Troubadour Poetry Prize 2011
Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2011
Sponsored by Cegin Productions
The following prizewinning poems were chosen by judges Susan Wicks and David Harsent who read along with winning poets at our annual prizegiving event at the Troubadour on Monday 28th November 2011:
- First Prize, £2500: Travel Fiction, Veronica Beedham, Oxfordshire
- Second Prize, £500: Heatwave, Diana Pooley, London
- Third Prize, £250: Fulbourne St, Whitechapel, East London, Alberto Rigettini, Paris
and, with prizes of £20 each:
- Grief 2, Michael O’Connor, Co. Dublin
- Keys, Liz Bahs, East Sussex
- Noir, Richard Lambert, Norfolk
- Cherangani, Mark Carson, Cumbria
- That Night, Ann Butler Rowlands, Surrey
- My Spanish Friend Says Yes While Watching ‘Death Takes a Holiday’, Wes Lee, Wellington, NZ
- I Am Just Turning the Downstairs Place Off, David H W Grubb, Oxfordshire
- Santa Fe, Ellen Cranitch, London
- 9000 Nights on Guam, Paul Richard Scott, Worcestershire
- Shiny Things, Clive McWilliam, Cheshire
- Just for Today, Jennifer Copley, Cumbria
- A Man in his Car Beside his Beautiful Wife, Sandra Kasturi, Toronto
- Funeral in the Woods, Wayne Price, Aberdeenshire
- Red Planet Random, John Whitworth, Kent
- The Star Prophecy, Sarah Stutt, East Yorkshire
- We Make the Shapes of Angels, Jacqueline Saphra, London
- Walkers, June Lausch, London
- Mole, Ann Kelley, Cornwall
- The Wooden Bridge, Anne Berkeley, Cambridgeshire
Prizewinning Poems 2011
The fender points to Vladivostok
over flurries of snow and sequined dark.
Someone on the station platform
strikes a match, a flashback to the Thirties,
like ormolu and iron-work.
The waiting room burns orange.
Forests and forests await us,
stretch along the track for miles
though the animals are of our devising:
foxes, wolves and what we remember
from childhood, something hooded
with emerald eyes. On the frosted window
broderie anglaise, the cells of snowflakes.
We carry what we cannot dream of:
old books, mandolas, stuffed toys.
Within the velvet plush, we think
we are at home; the gas lights
are more real than we imagined.
Every stopping point is improvised;
doors open with a rush of air on the unknown.
The moon is like nothing we remember.
The stars were just there – there, just beyond our reach,
the black between them and us, between each of them
and between each of us the same black.
We lay three feet above the red, warm dust
in the bare garden of our new white homestead, on camp beds
our father had placed across forty-four gallon drums.
Perhaps it wasn’t quite so hot out of doors, perhaps it was,
but nothing could beat the way
sounds came across to us in the open air – snorts of the horses
at the trough and the clatter of their hooves against stones,
a dingo’s howl, ??urrk-urrk??-ing of chooks,
the flap-rattle of ears as goats under the gidgee
shook their heads. And nothing could beat
having poddy lambs beneath us. They bleated now and then,
rubbed against the drums and pestered the collie
till he snarled. Above, the whoosh of an owl,
star after shooting star, and, the only clouds in that clear sky,
those in space: the Dark Clouds and the Magellanic.
Fulbourne St, Whitechapel, East London
Our bathtub is so close to the tube
that the whole room trembles as it passes.
In this tame earthquake the train has come,
I came, the train’s gone.
You wash your cheek with the foam
and you ask me: “Are you happy now?”
Another train rumbles and we watch each
other trembling, flickers on water.
You swim on my side, just turning your back.
The bathtub is so small and this town so cold.
We aided each other with no trace of love.
Two minutes later we are trembling again.
Dorothy Cross’s ship can still be seen
On dark nights in Scotsman’s Bay:
The ghost of a ghost ship,
A kind of aftertaste that brings it all
Back, the dark sea, the green light,
The sound of waves breaking on rock.
Only the lost can see it, and then only
Sometimes, when the shutters slam down
And the blur of chattering people
At the carvery and the noise of the TV
Withdraw like the hush of a plane
Just before it begins its descent,
And the heart of the man who lost his son
Is pounding and nothing is really there
Except, sometimes, that ship’s light that
Tells him there is no comfort except time
And time is no comfort, but, says the ship,
We are here. We are here. We are here.
Though they jangle beneath her coat, locked
to her belt loop with a steel carabiner, she keeps
checking them as she walks across town, touches
their edges with her fingertips once, twice—
brass Chubb to her friend’s wooden gate; skeleton
for the Houghton Lake Hotel; square Krypton
for the missing bike links; slim silver
from the old beach shack; her first dead-
bolt on a chain spelling her name. She doesn’t have
her own house or there’d be too many:
blue window turns, garden shed, grandfather
clock, extras for the neighbours. For now
she lodges over a shop, no need for more
than the one fine-bladed Cole to let herself in,
but the whole set provides a heavy pull at the waist
of her jeans, that sway and slap against her hip.
Sometimes, once she’s hung them on the hook
above her bed, she finds little bites along her thigh.
Voigt turned: there was no-one there
but the rain, releasing itself
through the city.
The sound of tyres, the tall buildings,
the sound of heels.
In a city like this, you could almost—
Earlier, much earlier, the shadow of his name
across the sunlit floor
suggested he was not so much himself
as who he thought he was.
A rap on the glass. He stubbed the burning end
of a cigar into a copper bowl,
lifted his feet off the desk, breathed a cloud
of smoke across the light, and said—
The image of a road is one
he follows, climbing up and down
the canyons and the foothills
and winding up
far from the city, the cicadas
singing into silence.
Darkness. Lightning. Distance.
All his dreams like this.
Keep Out, a chain-link face, a warning
scrawled upon a piece of crumpled paper
or whispered in his ear by a dead man
clutching at his arm, or in the smear
of blood across an automobile’s glass:
mysteries in the city’s own Kabbalah.
He establishes a method, to hurl himself
through spaces like an acrobat,
say stupid things, open the next door
and the next –
Vexed, exhausted, tubercular,
whose face is it he is trying to see?
He heard the city turn beyond him in its dream,
recalled perfume, a name, and an address,
told no-one where he would be. He left.
The heavy phone on his desk began its call.
It ended with a house, the city, and the rain.
With a key, and a thin, broken chain.
With understanding and remorse.
With a lamp burning through the day
and through the night.
With questions and answers and driving away.
With sunlight. With nothing left to say.
They were there when we wakened
in the first light as we thought it
as the bell birds called in the thorn scrub
and the mists dissipated
and the handsome black and yellow ticks
shouldered their way up the grass stems
to the very tip
shoving each other
for the most advantageous station
and the drybush kingfisher
killed its first early chafer
crunchingly by our bare heels
and the strange hybrid cornflakes
rustled in milk from the coolbox
and the orange juice, ah the orange juice
gurgled in the grateful throat
and they were getting closer
and the first soufria of water
boiled on the little blue stove
decanted onto the roasted coffee
bringing a rush of optimism
and the crusty rolls and marmalade
and now they were really quite close
shy but forward, and we could see
the dull gleam of her neckrings
and the colour gash of her beads
and her little ones giggled
at the fair voluminous curls of our little ones
and shy still she wanted
wanted something, she couldn’t say what
she wanted, she couldn’t say in English or Swahili
it wasn’t food or drink she intimated but
yes it was the empty del Monte can
the top cut out she could see
she could tell it was empty
empty, an empty can for putting things in
for putting water in
and I took the light ballpeen hammer I always carried
and skilfully hammered the edge smooth and dimpled
and fixed a piece of bullwire as a handle.
And the sun rose in the Kerio Valley
and warmed our backs kindly
as we set off homeward
to the urbane pleasures of the city.
when Sharon hacked her hunter down
so Kaz could teach Pete how to rise to the trot
said Just like shagging against a wall
when Old Mac boasted You never forget
jumped on poor Lennie’s new Yamaha
and smashed up the outside lav
when we wound up Dave it was fancy dress
and he came as a tart all the way on the bus
when Garvey actually bought a round
and all of us asked for shorts
when Suzie danced on the table
and didn’t fall off
when Mick hollered out to come outside
because of the evening star
hung like a lamp in the turquoise sky
and the air was warm past ten o’clock
so we all sat drinking thigh by thigh
watching the dark slide over the fields
that night when we were all loved up
played Mustang Sally eleven times
everyone everyone everyone danced
then Sharon led her hunter home
because she couldn’t get on his back
and somebody nicked the fag machine
Ann Butler Rowlands
My Spanish Friend Says Yes While Watching ‘Death Takes a Holiday’
I saw it as a child and never forgot
the crisp linen suits,
exactly what death would wear.
And where did he go -
the Mediterranean of course,
some unspecified place;
sun-loungers, big hats and long drinks.
Would death be a drinker?
What did death drink?
My Spanish friend says, jes of course death would be a drinker.
The way they say jes
with the J,
the accent softens it,
makes it softer than it is,
and yes is so soft anyway.
I Am Just Turning the Downstairs Place Off
I am just turning the downstairs place off and do you mind?
I have been in a smaller place sometimes where the clocks
were birds and the wilds came out between stars
and stopping beneath stories was often a good idea
and now I am climbing the goodnight again
and you are waiting for me to turn off the day
having set the numbers.
I am just setting the night life and coming up into sleep
and the bed is ready to deliver other things and this after all
is where we made the daughters and sometimes I think
it is more like a ship and we are always about to set off
for the less than ordinary,ready for silent songs
and meeting people we had long forgotten
in their floating rooms.
I am just closing out the roses and the lawn and the windows
of the house opposite that look as if they had nothing else to say
and the last thing we heard was about a man who said he was the
last cowboy in America and I really would like a word with him
about setting off and how fields have no endings and the way
we never quite trust diaries and the people who claim
they remember us at church,at school,at terrible parties.
I am just turning the downstairs place off and a taxi waits
in a dream and often a conversation with my father and
sometimes the Cornish wrestlers hurl each other out of
the circle and mother is saying something about socks
and my darling wife tells me that the words don’t quite
fit as she drifts and was the child awake and I write this
down into the place that we have become and its urgency.
I expect that the angels will be kickboxing again and that
the man who lives with thirty two parrots will again pick
up the phone and tell me that there is nothing quite like it,
the way they swear at the television and say their prayers
and about the novel they are all writing only it is more like
a painting because of the colours colliding and the way a
migration can change everything, even if it has no wings.
David H W Grubb
Jesus who came to empty the septic tank,
his slogan, your shit is my bread and butter,
remember the torrent of coke he drank,
the faith he had, profanities he uttered?
The launch of Krisp-B Chicken with garlic fries,
your dad, his face caved in, hunting his dentures;
we ate to camera, smiled, evangelised
gourmet pleasures prone to misadventure.
Beneath blue grass, red earth spawned termite towers.
We tracked the antique railroad south to Lamy,
cacti soft with snow our desert flowers,
yucca, chilli, guacamole, adobe.
A cable-car, the aspens’ silhouette,
took us to heaven. Nothing needs accounting
with love’s redress, suspended above sunset
on the Sangre de Cristo mountains.
9000 Nights on Guam
Yokoi will remain in hospital for some time
before returning to his home in Nagoya
dark water and solitary phases of the moon
and wish to meet the Emperor
lizard, reptile, mysterious amphibians
and wish to meet the Emperor
in tunnels beneath enemy soil
and wish to meet the Emperor
You were an artisan
weaving bamboo baskets for eels
and wish to show the Emperor
You were a soldier
of an Imperial Army
and wish to meet the Emperor
a weathered and defunct rifle
for only the Emperor
You are ashamed
to remain among the living
and will apologise to the Emperor
restless spirits in Room 1508
and shed tears for the Emperor
You are exhausted
by television and airport crowds
but wish to meet the Emperor
You have endured
and wish to meet the Emperor.
Paul Richard Scott
You unfold a map of crash sites,
where I see only hills.
Barely dawn, you coax me
to folds on a moor
where boys have fallen
from much earlier skies.
We riffle the ground for silver,
find a tailfin perched
like a spacecraft part in the heather.
Heads down in a trench of torchlight,
our spades collide on roots, glass, leather,
until you tug a boot from the turf.
I was the one, you told me,
most precious, most shiny of shiny things.
I wore your gold from the sky for a ring
and I shared your bed
with the mortar-shell candlesticks
and the live rounds beneath it.
And I laughed when you said
you could explode with what you carried.
At night I dream the booming ground
runs me bare-foot through fields
of cockpit cloches and fuselage gardens of sheep.
Those failing engines live and fall
inside your head.
As we come down through cloud,
I think of the hillside
meeting that boy coming home.
His marinated boot with the bone dry rattle,
which you tell me is a stone.
Just for Today
they’ve come back, slipping between
the two tall trees at the garden’s end.
No one gave them permission, they just came;
clean hands ready for tea, hair wet with summer rain.
And so she dries them slowly,
rubbing their heads gently with the blue beach towel.
She’ll ask them to stay but they can’t, they won’t.
They’ll be gone tomorrow
though she’ll stand by the two tall trees,
look and look till it’s too dark to see.
But for now she rubs their hair as slowly as she can
till they pull away, wanting their tea.
They have clean hands, they say, and lift them up.
A Man in his Car Beside his Beautiful Wife
Here you are again, on the road toward automotive love
your beautiful wife adrift in the passenger seat.
They say cars are like women, except that they are cars,
not women, and not men either, or children, or dogs, or potatoes.
Cars are cars, except when they are automobiles
or airplanes or derringers, except when they are sweet
hot metal alive on the wriggling road through the mountains
where, at long last, a man (and his beautiful wife)
will stop to have a picnic, to pretend to have a picnic,
but really, neither of them are hungry.
And the road has turned this way and back, and has made
them both tired, and they are not fond of cold food
at lunchtime in any case; they are both tired
and there are things that need to be said
that aren’t being said, not in front of the car
nor in the back, not with a road or an airplane or a derringer.
In fact, both the man and his beautiful wife
have often thought of saying things with a derringer
but instead say them with cold fried chicken
that wasn’t very nice even when it was hot.
They say winding things with roads,
with the mountains, or the lack of them. They say
things about cars and about women, about dogs,
about potatoes and roads, and fried chicken, and whether
they have worn the right shoes for this sort of trip
in the first place. They say things and mean them
or don’t mean them. But a man can have a beautiful
wife and a road and be pleased with neither.
And a beautiful wife can take off her beauty
at night, hang it on a crochet-covered hanger
in the closet, and leave the chicken out
longer than necessary. A wife
can take or not take a road; she can
and can and can, with her legs highkicking
and her stockings held up by nothing
but the grace of mountains and roads and men.
A man, in his wife, beside his beautiful car;
you are this wife, this beautiful man, this tired car,
this mountain turning upon the lathe of roads.
You are beside things, and beautiful, or you are not.
Funeral in the Woods
The man who found a funeral in the woods
still hacks branches for the fire, keeps
the path to his cottage door clear. He could
almost forget if it wasn’t that sleep
brings back the almost-talk of rooks, and the way
the smaller leaves, washed bright in the rain,
show their palms to the wind. This man may
return from woods one day to a house in ruins.
It all belongs to a different time,
this man, these woods, whatever he found.
What he found changed everything, but only
for him. His wife is calling out his name
as he leaves for the woods again; the sound
the name makes is different each time, strangely.
Red Planet Random
Out on the burning, sun-crazed wastes of Mars
Sleeps the Selenian heiress, eyes tight shut.
She had it coming, the galactic slut.
Here’s Captain Fergus of the Brazen Cars,
Chewing the seventh of the black cigars
He purchased at some station nissen hut
Beneath the astro-dome. Her throat is cut
From ear to ear. Shit happens in the bars.
Fergus beneath the white, unpitying stars,
Fergus, impassive as a coconut,
Gently massages his policeman’s gut.
Unbroken lines of giant nenuphars
Stretch back across the craters. Moonshine bought it
Way back. It flourished. Strange! Who would have thought it?
Who would have thought it? Everywhere the rich
Are getting richer or they’re getting shot,
Old Fergus knows how a policeman’s lot
Encompasses the fist, the bribe, the snitch.
He needs to catch the murderer of this bitch
And do it pronto. What he hasn’t got
He’ll have to manufacture. Jeeze, it’s hot.
A Martian salamander in the ditch
Starts up a steady, guttural croaking which
Shadows his mood. The Sheriff is a sot
Long married to the bottle. Like as not
He’ll dump on Fergus if he sniffs a glitch.
The millionairess is (no, was) a slattern,
But strange and lovely like the rings of Saturn.
Where is the damaged android, whose malfunction
Has turned him to a serial sex offender,
Whose victims, irrespective of their gender,
Are hunted down and slain without compunction
Given a certain planetary conjunction?
Fergus seeks out his secret special friend, a
Dealer in moongrass and a moneylender,
High class purveyor of expensive junk — Shin-
Bone McShane, ex-rent-boy and ex-monk — Shin-
Bone the mystic, magic gender-bender,
Divine Uranian and lost weekender,
Without his help poor Fergus would be sunk — Shin-
Bone the poet, Fergus’ one-time lover,
Now a policeman, working undercover.
The Star Prophecy
My chemistry teacher, a bald-headed conjuror,
taught me how to create something beyond myself.
Copper sulphate crystals, lozenges of Atlantic blue,
soldered together into tiny icebergs.
One afternoon, he drew the curtains, ignited a piece
of magnesium ribbon, the whitest light I’d ever seen.
He watched our faces as it flared in water,
said the future belonged to girls like us.
It is this promise of greatness, this memory
of Bethlehem brightness, which burdens me still,
as I travel on a tight-rope between this and the after-life,
laden with rare gifts, on the brink of delivery.
We Make the Shapes of Angels
Their mortars brought the house down. Odd, though walls
and floors were gone, we didn’t die exactly, but
our lives slid slickly out into the street.
Our souls played dead until the fires were low,
the looters fled. We tried to gather up
our scattered limbs and label them, we clacked
our broken bones like castanets, we called
for tears and shovels; no-one came. Slowly
our sandblown joints grew stiff, our lips turned black.
The years have left their debris, silted up
our exit wounds. But still we itch and burn.
We never sleep; we hide the clocks and hunt
the moon for light, the urban fox for eyes
and skin. Each dusk we call our children in.
No sign. Our world is viscous and our hold
grows slight, we play at rip and shadow through
the dark and couple hard on beds of earth
uncurtained as the red snow falls. There
we wallow till we’re blooded; scoff at stars.
We make the shapes of angels where there once
was lawn. We drain the dark, spit out the dawn.
We walk in furrows, tread clods of earth
and our conversation has turned bleak:
Auschwitz, Stalin, the world economy.
Then someone at the back tells a story, of his first wife’s grandfather, a Pole,
who escaped from a camp, walked from
Moscow to Warsaw, in winter, minus 40.
How he wrapped his booted feet in straw;
the care he took as he sprinkled on water.
Froze, in no time, like a pair of straw igloos.
So that’s how he kept his toes and lived on,
only to get shot by a madman from Krakow,
but not before fathering a daughter,
who became, for a while, the mother-in-law
of the man at the back of the line.
It would take at least a hundred of you
to make a small pair of trousers.
I would rather think of you shaping
mossy nests for your plushy young,
paralysing worms with your toxic saliva
and storing them by the thousand in deep larders.
I hear that you squeeze the worms between
your navvy paws to rid them of soil.
In the Fens your names are mouldywarp
and dirt tosser. A group of you is a labour.
Your large pink paws,
which remind me of wicket-keeper gloves,
were hung around the neck of a victim
of toothache or rheumatism.
I hear that a worm will leap into the air
to escape your grip. I’d love to see that.
The Wooden Bridge
The moment hasn’t happened, so any doubt
flows the shortest route downhill to the beck
where the dipper flicks his tail and tinfoil trout
turn through aspen-light, till we wreck
the balance with our xylophoning boots.
It could have been one of a hundred bridges
where self-renewing water clutches roots
and spring sun sets on fire a hatch of midges,
but not the one where I’d embarrass
you by claiming it unique – quite the opposite.
If one of us had photographed the space
up in the woods where bluebells spread like gas
or by the beck where ramsons reeked of it,
there’d be no cuckoo, and nothing to replace.