Troubadour Poetry Prize 2013
Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2013: some of our prizewinning poets at Troubadour Prize Night on Mon 2nd Dec 2013 (l to r) Cristina Navazo-Eguia Newton, Richard Douglas Pennant (Cegin Productions), Theresa Munoz, Jo Hemmant, Katy Mack, Anne-Marie Fyfe (organiser), Robert Peake, Louise Warren, Hideko Sueoka, Martin Haslam, Lia Brooks, George Szirtes & Deryn Rees Jones (judges), Mona Arshi, Stuart Silver, Eleanor Hooker and Caroline Smith (see poems below, along with 2007-2012 winners/poems and London New Poetry Award 2010 winner)
Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2013
Sponsored by Cegin Productions
The following prizewinning poems were chosen by judges Deryn Rees-Jones & George Szirtes who read along with winning poets at our annual prizegiving event at the Troubadour on Monday 2nd December 2013:
- First Prize, £2,500, Owl, Hideko Sueoka, Tokyo, Japan
- Second Prize, £500, Bad Day in the Office, Mona Arshi, London W5
- Third Prize, £250, Red Wing Correctional Facility, Tim Nolan, St Louis Park MN, USA
and, with prizes of £20 each:
- Gloria, Linda K Thompson, British Columbia, Canada
- The Bonsai Master’s Wife, Sharon Black, St Andre de Valborgne, France
- Hare, Ross Cogan, Faringdon, Oxfordshire
- Weathering, Eleanor Hooker, Co. Tipperary, Ireland
- Balconies, Louise Warren, London NW3
- Outside the window the wild world still calls…, Wes Lee, Wellington, New Zealand
- Y2K On Koh Samui, David Condell, Glasgow
- Midwife to Mother Shipton, AC Clarke, Glasgow
- They Are Building a Pleasure Dome, Michael Blackburn, Lincoln
- The human touch, Martin Haslam, Wokingham, Berkshire
- Elk, Lia Brooks, Southampton
- Still Life with Bougainvillea, Robert Peake, Whitwell, Hertfordshire
- A Night in the Doll’s House, Katy Mack, London SW11
- Teenager, Caroline Smith, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire
- Simpsons dept store, Toronto, Theresa Munoz, Edinburgh
- The Barking Women of Josselin, Jo Hemmant, Kent
- Main Street Goes Up In Flames, Alice Moore, Candor NY, USA
- Vanishing Rivers of Punjab, Cristina Navazo-Eguia Newton, Swindon, Wiltshire
- Word Ancestors, Aideen Henry, Galway, Ireland
- The Waltzer in Sunlight, Marilyn Francis, Radstock, Bath
Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2013 — Judges Report
Poetry competitions are a test of poems, but they also test judges. They demand that you think hard about what you value, and why, and that has the ongoing and demanding consequence of making you assess and reassess your own work. The standard of poems submitted for this competition was incredibly high. The prize winning poems stood out especially because they had that special gift of being able to create their own imaginative universes. They were poems that felt almost hermetically sealed, complete in their structures and images and sounds and rhythms; all the shortlisted poems, were quite rightly poems that were in love with language; they felt in a strange way as if they had always been written. But they also took risks; formal risks, imaginative risks, and risks of feeling. The winning poem in particular combined these technical abilities with imaginative ones; and it was an especial pleasure to hear it read aloud.
What do prizes achieve? A brief improvement in one’s cash balance and a certain prominence for a certain time, though not always. The person who won the National Poetry Competition the first time I judged it in 1988 is not a well-known name, but I remember the process quite clearly. At the judges meeting – the other judges being Edwin Morgan and Jonathan Barker – by which time we had individually reduced the thousands of poems to just 40 each, a long discussion went on that developed a certain dynamic. It was a dynamic in which each judge changed position several times, occasionally even arguing against his original suggestion. The longer the discussion went on the more different each poem looked – then, just as we were all reeling and critically punch-drunk, one poem emerged, like a ship out of a fog, a poem in which we suddenly saw the best and most brightest of virtues and the entire momentum swung behind it. The prize was won in the last twenty minutes of a four hour discussion and weeks of reading.
It is not satisfactory but it is what is humanly possible. Did we make the best choice? Did we leave out superior poems, did we entirely miss a major work? We might have done. We are, after all, human, not gods. Weeks of reading came down to this. One poem was going to get vastly more money than others that had closely rivalled it. One poet was going to have his or her name in lights, two others would receive a brief glow and the rest would vanish into the pre-competition darkness, the best of them to emerge in magazines and books at their own good pace, if lucky.
It was a difficult task then, and it is now. My impression is that the level of competence has risen year on year for various reasons so the question the judge is forced to ask is not whether this or that poem is good but whether it is a potential winner. If I were teaching I would have to think of ways of explaining the virtues and problems of a poem to the writer, and half-consciously, I still feel I should and it is wearing. All human life is in the poems. There are poems that write with grace of the most dreadful things and one feels dreadful rejecting them. We are used to dealing with people, not anonymous numbers.
In this case both judges felt the pull of the adventurous and idiosyncratic, of poems that tried to do something very difficult, or even something simple, in an original way. There were many lovely poems and it was hard to make the best stand out. Some quality of the voice arrests us. Some utter clarity. The sound of something breaking that sounds just right. Everything on our commended list has great virtues, some might have superior virtues to the three we chose. Time will tell.
Third Prize poem, Red Wing Correctional Facility is, oddly enough, about teaching poetry, not, you might think an important subject. The voice begins novelistically, the speaker enters and simply talks, and it all seems pretty well what you’d expect, then half-way through it mentions the soul, in italics with capital letters, and now we are looking at inmates as they begin to write – and what they write, and how they write, defines their broader masculinity and their relationship to nature. The stakes have risen now and the poem is no longer about teaching Poetry with a capital P but about people: about who they are, where they are and what they do with those facts.
If the third placed poem dealt with one aspect of masculinity, the poem in second place, Bad Day in the Office deals with a traditional feminine problem, looking after household and children, everything needing attention at once. ‘Everywhere there is the stink of babies’ says the poem. That ‘stink’ permeates everything, the rabbit that tops itself, the tulsi plant at the doorstep, the curry, the dock-leaves, the radio announcer’s voice, and the orang-utans, down to that ‘sodding bunny’. These are the murderous suburbs of domesticity delivered in a sharp but tender voice, following the trail of clichés by which it must live but which it must – and does – transform into memorable, original lines..
We held our breath before deciding on our winner, Owl. The poem consists of three sonnets organised into three quatrains and an end couplet. But that was not the issue: we had a good number of other more than competent sonnets and sestinas. It was what the formal device did. It captured sound. The names Mr GP and Mr GA meant nothing to me at first (they were there in the footnote) but the owl did. Mentally I detached the poem from its provenance as a piece of delightful lyrical Oulipanism. The voice was clear, funny, scholarly, slightly on edge yet masterful, and the noises of the owl became ever more important. The missing out of the letter e – that forms the reference to Georges Perec and his translator, Gilbert Adair – came to me later. But, beyond that, what was becoming ever more solid before us was simply an owl, an owl in language. In Elizabeth Bishop’s wonderful poem, The Fish, everything by the end is “rainbow, rainbow, rainbow”. Here it was all owl calls. The third sonnet ran a vast risk with its phonetic evocations, a vast, original, probably unrepeatable risk. But as far as I was concerned, the fog had cleared, our ship had arrived. We held our breath, decided to fall in love with it, and dived in.
For Mr. G. P. and Mr. G. A.
Now I work without that sign following
D, prior to F. I follow you,
writing about an owl fascinating
my soul, Mr. G. P., far from haiku.
Did you catch calls of an owl in a park
in Paris sounding again and again?
You did? I, too, pick up this song at dark
singing not-‘twhoo’ but ‘coo hmm’ in misty rain.
Did you think of this owl as a symbol
of sharp-sightly wisdom in Paris?
In Shanghai this owl signals sin and ill
and bad luck, on a par with cannabis.
In your world, if an Asian owl should light
on you, would you call it or avoid it?
Mr. G. A., your brilliant translation
A VOID migrating. landing on my hand,
I, too, look for ‘hoot’ in variation,
using lipography just as you did.
With your notation, ‘twhoo pht’ ‘twhoo pfft’ ‘twhoo pht’ ‘twhoo pfft’ ‘twhooo’,
Do you hark to hoots of an Asian owl?
With my notation, ‘coo hmm’ ‘coo hmmm’ ‘coo hmm’ ‘coo hmmm’ ‘cooo’,
Do you grasp such whoops as fair or foul?
An individual ululation
has multi-marks and plural compound chords
varying on points, skirting all canons
that control thoughts, though producing discords.
‘Hmm’, ‘twhoo pht’ ‘coo pht’ ‘twhooo pht’ ‘cooo pht’ ‘twhoo hmm’ ‘coo hmm’ ‘twhoo pfft’ ‘coo pfft’.
How would you hoot owl’s fuzzy sound? Just how?
Thoughtful old owl, you stand in a brown oak.
You do not talk, you do but mull and gird;
You do but mull and gird, you do not talk;
Not all can do as you do, thoughtful bird.
O awful owl, you scowl in a ginkgo.
You go off, swooping out, and up and down.
And a dark bass doom thrums in your lingo.
How swift is your flight, how grim is your frown!
In soft wind, twhoo by twhoo, ‘twhoo pht’ ‘twhoo pht’ ‘twhoo pfft’ ‘twhoo’
is ‘coo hrnm’ ‘coo hrnm’ ‘coo hrnmm’ ‘coo hrnmm’ ‘cooo hm’ ‘cooo hm’ ‘coo’ ‘coo’ ‘hoot’,
or ‘uu ho’ ‘uuu ho’ ‘uuuu ho’ ‘uu ho’ ‘uuu’.
And your singular cry grows variant.
And although mystical your haunting call,
owl is owl is owl for you — that is all.
Mr. G. P. is Georges Perec who wrote the novel ‘La Disparition’ (‘A VOID’).
Mr. G. A. is Gilbert Adair who translated the novel into English.
Bad Day in the Office
Darling, I know you’ve had a bad day in the office
and you need some comfort
but I burned the breakfast again this morning
and the triplets need constant feeding-
they are like little fires. And the rabbit …
the rabbit topped himself but not before
eating the babies and the mother stared at me
as if I was the one who did it!
Everywhere there is the stink of babies and it’s a good job
I can’t smell my fingers as they’ve been wrapped
in those marigolds for weeks.
The mother-in-law has been. She didn’t stay,
just placed a tulsi plant at the doorstep of the house
with a note saying she had high hopes of it
warding off those poisonous insects.
That estate agent arrived for the purposes of the valuation.
He dandled the babies on his lap and placed his index finger
on my bottom lip. There’s some paperwork somewhere.
As for dinner, well that’s ruined. Those chillies you sent for
from Manipur? The juice from the curry bored a hole
in the kitchen tiles and I’ve had to move the pot to the stump
at the bottom of the garden, next to the dock-leaves,
it was a short trip but it was good to get some air.
We need to keep reminding ourselves that when it rains
it is not catastrophic it is just raining.
The lady radio announcer has addressed me on several occasions,
-did you know orang-utans are running out of habitat
and we don’t have much time?
I’ve become quite adept at handling the eccentric oranges,
those root vegetables need sweating out …but it’s difficult
to concentrate when that sodding bunny blames
me though how could I have done it when all morning
I’ve been next to the stove stirring the damn pot?
The salsify is eye-balling me, it’s lying on top
of that magazine article — Bored with the same old winter veg?
Give salsify a go. We promise, you’ll never look back.
Red Wing Correctional Facility
Along the bluffs, the limestone Main Building
has the manner of 19th century discipline
and retribution for somewhat small juvenile
wrongs. The wrongs are greater now, I’m thinking,
as I get buzzed in, escorted through several doors,
and taken in an unmarked car about half a block
to the room of boys, black boys, laughing and strutting,
and I’m there to talk about poetry and life, so I start
with Walt Whitman, to blow out the pipes because
you want to blow the dust out of that old church music
to find one’s own song and Walt is the best, and the boys
are listening, each of them listening, from Chicago
and New Orleans and Minneapolis, listening as I read
“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” and they are right there with Walt
right there with his voice which they already know somehow
and I suggest what poetry can do, that it can cross mountains
escape prisons (they laugh like yeah sure) that words
can go to the stars and back and by breathing Shakespeare’s sonnet
you can inhabit Shakespeare’s very vocal chords. So,
we’re going along like this and I mention The Soul not in some
religious sense but in the sense that each of us has a Soul, that sense
we get in a moment that there is something magnificent in us
that is not us but somehow is and the boys are listening very
closely to my words from each of their places around the table —
Omar, Ken, Josh, Jordan, James — and I get them in the mood
to write and they start writing, some in small precise script,
some in blocky letters, some in flourishes that end
with a celebrity signature and now I have them read
their favorite poem of the poems they’ve just written and now
they read their second-favorite poem until they’ve read everything
they’ve written today and I say Big voices, men, let’s have these
big slow voices and they get courage in their words each one
of the words they picked and I ask them to write a poem called
Red Wing and they moan a poem called Red Wing which is
the facility within which they are to be corrected and I have them
begin with The River, then The Trees, then The Stars
and they say unremarkable things about the river and the trees,
and the stars they never see because it’s always too late for stars
or too early and the lights, the lights are always too bright.
Remember Gloria’s house on 8th? Or was it 12th?
The place with the shutters and red steps.
Remember how she whacked all the walls down
with those skinny arms of hers? The energy that was busting
out of her after she finally left Larry,
who couldn’t seem to love her enough.
But what do we know?
When they lived in the double-wide out Cherry Creek?
the chicken plucking parties? the trout pond?
the turret he built so she could reach the clothes line?
how he called her his “little German woman”?
Didn’t we all feel happy then?
Sitting in the kitchen, eating baby carrots from the garden,
drinking wine out of that big box with the spout?
Linda K Thompson
The Bonsai Master’s Wife
The woman at the desk is tiny
with a sharp dark bob
and a child-like voice
and she defers continually
to her gifted, absent husband.
I swear at night
he places her in a raku dish
and checks her limbs
for growth spurts, clips off
any excess, adjusts her wires
before polishing her foliage,
licking his deft fingers,
smoothing out her expression
with one earth-stained thumb.
She explains the tea garden,
the mountain garden, and how
the serenity of the Zen garden
mirrors the timelessness of sand;
invites us to the model of Mount Fuji
her husband’s just completed
with a sculpted Sleeping Beauty
sprawled on gravel at its base.
I ask her if the fig bonsai can bear fruit –
yes, she says, but he nips them
as they’d drain the tree’s reserves.
Suddenly I’m hot, too hot –
we’ve been walking for hours –
I need shade.
On the way home I buy a painting
for my husband of a tree
in which a bird sits singing,
a full-sized tree with limbs stretched
into loops and curlicues,
a cross-legged figure
playing a bamboo flute underneath.
Watched from the window of a moving train –
near where the rail embankment slid away
to free, unshaven scrub, then rose again
to make a sort of ring, walled with a spray
of willow-herb and birch – my first real hare.
A ragged batch of old man’s clothes on bent
hangers, a high-strung eye; it smelt the air
for death, sieving its well-stocked streams for scent
of fox or dog, then kicked its rebec legs,
lent into the wind and went. My first real hare.
Sometimes – rarely – some weird thing unpegs
our playhouse scenery. Watching it there
through the smeared glass was like glimpsing my face
in the gold pages of a book of days.
I kept my appointment with Rain.
We met in the wrong room. Upstairs.
Rain was… melancholy. She rinsed
a naked bulb that hung itself
on white wire. It ran out of light,
she said, spreading her fall
from the rooms unfathomed sky.
Rain enquired if I’d brought questions.
I was allowed four. Four only.
Before I could deny it, she pressed
her sodden lips to mine.
Not yet, she said. They are come.
The sash windows unlaced their gowns
so that ghost ships, dragging nets
filled with memories absolved
by Rain, could sail through them.
And as we watched, Rain said,
These are your questions:
Why is it they hide in there?
Why is it they turn from me?
Is it to the same place they go?
And is it the same story they weather?
Rain said, there is no tenderness
in the absence of joy, and, in the absence
of joy, even songbirds squabble.
When there was nothing left to say,
Rain enveloped me; her hair lay on my face
like tears, and inside my closed mouth,
hummingbirds flew backwards into my throat.
One by one we step out into the mild London night,
and lean our arms against the white railings.
The trees are huge now, engulfing the square like barrage balloons.
They creak and sway, billowing their black silks.
There is a tension in the air, someone shouts out,
something like a plea and our hands loosen for a moment,
distracted by the voice, the wind, the strange
black silks straining against their ropes.
Look at us, just scraps holding onto the edge with our fingertips.
Outside the window the wild world still calls …
where we had consecrated ground
in the shadow of the old gods,
amongst glossy-leaved kumara
your pants hurried down,
in the furrow we lay, we got dirty
and the world was the same when you buckled your jeans:
a magpie; a tui locked in its sweetness.
It happens slowly without you noticing,
hot water bottles, dressing gowns.
Y2K On Koh Samui
By later on, the pills had made us numb,
but even I could see that she was dead:
Barely into the new millennium
the Irish girl had fallen from a jeep.
Her hair was like a miracle of red.
The girlfriend by her side, legless with shock,
sat shaking on the curb in heels and frock,
the crowd dispersing as a fear of sleep
confronted me; the lulling, hissing shore
conspiring with the things my dad had said,
kissing my delicate, hungover head
at Heathrow in the car park months before,
as if he’d wanted us to miss the flight;
`…be really, fucking careful. And try to write-’
We knew about the rats and dogs with rabies
and all the reasons people hated Thailand:
the golfing paedophiles, the whores with scabies,
the heat. Nobody talked about the small
stupidities you find on every island,
the Devil that you’d meet at home; the drink
or draw that leads you to the lonely brink
of selfishness which comes before a fall;
the dark circumference of the frozen lake.
The cutting edge of youth where danger lies;
the pure orgasmic feeling as it scythes
to make you feel immortal, and awake,
as if your life were nothing but a dream,
when suddenly there is no time to scream.
Midwife to Mother Shipton
Two days into her pains when she sent.
They warned me I’d turn flint-hearted:
her husband’s seed they said, made gravel in her,
troll-children cooled in her womb,
grey-faced, granite-skinned. Her money rang true
and I’m here in my blood and skin,
my heart beats sound as ever.
She too was warm and breathing,
cried in her pangs as any woman does. To the last
my fear was she or the child would be lost.
What pushed out of her tunnel of darkness
was nothing I could name: round as a boulder
sticky with blood, snagged with excrescences
a seethe of flesh, hair, bone
in which a spine unstrung its beads,
a tooth glinted. I told her a stillbirth.
Her fifth she said. I didn’t show her
but wrapped it in the shawl she’d knitted,
tied the bundle as I might for kittens,
gave it to the river. It sank like a stone.
A C Clarke
They Are Building a Pleasure Dome
Because I’m no longer a Jew I can breathe
underwater and walk down the street
with an eagle on my arm.
The dust piles and the ash heaps
the trash cans and the bonepits
spiral into one big column the moon sucks up.
Now angels sing. Trees dance,
butterflies kiss my cheeks.
Trains run softly and free of guilt.
Someone whispers be not afeared,
the black of your black coat
is no longer black.
The old rag and bone carts of my childhood
are crossing a bridge over the motorway
to be faced with official retirement.
They are building a pleasure dome in the woods.
They are building a pleasure dome in the woods.
The human touch
glove n. : a symbol of investiture (OED)
It’s first thing that a new hand
learns in surgery: the putting on
of gloves. A hieratic act.
Presented in a packet, flat,
unfolded like a chalice cloth,
the gloves pulled on become a skin
whose taut conformity asserts
the genius of the hand. A puff
of dust like pollen on the green
of scrubs and instinct hands held poised,
as if to catch, or slip to prayer,
have lost identity: tattoos,
and varnish, bitten quicks, effaced.
Before the opening up reveals
a blackening gut, a flabby ventricle,
the hand recalls the scalpel’s weight,
how skin will dint, the coming wound –
breathed through a membrane fine
enough that steel will take a print;
armour enough to mitigate
the fingers’ close atrocious touch.
Sometime later, the man appears from the trees
holding the head of an elk. The bare branch
of an antler scratches the ground, dragging
debris of the woodland with it. See there
on both fat, black eyes the naked field,
the white band of sky shifting across
the mirrors of the pupils as if the world
passes then, one last time, its wild expanse.
In through the trees, in a quiet part
where birds look down
on the future of the body, hooves
jitter across pine-needles,
front leg bending at the knee until
the soft taupe stomach is on the ground.
Sometime earlier, the elk is in a similar place
foraging. It is thinking about the wind,
the drop in temperature, that it will rain
in an hour, maybe two. It is thinking
yesterday, in a similar place, there was food
enough for the mouth of its herd.
The elk listens then, its head pressed
to the wind, hears the hunger-calls of calves
winding through the darker parts of the wood.
When the new noise comes, the elk doesn’t move –
already aware of the difference; the taste
in the air, the shift of the broom. The eyes
take the shape of the man without flinching. There is
no thought about running, only to wait
and look and wait, and this is how it is
every time you come home.
Still Life with Bougainvillea
The bougainvillea taps
at the window, and you
are gone. The cat watches
over the path where you
might return. I watch
the cat, and the small
flowers inside the flowers,
as they brush the pane.
On the cat, there are fleas.
In the flowers, flowers.
In me, your absence drums its
fingers at the points
where I notice my pulse, taps
its beak against the bars
of my chest. Small creature
in my own creature body,
white flowers enveloped in red.
A Night in the Doll’s House
In this house nothing creaks.
You can drift from room to room as if on the draught.
I am a guest here and must make conversation accordingly;
I strike an eccentric pose on the tapestry chaise lounge and
entertain the others with stories from my youth.
I say things such as I love what you’ve done with the place and
No, no! In my opinion wallpaper never goes out of fashion.
Here you can say what you want and no one objects.
In the afternoon I play tennis with a racket
strung from thread. My opponent is a banker from the city.
His briefcase, bowler hat and felt trousers seem inappropriate
for physical exertion. When Betsy the busty milk maid pops by
his spectacles steam up. Their giggling is persistent
it distracts me from my game. Oh Betsy
must you toy with my affections so! Still
I win 3 straight sets to love. I have an impressive backhand
although no one mentions it. When I fling my racket to the floor
and perform a victory lap everyone seems
unmoved. I’ve never been a pro at self composure.
After dinner we take coffee by the fireplace and listen
to Noel Coward records on the gramophone.
‘Twentieth Century Blues’ is one of my favourite songs
but I don’t say. Truth is, the conversation’s starting to dry up and
I’m keen for some alone time.
I make my excuses and search for the door handle.
My host sits at the end of the table in an upright chair
like a figurehead navigating her ship.
She is elderly and spends her days thinking of other places.
Her hair is the texture of white flock. She has pins for eyes.
The only thing he remembered
about the burglary was the dog
as he’d dragged it across the floor,
its claws out in resistance
fur hooding its eyes.
His own teeth were bared
as he shook and twisted
the folds of its neck.
The dream of his father!
His mute mother
had brought him here to
join him and he’d found
a drunk, violent man
who beat her.
He knew at court, that he
had an extra punishment.
He would be deported when
the others were released.
At the time he didn’t care,
he hated this shit-hole of a country
as much as it hated him.
But inside, he found
he was good at maths,
got certificates in fitness,
reflected on his life.
But it was down in writing
that he hated his mother
so now they said he hadn’t
got family life.
He’d told them he was glad
he’d hurt the dog
so they said he had no remorse.
They told him he was now
nineteen and no longer a child
and would be deported with £46.
They asked him which airport
he wanted to go back to
but he didn’t know
what ones there were.
He’d left when he was seven.
Simpsons Dept Store, Toronto
for my parents
You two could have met in Manila’s moist heat.
Under a nest of telephone wires.
A wrecked row of shop fronts.
Instead, as two foreigners
savouring snow for the first time in 1972.
Immigration a long chase you both fell into.
You laughed when I asked where.
Oh, it was in the stationary aisle.
Springy markers and rainbow paper.
Rows of tiny eyelet scissors.
Mom, you sought a gift for a nun.
Flame-haired Sister Bernadine.
Dad, you spied tins of paper clips.
For the job selling insurance you had just got.
Two years later, married at St. Michaels.
Dad in a borrowed suit, Mom in a short lace dress.
A wilting bouquet of winter roses. .
You two could have met another way.
One day you figured out Mom was nurse to Dad’s aunt.
Such a strange coincidence.
But back to the stationary aisle.
Mom chose a fountain pen.
Dad said that’s a good present, for a nun.
I turn this story over and over in my head like a stone.
And think of you two leaving Simpson’s together
taking a chance
knee deep in the snow.
The Barking Women of Josselin
It’s said to be a curse for the way we treated
the Blessed Virgin at the washing place
but ask any one of us and we’ll say otherwise.
Regular as the menses, it starts up
and as the first feral bark ricochets down the stone streets –
the rigid seam from which we never stray; indeed
I’ve often thought of village women as corset laces,
permitted to move only so far by that stiff panel
but I digress: the bark’s more contagious than gossip
and the women take it up no matter what they’re at.
Once Monsieur Pichon was beating Hélène with the heel
of his Sunday shoe. When she joined in, he stayed his hand,
hasn’t touched her since. Little wonder!
Our raucous chorus is louder than the Matins bell
as we lift coiffed heads, unloose a litany
of every buried child, pox, fever, plague,
every time we’re mounted again within weeks
of a confinement, the failed crop, scratch meal,
reprimand from husband and priest, out it comes
in a language neither speaks, her blessing to us.
Main Street Goes up in Flames
Does the man at the next table believe
Gabriel’s lips are on the trumpet and the world
About to dissolve in flames?
He looks as if he might, and he is not alone.
Breakfast at McDonald’s—Burger King?
Somewhere off 94, Stark County, North Dakota.
My daughter, lulled by the pre-dawn rain,
Dozed in the car and now
Is silent with the gravity of a second awakening.
The men by the window are drinking coffee
And speculating on crops and weather.
They have red hands and eyes the color
Of sky rippling on ditchwater.
Once or twice they glance at us
As at something obviously out of place
But not important.
Even so, I am glad to sit at the orange table
And eat my yellow and orange food. Fast food
For the fast life. Within the quarter hour
The highway will swallow us, reddening slightly
As we pursue our route east,
Our after-images, in the mind of the Burger King
Regulars, warping and fading
Vanishing Rivers of Punjab
Jhelum has been down to the well three times, and each time
she’s come back with no sign of her son,
who was sent some time before noon
carrying an empty vessel, wearing red.
Chenab is seven and a half,
has been sent to the well, wearing red.
the land where Jhelum’s courses run
swoons from south to north before it breaks and stands,
or silts over the alluvial plains,
forgets the relict channels to her sides.
Chenab has eyelashes, and hands,
wears red. He fitted inside her when he first moved.
Jhelum stops for breath and holds his name on her tongue
as she asks Soomroo the giant,
wrapped in patchwork quilt of green, indigo and gold from Sindh,
who saw shoeless Chenab with an earthen jug, in red.
Chenab is nowhere near the well,
not on the way, not in the house, he was wearing red
and had long eyelashes, a jug to fetch water.
Jhelum rakes up the memory of less and less likely places
the further ones with wells, the ones lost,
washed away by shifting rivers
then replaced by new towns on safer ground,
or those left to wane, turned to ghosts,
or left to grow, like Bhera, from the plunder,
sustain the damage to flourish a second time.
Chenab went on his own to the well, with no shoes.
He wore red, he carried mama’s jug.
Jhelum blames each child
who looks nothing like hers and comes back.
All those who shall fly their kites on the hills of Panjal,
gather grey and green stones
by the salt lakes, return with the perfume of roses
from the springs of Saidan Shah,
while Chenab travels south to Lahore in the back of a van,
a red gag on his mouth, to be kept in a hole
of a room, until somebody pays one thousand
seven hundred dollars for his face or for his hands.
Cristina Navazo-Eguia Newton
What does he think, with no other language
behind his words, no translation
to multiple meanings to decipher
all hints of intent, no cross links
to other drifts where his abstractions
can find a foothold in the deep cold flow,
wade to shore and hurl themselves
on powdery sand banks
to desiccate and curl.
Instead words are flat.
There is no footman with dry hands
to guide him to an open carriage
and trot him through the park
smelling of horse dung and silage
where he can lie back and regard
the vault of leaves and branches,
while glints of filtered moonlight
rush past him in the dark.
The Waltzer in sunlight – Priddy sheep fair
Something not quite right about
a Waltzer in sunlight. Waltzers are for night,
electric light, boys in vests and tight blue jeans,
girls who scream – loving it. Sex, salt & vinegary
in the dark spaces behind the caravans.
The tiny girl in pink on the daylight Waltzer
sitting next to the seat which said Largest Person
Sit Here, ears blasted by hey, hey, baby, I wanna know
know, know if you’ll be my girl, was missing the point.
Something not quite right in the head
of the carthorse who stomps and kicks
the circle of his tethering – a constrained brawler,
dreadlocked, black-as-night, bawling till the blood-satin
flared in his nostrils.
Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2013 — Judges
- George Szirtes (b. Budapest) came to England as a refugee aged 8: since his work first appeared in Faber’s Poetry Introductions in 1978, he has published over a dozen poetry collections, plus selected poems, new & collected poems, essays, art criticism, selected prose, libretti, poems for children, & public lectures (in Fortinbras at the Fishhouses, Bloodaxe, 2010); has edited anthologies; & has translated poetry, drama & fiction. His latest collection is The Burning of the Books and Other Poems (Bloodaxe, 2009). Among numerous prizes he has been awarded the Gold Star of the Hungarian Republic, & the TS Eliot Prize for Reel (2005).
- Deryn Rees-Jones (b. Liverpool) spent much of her childhood in North Wales & now lectures at Liverpool University. She published her first collection, The Memory Tray, in 1994, followed by Signs Round a Dead Body (1999) & Quiver: A Murder Mystery (2004). Co-founder of LUPAS, a network which aims to bring together scientists & poets for creative collaboration, her critical study Consorting with Angels: Essays on Modern Women Poets was published by Bloodaxe in 2005. Chosen as a PBS Next Generation poet in 2004, she has won an Eric Gregory Award & her latest collection, Burying the Wren (Seren) was shortlisted for the 2012 T.S. Eliot Prize.