirt, by Martha Street

Nov 08 – Round 2 begins; Judge: Anne Ryland

Our judge this month is Ruth O’Callaghan and we are pleased to announce that the winning poem is The Valley by Mimi Khalvati.

The Valley

Through a thin spray of flowers from the valley
(and frailer for the shyness you gave them with),
through sprigs of blue, their minute suns, many
and angled to many corners of the earth,
I saw, not the valley or even the hill
that rose in front of me, but half-imagined
plateaux that lay beyond these disused mills:
meadows waist-high, horizons mountain-rimmed.
 
Wildflowers grow there in abundance, so many
you could reap armfuls of them, cauldrons
of colour stoked with their dyes, cornflowers, teasels
snarling your hair and on your headscarf, apron,
shirt and shawl, the whole sky would spill a pinny
studded with seeds. But thank you, thank you for these.
 

Mimi Khalvati

Poem published in collection The Meanest Flower

Judge’s comment: "Khalvati’s delicate phrasing and imagery marks the poem: her subject matter is seen ‘Through a thin spray of flowers’ and is stronger ‘for the shyness’ with which it is offered. Understated rhymes provide supple strength, a wiry core. Repetition, sparing but effective, is enhanced by skilful line breaks. Lesser poets would have exploited alliteration in ‘cauldrons/ of colour’ by placing it on the same line but Khalvati is always restrained, allowing each word to ease its way into the reader’s consciousness before smoothly enhancing the image. Khalvati exploits the space a page offers.".
 

Ruth O’Callaghan

The following commended poems will be submitted again to next month’s competition:
The Frog’s Princess, by Nadine Brummer
The Seal Wife, by Nicolette Golding
The Pond, by Thelma Laycock
My Cousin, by Merryn Williams

Nov 08 – Round 2 begins; Judge: Anne Ryland

The November competition is the start of a new round and new members since the beginning of the previous round have been added for selection. Our judge this month is Anne Ryland and we are pleased to announce that her winner is Zig Zag by Shelley McAlister.

Zig Zag

                                                           You ask me if I’m north

and I don’t know what to say
 
                                                           the landscapes of my life
 
pull up and down
 
                                                           bite into each other
 
like the teeth of a zip
 
                                                           on the one hand I’m viking blood
 
cold as an icefloe
 
                                                           tough as tundra
 
keen and tenacious I scramble up craggy peaks
 
                                                           disappear into the depths of fjords
 
and the halls of mountain kings
 
                                                           but there’s something else in me
 
something sizzling and soft
 
                                                           like the scarred-sand trails of sidewinders
 
I’m tugged towards shafts of bright sunlight

                                                           whiffs of eucalyptus
 
bittersweet drops of citrus on leathered skin

                                                           I edge southwards a step at a time
 
stride barefoot over the border

                                                           into hot scented sagebrush
 
the chirrup of
 
                                                           tantalising tongues of dust

you follow my footprints up and down
 
                                                           through snow and sand
 
ask if I’m finally south
 
                                                           and I don’t know what to say.

Shelley McAlister

Poem published: in collection Sailing Under False Colours, previously in Rewriting the Map, Vane Women Press anthology, 2003.

Judge’s comment: "This poem kept drawing me back for a rereading, partly because of its arresting shape; the lines seem to be tugging at one another. Zig Zag explores the conflict many of us experience about ‘home’ in its wider sense – where we were born, where we live, where we belong, where we gain inspiration… The poem also has rich imagery and fizzes with energy, carrying us on a glorious journey from north to south.".

Anne Ryland

These four commended poems will be submitted again to next month’s competition:
 
From Brechin to Auchenblae, 1897, by Pippa Little
 
Nappies on my Neighbour’s Washing Line, by Sue Moules
 
The Pond, by Thelma Laycock
 
After the Workshop, by Vicky Wilson

Oct 08 – Overall Winner, round 1; Judge: Dilys Wood
Bilingual, by Lotte Kramer
Listen to the poem:    

This is what Judge, Dilys wood had to say:
 
The poems I looked at were diverse, short narratives. All twisted the heart-strings, which could be why they were chosen. I chose Lotte Kramer’s ‘Bilingual’ because it is iconic – speaking for all who find refuge in a new country and a new language. By the initial focus on the sounds of German, "The Rhineland opens its watery gates", Kramer sweeps us into the heart of her subject and into a mini-drama. Someone (husband?) is speaking his native tongue, crossing bridges into ‘a captive’s continent’, the whole force of a culture, ‘strong currents of thought’ behind the words. The same voice then speaks English. The listener hears tentative sounds, but the whole context is soft and non-threatening. The focus then swings to the listener herself, who confesses confusion, ‘unsure in both languages’. Resolution comes with recognition that both tongues are, in fact, benign. German words nurtured, ‘mothering genes’, and English still opens new possibilities "The other, a constant love affair / Still unfulfilled, a warm / shoulder to touch". The poem combines a wide range of reference and great lyric beauty.

Lotte Kramer has made a recording of the poem to start off Second Light’s Audio Archive. (see link below)

Bilingual

When you speak German
The Rhineland opens its watery gates,
Lets in strong currents of thought.
Sentences sit on shores teeming
With certainties. You cross bridges
To travel many lifetimes
Of a captive’s continent.
 
When you speak English
The hesitant earth softens your vowels.
The sea – never far away – explores
Your words with liquid memory.
You are an apprentice again and skill
Is belief you can’t quite master
In your adoptive island.
 
Myself, I’m unsure
In both languages. One, with mothering
Genes, at once close and foreign
After much unuse. Near in poetry.
The other, a constant love affair
Still unfulfilled, a warm
Shoulder to touch.

Lotte Kramer

Poem published:
in The Desecration of Trees, Hippopotamus press;
Lotte Kramer: Selected and New Poems, Rockingham Press

Listen to Lotte reading Bilingual.

Sep 08 – month 6, round 1; Judge: Anne Stewart

This is the last selection in the current round. At the end of October, Dilys Wood will select an overall winner from the monthly winning poems so far. Poets who added their pages after the start of this round will be added to the next.

September selection: Congratulations to Ann Alexander, this month’s winner, with her poem Turning the Hard Ground.

The four commended poems are by
 
Judith Allnatt, Jill Bonser, Nancy Charley and Jane Fraser Esson – Nancy and Jane’s poems were also commended in the August selection. (links below)

Turning the Hard Ground

A back-of-the-hand man, this.
He had survived a childhood Sunday stern,
as wrapped about with rules
as Leviticus. And so no kisses,
no kind words for us.

And the dog fared worse–never walked,
no, not once. Paced the bare yard,
strapped if he did wrong.
I hear him yelping now.

Sometimes he broke out, raced
the alley like a thrown stick.
Once he came home ripped:
my father held a needle in a flame,
stitched his white hide.
The dog lay still as a pool.

Years later, I came back from school
to a quiet house.
The dog was nowhere. In the yard,
a man I did not recognise
turned the hard ground,
tears raining down.

Ann Alexander

Already intimate with many of these poems, I needed a divorce to enable a fresh and unbiased view. I decided in advance what I would ask of the winning poem. It would convince without a hint of doubt. On re-readings, it would reveal its deeper meanings and convince that the poet believes in them utterly. The language would flow smoothly, no suggestion of syllabic hiccoughs. And it would deliver that ‘something fresh’. Ann Alexander’s "Turning the Hard Ground" did all this for me. A tightly-written and beautiful poem that goes in like a knife and doesn’t come out again.

Anne Stewart

Burns, by Judith Allnatt
Anniversary, by Jill Bonser
Sculling Skills, by Nancy Charley
Four Spanish Widows, by Jane Fraser Esson

Aug 08 – month 5, round 1; Judge: Sibyl Ruth

Congratulations to Joanna Ezekiel, the winner of August’s Poem of the Month for her poem She dreams of going to the cinema on her own.

The four commended poems are by
 
Nancy Charley, Clare Crossman, June English and Jane Fraser Esson. (links below)

She dreams of going to the cinema on her own

Buying a ticket for one.
Pronouncing the name of the film correctly.
Waiting with other matinee-goers –
students, tourists,
a woman with her arm
through her mother’s frail arm,
while film-star cardboard cut-outs
wobble, smiling, on the red carpet.
Choosing a seat, its groan
as she pushes it down,
folding her coat, clutching her bag –
thieves are sssilent.
                              She hears a cough.
She hears the crunch of popcorn.
Nobody in front of her
nobody to her left or to her right,
the lights dimming –
a slow eclipse of the world.

Joanna Ezekiel

Poem published: Envoi 142, 2005, as part of the She Dreams sequence of poems

Joanna Ezekiel’s poem is one of those quiet pieces of writing that sneaks up on you, then can’t be shaken off. We never learn a great deal about the subject, beyond what’s said in the title. And yet there’s an almost overwhelming sense of isolation, pathos. I’m particularly haunted by the ending. Are the woman’s hopes fulfilled as the screening starts? Or does it hint at the ‘lights dimming’ as her whole life finishes…? She dreams of going to the cinema on her own is both subtle and powerful.

Sibyl Ruth

Sculling Skills, by Nancy Charley
The Winter Crown, by Clare Crossman
Family Day, June 1967, by June English
Four Spanish Widows, by Jane Fraser Esson

Jul 08 – month 4, round 1; Judge: Maggie Sawkins

The winner of July’s Poem of the Month is: Sophia’s Hand by Carlotta Miller Johnson.

Commended poets
 
Janice Fixter, Alison Hill, Maria Jastrzębska and Mimi Khalvati. (links below)

Sophia’s Hand

When she took mine in hers
as we were giving each other welcome
 
I knew in that instant we were not sisters
although we were.
 
A chasm appeared. It separated me from her.
A movement of heart.
 
How could I claim a connection
across the distances of daily life?
 
Each morning she walked from her sun-baked house
to pump a debe of water, to forage
 
for a bundle of firewood, to quiet a malaria-hot child,
to weed the maize, sweep the compound,
 
tend the three stone fire to cook maharage, ugali
and worry if the rains would come.
 
Her calloused palm
and mine, soft, educated, pampered.
 

*Swahili words: a debe is a 4 gallon bucket, maharage is a vegetable, ugali is a thick porridge made from ground maize.

Carlotta Miller Johnson

I was drawn by the authenticity of this poem. It begins with a simple gesture, the taking of a hand, and leads the reader ‘across the distances of daily life’ into the world of another, into a world of hardship. There is tension in the contrast between the actual and the abstract questioning. The bold statement in the final couplet takes us back to the beginning, to the moment of epiphany, to skin upon skin. The result is the privilege of the poem penned by the soft hand of the poet.

Maggie Sawkins

City Break, by Janice Fixter
Beyond the Fire, by Alison Hill
Knives, by Maria Jastrzębska
The Valley, by Mimi Khalvati

Jun 08 – month 3, round 1; Judge: Katherine Gallagher

The winner of June's Poem of the Month is: Bilingual by Lotte Kramer.

Commended poets
 
Lyn Moir (2nd month in a row), Denise McSheehy, Gill Learner and Philippa Lawrence. (links below)

Bilingual

When you speak German
The Rhineland opens its watery gates,
Lets in strong currents of thought.
Sentences sit on shores teeming
With certainties. You cross bridges
To travel many lifetimes
Of a captive's continent.
 
When you speak English
The hesitant earth softens your vowels.
The sea – never far away – explores
Your words with liquid memory.
You are an apprentice again and skill
Is belief you can’t quite master
In your adoptive island.
 
Myself, I’m unsure
In both languages. One, with mothering
Genes, at once close and foreign
After much unuse. Near in poetry.
The other, a constant love affair
Still unfulfilled, a warm
Shoulder to touch.
 

Lotte Kramer

Poem published: in The Desecration of Trees, Hippopotamus press; Lotte Kramer: Selected and New Poems, Rockingham Press

Carol Ann Duffy is quoted as saying, ‘A poem… is the attire of feeling: the literary form where words seem tailor-made for memory or desire.’ This statement encapsulates the theme and mood of dividedness and fragmented identity underpinning Kramer’s nostalgic, meditative, very moving poem as she juxtaposes the paradoxes in her situation, speaking from an historic and contemporary stance: ‘When you speak German/…’, ‘When you speak English/…’, culminating in the soul-searing admission of ‘Myself, I’m unsure/In both languages…’ – meanwhile, delineating her bilingual voice with exquisite simplicity and authenticity of tone.

Katherine Gallagher

Dream Cigarette, by Lyn Moir
Salt, by Denise McSheehy
Witch, by Gill Learner
Screen Test, by Philippa Lawrence

May 08 – month 2, round 1; Judge: Wendy French

... and our winner is: Sheltering My Mother by Linda Rose Parkes.

Commended poets
 
2 of the 4 runners up from April have also been selected as runners up this month, so will carry forward again to the June selection: Daphne Rock and Eve Pearce. The remaining 2 this month are Lyn Moir and Gill McEvoy. (links below)

Sheltering My Mother

Suddenly you lose the roof
over your head
and the one thing
which will keep you alive
 
is the grey wool coat
you bought me,
reaching to my ankles,
the one I’m wearing now…
 
Blizzard’s lashing into our faces,
up our sleeves.
The sea, the colour of unfathomed ice,
creaks and moans and
 
drowns out thought
other than this one:
how long can you withstand
such cold?
 
But the coat reaches to its full height,
snuggles us from the wind which flays our lungs
and frost-wraps our limbs
before it bites them off.
 
Huddling in our bear-like tent,
we’ll nestle in its pelt
till morning.
 

Linda Rose Parkes

I remember Penelope Shuttle saying she likes poems that are ‘living poems’ and, for me, this poem is very much alive although the poet and her mother are facing an uncertain future. The metaphor and image of the grey coat are strong because the coat is the one thing that can protect mother and daughter as they face the unknown seas and tides of tomorrow. I’m there in the poem facing the blizzard with them. It’s a poem about love, protection and loss.

Wendy French

Is It Now (in St. George’s Hospital), by Daphne Rock
Green, by Eve Pearce
Dream Cigarette, by Lyn Moir
Bridge, by Gill McEvoy

April 08 – the very first Poem of the Month! – Judge: Hylda Sims

This being the first one, we have decided to kick-start it with 2 poems: the winners are My Cousin (Edith Hemp, d. Bournemouth, 1930) by Merryn Williams and Salmon Nude in Olive Trenchcoat (NFS) by Margaret Wilmot.

Commended poets: Vicky Wilson, Daphne Schiller, Daphne Rock, Eve Pearce (links below)

My Cousin
Edith Hemp d. Bournemouth 1930

She came here – not to rest – to sweep the stairs
and empty chamber pots. The gilded chairs
still stand here, the enormous mirrors throw
my face back as they did hers, aeons ago.
Down these plush corridors she moved, her feet
not echoing – dusting, leaving all things neat.
Somewhere her midget room, a great way up
these stairs. Invisible beneath her cap
to Bournemouth’s guests, but I know who she was;
my flesh, my blood, thrown early from the nest.
A small skimped woman when she was alive,
all siblings lost, unmatched at forty-five.
No trace, not one. Still stands the Grand Hotel
but now she rests. Somewhere in Bournemouth still.
 

Merryn Williams

My Cousin (Edith Hemp d. Bournemouth 1930): A beautifully crafted sonnet of couplets with an important theme – compassion for the hard-working minions unsung by history, unnoticed by the pompous, their ‘feet not echoing’. What a precise, sad picture she draws of dusty, dusting Edith. I love the way she writes, ‘still stands the Grand hotel’, an old-fashioned inversion entirely suitable to its subject and enabling the repetition of ‘still’ to memorably close the poem.
 

Hylda Sims

Salmon Nude in Olive Trenchcoat (NFS)

The nude flashed her intention to step off the canvas
with a salmon blush. The artist thoughtfully scratched
his beard with the tip of his best brush – sable, a present
from his estranged wife, curiously untainted by rancour –
before painting a door, and a man with a beard opening it.
 

Margaret Wilmot

Salmon Nude in Olive Trenchcoat (NFS): This brief and delightfully whacky poem with its tactile internal rhyme ‘blush’ & ‘brush’ and its oily colours ‘salmon’, and ‘olive’ has a properly painterly quality. Hints of bohemian behaviour occurring off canvas set the scene somewhere between Impressionism and Surrealism, Degas and Dali. Though, perhaps ignorantly, I don’t recognise the painting, that doesn’t seem to matter.. ..a door has opened.
 

Hylda Sims

Daphne du Maurier at Ferryside, by Daphne Schiller

Is It Now (in St. George’s Hospital), by Daphne Rock

After the Workshop, by Vicky Wilson

Green, by Eve Pearce