Teignmouth Poetry Competition

Mark Cooper (2)

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:

Chiaroscuro

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.

See the full competition results and learn more about their events on the Poetry Teignmouth website.

Photo: Viv Wilson.

How to Recognise the Stars

How do? I had a poem shortlisted in this year’s Live Canon poetry competition. As in previous years, the shortlisted poems were performed by LC’s actors. Leon Scott memorised mine and it was filmed a few days later. He really brings it to life, performing it with great openness, heart, and soul.

The poem is printed in the competition anthology, which you can buy on Amazon or order from Live Canon directly.

Storm

The storm came today.
I waited in the garden for it.
Wind rumbled around the house
talking through the gate, the fence,

the bamboo chimes we bought,
banging against their separateness:
nothing more than the ghost
of unreported rainfall in the air.

Pay attention, said the gate.
Do not be angry, said the fence.
This is what you came for, said the road.
You are a body, said the rain.

The wind chimes banged together
like thoughts.

Kindling

Stir the curry pot

warming on the stove

while passing to get wood.

Torch in hand, stars are familiar.

Arms full, into the warm.

Building the fire, small bits first,

a mite crawls on kindling.

Lift one piece out.

Everything’s already aflame.

Orion

Orion hung in the skylight, empty from anywhere but this blue dot

so I lay under his broad-shouldered body, light years tall.

He stalked the plain – stronger than coincidence,

nonchalant like David – while I lay on carpet,

torso mirroring his, palms open to the night,

wondering how to honour what I seek.

 

Concentration

Breath hisses like a burning log.
The cracked black wood burns red,
smouldering in a deep iron heart.
Too much air, it flares and flickers out.
Too little, it starves and we get cold ash.
But when the grate is open well enough
it breathes hot and constant.
Sometimes a blister, a spark, a crack.
Mostly nothing but silent, black heat
warming the room without display or cease.

 

 

In Which the Deceased Complains to Atum, the World-Creator

Deceased:

Love is not made here. There is no air, nor bread, nor beer.
It is doubly dark, which is to say that it has no colour.
It is doubly deep, having no need of a beginning.
It is doubly quiet, because I can hear myself.

You have brought me to a place that does not exist.
This land is dark and unsearchable. There is no water.
The air is not transparent, or else everything is.
What purpose is there in bringing me to a desert
so dry, where nothing can be found?

Atum:

Live in it content!

 


Adapted from Egyptian mythology.

Live Canon 2016

Hello! Guess what? I was shortlisted for the Live Canon International Poetry Competition again. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get over to Greenwich Theatre to hear the shortlisted poems performed but am chuffed to have my poem published in their new anthology. It’s a response to Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’.

§

Returning to Woods on a Snowy Evening

Developers have sought permission for
much-needed housing. Many trees are gone.
Although I’ve rarely walked in them before,
these woods belong to me, if anyone.

My new coat covers something old in me,
a looker-at-birches who journeyed on.
Ice storms silver everything here but time.
Diggers crouch: eager to do and be done.

Trees are like flagpoles beside the road,
marking the quiet border of a ceasefire.
At 1 a.m., I’ve come out here to tread
down snow and put the freeze on my desire.

Love, in any language, can’t be understood.
The call’s been made, the council has agreed.
No one can say how dark, how deep this wood.
How long before suburbs become its seed.

 

§

The competition was won by Aileen La Tourette for ‘The Diving Horse’. Congratulations to Aileen and to all of the poets who shortlisted. As a competition that believes poetry should be read aloud, the Live Canon anthology will be alive with poems that crackle and sparkle in the ear. You can buy it from Amazon.

Update: you can also buy Live Canon’s New Poems for Christmas anthology.