Winning Poems 2011
The prizewinners in the fourth Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition were announced at a ceremony at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Wednesday, August 17. The ceremony was held just before the first anniversary of the death, at the age of 90, of Professor Edwin Morgan, who held the post of Scotland’s first Makar, or national poet.
Kona Macphee said of the winning poem: “Leper Window epitomises everything I love about poetry. It revels in the musicality of language and is magnificently concise, evoking a whole lost world in a dozen elegantly understated lines.”
Vicki Feaver said: “I think it was Coleridge who defined poetry as ‘the best words in the best order.’ This moving and beautifully constructed poem follows that definition perfectly.”
Dr David Kinloch, a Reader in Strathclyde’s Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences and co-founder of the competition, chaired the event. He said: “It has again been a pleasure to have received so many entries of such high quality.
“It has been particularly gratifying as we prepare to mark the first anniversary of Edwin Morgan’s death. As one of the outstanding poets of the modern age, he left a formidable poetic legacy and this resonates in the entries to this year’s competition.”
To read the judges’ comments on the winning poems, please click here.
l - r: David Kinloch, Jane Yeh, Gill Andrews, Jane McKie, Kona Macphee, Vicki Feaver. Photo ©Strathclyde University
(1st Prize, £5000): Leper Window, St Mary the Virgin by Jane McKie
Jane McKie, originally from West Sussex, lives in Linlithgow, West Lothian. Her first collection, Morocco Rococo (Cinnamon Press), was awarded the Sundial / Scottish Arts Council prize for best first book of 2007. She runs a small press, Knucker Press, which is dedicated to bringing writers and artists together in book and pamphlet form. Her latest collection is When the Sun Turns Green (Polygon, 2009).
The contagion of lepers
The low glass, where they crouched
remains, but their breath,
their rash, their lack
has passed into the lace
of shadows in the yard.
Where God looked
but did not touch,
the lip of sandstone
is purled with fissures.
2nd Prize: Ossuary by Lydia MacPherson
Lydia MacPherson has been writing poetry since 2004. She was born and brought up in the Yorkshire Pennines and now lives just outside Cambridge. She misses the views. She read English at Trinity College, Oxford and is reading for an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Poems have been published in various magazines and in anthologies and she has been placed or commended in several competitions. Lydia has read at The Troubadour and at Days of Roses, The Shuffle and CB1 Poetry. Her work has been translated into Malayalam and Greek. She has recently collaborated with the artist Tom de Freston.
And when his father left
he learned to carve, to whet the blade,
worn arched and thin by years
of Sunday lunch, against the steel,
the Bakelite handle gentled
as a bird cupped in his hand.
Then, to test it on his thumb pad,
drawing the finest wire of blood.
He found the easy slip in bone
and muscle, how to break
a woodcock’s leg and bring
sleek tendons out with the foot.
The lolling head, plucked back
to black-eyed fledgling, turned
in upon itself, the long beak
pinning the reed-fed breast.
Like marking former Soviet states
on maps, he portioned up a steer
in doodles on the fly leaves of
Philip’s Modern School Atlas.
On the way home, his dinner money
bought a whole ox-tail, a fleshy
jointed dinosaur dripping its trail
through his satchel’s hide.
It took a year of careful choice,
getting the right cut, saving
shoulder blades, ribs, hocks,
wishbones standing in for all
the delicate bits too hard
to find. The skull was worst,
a patchwork of chicken backs
and Christmas turkey leavings.
His father always said,
“if a job’s worth doing it’s worth
doing well”, and Dad would be proud,
he thought, to look under the single
bed and find, among the dust,
the furry sweets and Lego,
the bony keepsake, complete,
laid out upon the shagpile.
3rd Prize: FOUR SISTERS: SARGENT’S THE DAUGHTERS OF EDWARD D. BOIT by Jane Yeh
Jane Yeh was born in America and educated at Harvard University. Her first full-length collection, Marabou, was published in 2005 by Carcanet. It was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and the Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. Her chapbook, Teen Spies, was published in 2003 by Metre Editions. Her next collection is forthcoming from Carcanet in November 2012.
Each girl has got her best dress on.
At dawn, they were washed and brushed and tied
Into pinnies. Then the long wait
Until afternoon, when their florid mamma
Peers in for a moment; is off to the coiffeur’s.
The one on the floor wants to know what her doll
Thinks about being painted. The one in the door just wants
To cut her hair short. The one on the side is trying
Her hardest not to fall over. The last one
Dreams herself into colour a limb at a time.
Her eyes look dubious. If the world
Makes us pay for our pleasure, how much will she owe?
Her aberrant shadow trails her like a servant.
Her beruffled wrists know no compulsion.
Her indolent sash is a cascading sigh.
She won’t marry for love, or money.
She’ll found a museum for unmanufacturable inventions.
She can’t let them find out where, or why.
Runner-up: Loving Medusa by Gill Andrews
Having started writing creatively in her 30’s, this absorbed her more and more, until she finally resigned her law firm partnership to spend more time with her books. She then abandoned London altogether (at least temporarily) to study for an MLitt in Poetry at St. Andrews University, working with Don Paterson, Robert Crawford and Kathleen Jamie.
Gill won the Frogmore Poetry Prize in 2008. Her work has been widely published in magazines such as The North, SEAM, Magma, Smiths Knoll, The Frogmore Papers and Poetry Wales.
She was shortlisted for the Picador Poetry Prize in 2010
Two-finger tap to my inside elbow, then
the shock of sterile metal. I search her face
as she pulls blood from me, but she looks away.
They all wear gloves and always look away:
Normal girls not good enough? She spins
the centrifuge to test for grit, then weighs me,
checks my body mass. Do you suffer
from patches of granite? Squat then stand, squat
then stand as nurses listens for diamonds. I tell
all this to Medusa, lying in her sculpture garden,
ridiculous in my blindfold. We once used a mirror
and I saw her naked but these days she won’t take the risk.
She drugs the snakes before we make love, and they dream
Medusa’s dreams around my throat and ears.
It’s not the same. I say “it’s not the same”
but, honestly, how would I know? Alone to The Filmhouse,
the first place where, when the hero died and I cried,
my tears were opals. I keep a bowl of them
and they sing the arias that icicles sing as they harden
to stalactites. Do you take this woman? Alone
at weddings, I fit my hand to the cold tattoo
claiming my upper thigh. Medusa’s agreed
I can see her, once, complete, in the flesh, when I’m old
and ready to die. I’ve started bribing the clinic
to certify I’m clean, but Medusa’s no fool –
this can’t continue. She kisses me on the lips,
in the sun, in the garden, and cells in the skin of my arms
become flakes of quartz. I begin to remove my clothes.
Runner up: REMAINS by Sarah Jackson
Sarah Jackson was born in Berkshire in 1977 and is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University. She has taught creative writing in a range of academic, community, and mental health settings. Her poems have been published in a wide range of journals including The Rialto, Magma, Envoi and Other Poetry. Her work featured in the anthology, Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, edited by Clare Pollard and James Byrne and published by Bloodaxe who will also publish her first full-length collection in 2012.
… après ma mort, il ne restera plus rien (JD)
Today, I find I can see through my eyelids.
You are curled over yourself as if reading
but there is no book. I wait, counting the dogwood
on the curtain, listening for the telephone.
You sit in a winged armchair by my head
holding your elbows. I smell you: dirty and sweet.
I think of the way I might have said goodbye.
We tried not to speak of such things.
You turned and your hot face was bright.
I saw myself reflected in it as I ran.
The room grows cold. I am not arranged in a line.
Lift me, please, from my crookedness.
We need to start again but it is always too late
and I am afraid that you do not know how to begin.
Love, you surprise me: turning, dipping a cloth
in a shallow bowl, you wipe my palms in slow circles
and twist my rings so that everything is facing
one way. This is touch without touching,
as it always is. You are so quiet, sounds slip
from the ceiling. I am afraid of you, of your gentleness.
You say, nothing will remain, and I hear my bones
in your voice: At home, the dog will always be searching.
Snow Angel by Aileen Ballantyne
We found her in the back garden
of the twenty-sixth house,
lying on her back,
legs and arms akimbo,
like she did as a girl,
the white roots of her brown hair
in reflected snowlight.
Where’s Hannah? She said,
I want to play with Hannah.
It’s alright, we said, we’ve come for you.
We’ll take you home.
But she knew, as she always did,
when we lied.
We brushed the ice off her blue night-dress,
warmed her freezing hands inside ours,
and watched our mother’s wings
melt into the snow.
Troup Head by Ian Crockatt
A hare. Paired yellowhammers.
The father teaching the son
on the harrow-hooked tractor to sow seed.
High, higher, on a flung spirit-spring
and the wind-torn flags of her wings
a brown lark unleashes such song that any human heart
would consider these sea-beaten cliffs
home, hang on in at the land’s frayed end
- where gannets swarm – listening.
Far to the north, the ruled horizon inked in,
a gull-waked trawler is signing
the salt-seamed sea. I love
this broken, blue-shadowed point
of no return, its hares’-ears-quivering grasses,
its storm-wrecked hawthorns. Look
how that squabble of finches and those soft-nosed roe-deer
live through it ; how completely that woman
forking its obstinate clay imagines trees.
GIST by Paula Cunningham
In this his apocryphal pre-incarnation I have him in nightgown and cap
clutching a candlestick, big Willie Winkie cack-handed with drink,
he soft-shoes, manoeuvres himself in behind her, just as the first of his hic-
cups erupts, impressing the spoon of himself on her echoing form,
more stirred by the whiff of her, dizzy with ale, his left arm walloping
over her waist, misfiring and squeezing too hard, more a thrust
than a hug, just under the breastbone he loves so her wrought silver denture
(three upper incisors avulsed in a fall from a horse and hitherto
hidden to him) wings forth on that sudden upshot of air, abrupt
as an utterance too long held, and rings on the earthenware pitcher,
hic hic, her rhythm disrupting before her breath settles and young
Mrs Heimlich recovers the gist of her dream.
Ten O’Clock Horses by Sarah Jackson
At night, our village is packed
in rows like fish at the market,
flat on our backs. In the attic
I am scaled with moonlight,
waiting for the horses to ride
over the black earth. They snort
outside the room where I go
to love my secrets in absolute dark –
where spiders squat in solitude,
cursing at the two moons
under my nightdress
as I open my mouth,
breathe hard and look up
between the slats in the roof
at the clouds kissing the stars.
Hurry child, my mother says.
The ten o’clock horses are coming.
She is knitting socks without heels.
At ten, Father blows out the lamp,
my secrets still steaming.
Thirty of the king’s best horses,
he tells me, but he won’t talk
of his own mysteries, even when I ask.
Later, when he is hard at his secrets
I close my eyes and watch
the horses slip from his tongue,
land with a click on the cobbles,
their hooves clinking like coins
in his pocket, or teeth falling out.
First he snuffs the lamp. Then he snuffs
my mother. She lands softly,
like teeth. Her needles clatter
like thirty tiny horses
galloping over tiny cobbles,
like the sound of my father’s money
falling from her mouth.
Other People’s Dreams by Helen Mort
The lives you have in other people’s dreams
are lives no less. Tonight, for instance
you are kissing the proprietor of SPAR
in a store room dense with half-price oranges.
A school friend has you kneeling
in a layby of a Scottish mountain pass,
grappling with the front tyre of a haulage truck,
the road unrecognisable with rain and gorse.
Though your hair is jet black for disguise,
you are the photographer in your mother’s nightmare,
pointing your camera at her locked front door,
a dark room where the night’s about to stir.
No wonder you wake up bereft:
each morning, you must gather all these lives
back in again and force a lid on them,
or hold them tight, walk carefully downstairs
like the girl you were in your own dream
once, the one who clutched a dozen
long-stem roses to her dress, until they merged
into a bloodstain on her ruined breast.