In a spell of good luck I had two poems in the running for the 2019 Teignmouth Poetry Competition, which is linked to the poetry festival. ‘Since Eels do not Keep Diaries…’ was selected for the final ten by John Greening. ‘Chiaroscuro’ was awarded first prize in the local section. Here’s the judge’s report from poet and novelist Julie-Ann Rowell:
The poem I chose for first prize is one of great lyrical delicacy and artistry. The city of New York, a place I know very well indeed, is captured superbly – ‘Manhattan … where history crawled out of its sleeping bag and stretched’. The connection between art and what it can and cannot do for us is expressed with tremendous expertise. This is a craftsperson who has a mastery of technique.
It was great to chat with the judges and poets. Thanks to the festival organisers, Virginia, Jennie, and Ian for all of their efforts to promote poetry locally and further afield.
Here’s the poem for the local prize:
Five years ago, I walked the eighty blocks
from Dan’s apartment in the West Village
all the way to the Met and found myself
staring at The Penitent Magdalen
alone for half the day. Nobody paints
skulls like they used to. There was no irony:
a candle-pale memento in her lap
held like a baby in her tenderness.
But it was the mirror that struck me.
Its flame burnt out of keeping with the first,
as if two candles lit her solitude.
One candle for knowledge, another for soul.
That evening was a bar two blocks away
where we drank screwdrivers until sparrows
sang at the Highline and Manhattan stirred
down at Zucotti Park, where history
crawled out of its sleeping bag and stretched.
Skyscrapers loomed either side of churches
that once dominated fields and houses.
Walking through cities, we see others’ lives
happening to them, even if they can’t.
Art has a little power for waking
but the rest is down to us. Is this prayer?
To be humbled in a white room where hope
has been given shape? Hope for redemption,
for the passion to imitate at first.
And for the courage to make forgeries
then let such grace as we find turn them true.
Photo: Viv Wilson.