Troubadour Poetry Prize 2017

Troubadour Poetry Prize 2017

Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2017

The following prizewinning poems were chosen by our 2017 judges Imtiaz Dharker & Michael Symmons Roberts & read by winning poets at our Troubadour prize-giving on Monday 27th November 2017:

  • First Prize, £2,000, The egg-slicer, Katherine Pierpoint, Canterbury, Kent
  • Second Prize, £1000, The Secret of Happiness, Suzanne Cleary, Peekskill, New York
  • Third Prize, £500, Confession of a Need to Know, Lindsey Holland, Ormskirk, Lancs

& with thanks to leading magazines & Troubadour Coffee-House, our 2017 sponsors,

  • £100 Troubadour restaurant gift voucher
    The Roadkill, Soul Patel, Northwood, Middx
  • Bottle of Troubadour champagne
    Quickening, Ali Thurm, London
  • Two-year subscription to The Manhattan Review
    Man Talk, Simon Lewis, Carlow, Ireland
  • 5 One-year subscriptions to Poetry (from Poetry Foundation)
    The Viewing, Michael Werner, Jerusalem
    Wunderkammer, Sharon Flynn, Dervock, Co. Antrim
    Uncle, Michael McKimm, London
    Clearing, Jay Bernard, London
    Seasoned With Thyme, Suellen Wedmore, Rockport, Massachusetts
  • 3 One-year subscriptions to Poetry Ireland Review
    The Measurement Institute, Anthony Lawrence, Wynnum, Queensland
    Coundon Road, William Johnson, Cardiff
    1957, Timothy Nolan, St Louis Park, Minnesota
  • 2 One-year subscriptions to The Rialto
    Dear Sadness, Ayesha Drury, Glasgow
    The Bridge, Stephanie Norgate, Midhurst, W. Sussex

Judges’ Reports, 2017

Imtiaz Dharker writes…

The Troubadour competition seems to bring out the best in poets from all over the world. Out of the thousands we read, we whittled to a shortlist of a hundred excellent poems, but then it was particularly difficult to come down to this final list. It was exciting, reading them, to find several conversations beginning, conversations about the world we live in and how we make art in this world. I felt as if I was listening to one voice after another taking up a different thread in the story.

I enjoyed the musicality, the images in many of the poems, not just those you’ll hear today but many of the ones that aren’t on the final list of winners. I did not understand every poem right away, but that didn’t worry me, because often the mystery of a poem just echoes larger mysteries, different ways of looking at what is going on in the world.
While I was reading the entries, I was thinking about how poems smuggle themselves into the mind. Many of the winning poems deal with difficult subjects, but they come at it in a way that looks simple, with language that feels as if it has been newly made. When Anne-Marie finally revealed the winners’ names to us, it was good to see that it’s such a wide-ranging and international list.

ManTalk, Simon Lewis: the poem works through the rituals of men on a fishing trip, their ‘strong’ silences, their beer-drinking, to suggest emotional desolation; and then the slow opening up, with hints of their troubles, when ‘their shells open, letting out the brine’.

The Viewing, Michael Werner: the viewing of a property takes on the quality of a water-colour painting, a fine wash over the lanscape that moves from first love to its bitter end.

Wunderkammer, Sharon Flynn: this is a room of light and delights, glints of life, hints of references to other poems (Dickinson, Larkin). Is this a room of remembered poems? I’m not sure, but I certainly enjoyed the teeming mysteries and images that felt like clues.

Uncle, Michael McKimm: without passing any overt judgements, this describes a child’s first encounter with a gun. But the poem points the barrel ominously into the heart of a family celebration.

Clearing, Jay Bernard: the victim is the speaker in this compassionate detective story of a poem. The image of eyes, seeing, not seeing, runs inventively through the poem.

Seasoned with Thyme, Suellen Wedmore: a young parent’s sense of freedom in a new home away from watching eyes, in an era of liberation, is finely described here.

The Measurement Institute, Anthony Lawrence: The dry signpost for ‘The Measurement Institute’ leads to an exploration of evanescent things, phenomena which cannot be measured or pinned down, and reveals a reluctant letting go.

Coundon Road, William Johnson: a poem of absence and longing told through the technology of Googlemaps. I really loved this poem and was intensely moved by it. I wished I had written it.

1957, Timothy Nolan: a wonderfully accurate evocation of a child’s impatience to move on to exciting areas of movement, colour, taste, as the mother dithers at the sensual desert of the Catalog Counter. Seeping through the child’s incomprehension, however, we feel her anxiety.

Dear Sadness, Ayesha Drury: merchant shipping regulations are used to good effect to underpin this poem of foreboding and looming wreckage.

The Bridge, Stephanie Norgate: a bridge speaks of itself in elegiac terms, and yet as it goes to ruin it seems to come fiercely alive.

The Roadkill, Soul Patel: this is a story like a horror-film played through the merciless eyes of a child, a unique and terrifying point of view.

Quickening, Ali Thurm: the title suggest not just the beginning of life but the strange speeding-up that seems to happen between a child’s first kick in the womb, and the departure as a young adult. A very clever time-lapse poem.

3rd prize: Confession of a Need to Know, Lindsey Holland: this is a poem that luxuriates in language, and that speaks through the language of birds and the habits of crows to consider human connections. There is a feeling of almost forensic inquiry here: ‘Crows don’t taunt, we only/ imagine they do. Crows pluck at fact/ and leave a skeleton’.

2nd prize: The Secret of Happiness, Suzanne Cleary: this starts with something that feels like a conceit, and at first I wondered why I should be interested in this person, Denis Coutagne, who carries Cezanne’s stool around ‘to find where Cezanne stood’ when he sketched a view. But then the poem unfolds, and it becomes a poem about art, the questions around how art happens. The artist and his follower seem to fall in and out of each other through the poem, with the ‘stepping out of oneself and into another/ which is like being on holiday with one light bag’.

1st Prize: The egg-slicer, Katherine Pierpoint: there was no doubt at all about this one winning the first prize. Katherine Pierpoint takes something which could be mundane, an egg-slicer, and gives it such close attention that it becomes almost mythical. It is what it is, but it also becomes an instrument to speak of the person who uses it, and takes off into a magnificent string of images and sounds, in a joyful, musical play with language.

Michael Symmons Roberts writes…

There were real riches among this year’s Troubadour Prize entries. Every competition judge’s hope – every reader’s hope – is to discover the poems that surprise or subvert, unsettle you or ground you. Often the poems that end up in the final few were there all along, grabbed you on first reading and kept pulling you back as you were trying to sift and choose. What makes those exceptional poems stick? There’s a confidence, certainly, but some of the loudest, most purposeful voices fall away on re-reading. The winning poems all had a sense of openness, of poem-making as an exploratory process, of drama with pace-shifts and reversals, of music and form.

This year’s winner, Katherine Pierpoint’s The Egg Slicer begins quietly, then builds to a musical crescendo evoking the weirdly beautiful sound of its ‘tiny falsetto’, its ‘zithery tunes’. This unexpected re-connection with childhood astonishment – the poem’s ride from a melancholic opening to the outburst of joy at the end – is virtuosic. I loved it.

Suzanne Cleary’s The Secret of Happiness is a portrait of Denis Coutagne, President of the Paul Cezanne Society. This devotee’s quest to discover every detail – ‘where / did the great artist pause, set down his pack’- and to determine the ‘where, not why’ is wonderfully described, with the two names looped throughout the poem like an incantation.

Confession of a Need to Know, by Lindsey Holland, takes the Hughesian figure of the crow as mythic, portentous, and turns it into a bittersweet riff, a witty and disturbing dream of crows as detectives, truth-seekers, protectors. It is haunted by the repeated desire to know, and the declaration that ‘I hope this won’t be a problem.’

Simon Lewis’ Man Talk describes a fishing trip, but through that description vividly evokes a world of loneliness and reticence, opened up by the shared ritual of casting and waiting.

A mysterious cabin, a place in the mind as much as in the wilderness, is viewed for the first time in Michael Werner’s delicate and beautifully drawn The Viewing.

Sharon Flynn’s Wunderkammer turns the poem itself into a chamber of macabre and spectacular curiosities, culminating in a tableau of Larkin’s priest and doctor running.

The extraordinary first line of Michael McKimm’s Uncle leads into a half-remembered scene, a farmhouse and a curious child captivated by the ‘double-barelled glint’ of a gun.

In Jay Bernard’s chilling poem Clearing, a noir-ish crime scene is laid out, viewed from the perspective of the victim held between life and death, half-ghost, half-corpse.

The rite of passage of new parents entering their first family home – in this case a ‘tiny apartment’ in 1964 Vermont – is told through luminous, precise details in Suellen Wedmore’s Seasoned With Thyme.

For the narrator in Anthony Lawrence’s poem, The Measurement Institute begins as a signpost seen on a daily commute, but grows into an imagined source of answers, wisdom, even the possibility of healing.

Coundon Road, Will Johnson’s intricately woven elegy begins with an online street-view search for the place that had ‘been your workshop once’, and ends with a recapitulation of loss in ‘I can raise / No ghost except my own.’

Timothy Nolan’s 1957 conjures the thrill of a department store for a three-year-old child, held back from the beach balls and candy and popcorn by his mother’s interminable indecision at the ‘Catalog Counter’.

In a direct address to Dear Sadness, Ayesha Drury’s poem employs a maritime handbook of distress signals and collision-prevention to try to marshal bleak thoughts of loss and absence in the dead of night.

In The Bridge, by Stephanie Norgate, the bridge becomes its own celebrant and elegist, lamenting ‘the limitations of repair’ and the ‘foreign witnesses / to the long slow loveliness of my decay.’

Soul Patel’s The Roadkill is a prose poem with the lurid horror of a film scene as a mother and child sit in the waiting room while a father is under the surgeon’s knife.

Quickening by Ali Thurm is a delicate lyric concerned with the binding and letting-go of a mother-daughter relationship, from the baby’s first stirring to an airport departure.

2017 Winning poems…

First Prize

The Egg-Slicer

The kitchen drawer – the big, unloved one
you have to shove; the stoop-lowest to get at,
the one for the dishevelled, past-imperfect
with all its old fads, and its back-then must-haves –
I’m trawling through disorder for the egg-slicer
because things could do with cheering-up today
and I’m that kid and I’m 55

Egg-slicer, thumb-strummer, joy-bringer –
O forget the eggs, the one thing is to zing it,
hamming it up on the egg-harp;
never enough of twangling near-Aeolian zithery tunes on it
up close to my ear, its tiny falsetto.
Little egg-lute, egg-mandolin,
spirited kitchen-kit, goblin wind –
even better than the piping-bag, with its screw-in nozzles and pibroch drone
of deftly-paced, worm-turn, squished-out flowers.

Egg-slicer, the grin-maker,
immediate music of the Clangers’ spheres, cheesewires in space
and everything happy

****

Its day job was purposeful, and completely Yang
division. Forensic slices. Seventies salad.

All cool and white the bare egg would wait, unharrowed in its
plastic dimple, its hare’s-form nest. Then
the wire portcullis would be drawn down; in small ceremony, and
always by a child. The scaled-down army bed-frame
in congress with the egg-moon, its ten rays
turned by Cardea, the both-ways, and linchpin, Goddess of the Hinge.

The egg would break one grey Auspuffgas of sulphur
and open outwards, through the wires; a lotus unfolded. Wafered,
it handed its white-gold coins to everyone.

But – just before that – as the pressure increases, and the egg will
burst through its corsetry bustier,
the egg seemed to rise: to float, whole, through the wire –
like the ghost who walks unhurt through metal fences;
or campfire smoke, which sieves and riddles through high twigs at night;
and how Lemmy’s bass-strings were all tuned to X-sex, no matter
what the tight-rope note –
or what the pluck,
nor what wild metals
were spiking his head

Katherine Pierpoint

Second Prize

The Secret of Happiness

after ‘Two Unfinished Cezannes Discovered at the Barnes,’ New York Times, February 21, 2015

Perhaps this is the secret of happiness: selecting, from all of our questions,
one, and pursuing the answer without question, as does Denis Coutagne,

President of the Paul Cezanne Society, who spends his days walking
the stony, serrated grasses of Mont Saint-Victoire, to find

where Cezanne stood when he sketched this unfinished view
of the Massif de l’Etoile, discovered on the back of a watercolor

removed from its frame for cleaning: a limestone peak,
in the foreground a manor house and a farmhouse no longer standing.

Denis Coutagne is apparently happy at the end of another long day,
betrays to the journalist no sign of fatigue or muscle strain,

although it cannot be easy to have climbed a mountain today, and
it cannot be easier to know you must climb it again tomorrow,

and climb it while carrying a replica of Cezanne’s stool,
with its thick wooden legs, its tiny leather seat

on which the artist arranged his ample posterior.
Cezanne was not a small man except in the hills, although

from a distance his blue jacket could seem a lake or a field
of lavender, as Denis Coutagne is not a large man except in the field

of art historians, who seldom walk through any grass at all,
nor mop their foreheads as they pant on the side of a mountain.

Denis Coutagne betrays no discomfort with being addressed
by his first name, bold American habit, perhaps due to his years

of straining to see through someone else’s eyes.
Some might call this the secret of happiness:

stepping out of oneself and into another,
which is like being on holiday with one light bag.

This is the lone concern of Denis Coutagne: where
did the great artist pause, set down his pack,

and settle his three-legged stool?
Where, not why.

Suzanne Cleary

Third Prize

Confession of a Need to Know

I dream that crows are detectives whose job
is to pick through evidence—carrion, bone, alibi—

and shield us from murder (they’ve been maligned
by that collective noun). It’s why they loiter

at junctions and laybys, feign a casual jaunt
in stubble fields and lope along stone walls.

I want to be a crow and you don’t. I hope
this won’t be a problem.

I dream of cut-out crows at sundown
in ritual dance. Chatterings of choughs

on crags, braced against rain. Clatterings
of jackdaws like automatons. Conjugal crows

in derelict towers. A nauseous sensation
on a train, two hundred miles an hour

to crow-eyed stillness. They keep bad tidings
(a good one, that) to their chests. The noble crow,

mission held in its cloak. I watch one bird,
whiskered beak jagging in a hole, unearth

a gunmetal box, crushed up, a magazine
that’s spent its bullets. Others congregate

(a helpful noun, for the magpie), peering
from a backdrop of fog, their blackness

hugged by ghosts. They ponder, never quite
harnessing judgement. Not villains

but sentries, observers who caw in both alarm
and tenderness. Crows who slip

through time, appearing at waysides
with heads atilt, doffing unseen caps.

Crows who aren’t mafia but keep a tally
of the bodies. I’m sorry

that I overlooked, misconceived,
but we’ve all done the same. ‘A carrion crow

sat on an oak’ the nursery song goes,
and it taunted, but crows don’t taunt, we only

imagine that they do. Crows pluck at fact
and leave a skeleton. Protectors on the rim

of something pale and rotten. True crows.
Crows who snib-up intelligence. Maybe

I once knew their world but have forgotten.
I want to know. I hope this won’t be a problem.

Lindsey Holland

The Roadkill

We’ll continue to call it the Roadkill. How it got here in the waiting room is beyond anyone’s understanding but it’s the only one here that doesn’t understand it’s beyond saving. My mother is sitting opposite and with each passing hour has curled further into herself until she has become more brittle than the air around us. The Roadkill is blinking at us. It’s unable to speak as its throat has been severed halfway into its spinal cord.

When the surgeon sits down he doesn’t notice it. Four more hours on top of the original three of the bypass operation have passed and this is the third time he has come to speak to us. While the surgeon tells us about the two extra arteries he had to rip from my dad’s legs, the Roadkill pleads. It can’t cry because its tear ducts were twisted out of its skin when its cranium was crushed. It wants to be saved. I pray it doesn’t follow us home.

Soul Patel

Quickening

begins in the bath with a ripple across the dome
of your belly: darkness visible. A curled seed
germinates, and you feel her pushing and kneading
against you like a cat, until she’s flexing her legs
on the give of your thighs, bracing herself
against you, as you hold her hands to balance.
In the rush of the quotidian (you’re not to blame)
it’s easy to forget you’re only the launch pad,
the spring board. So, every day remind yourself
she wants to walk away, with a quick backwards
wave, through the departure gate, her rucksack
weighing almost nothing on her slender shoulders.

Ali Thurm

Man Talk

I watched the landscape pass
from the back of a Volkswagen Passat
crammed between lads of size and silence
until we stopped on the shoreline.

I watched scrubs of grass anchored to sand dunes,
pebbles, shells and driftwood scattered
on the sand, seaweed snaking through thin streams
of seawater into the belching ocean waves.
The oldest man hauled fishing rods, bait boxes and slabs
of Carling. He had been here many times, weathered
by whiskey and building sites.

I watched as he crossed the reeds
and rocks and sandworms, heavy feet, grunting chest.
He didn’t stop or turn or speak until a gap in the craggy rocks,
a flat stone surrounded by rushes, dried kelp, crushed razor shells,
the spume bubbling below, enough space for us, the rods, the cans.
We cast our rods, sat staring ahead, the snap of the ring-pulls
the only break in the beach sounds.

I watched the sea.
I watched the waves.
I watched the fishing line bobbing in the water,
the men’s breaths aping the in
and out of the swell, knowing
no fish would be caught today.
I watched and soon knew why men do this.
I watched the tins of lager thin down, as the men began to talk
of curries made with mackerel,
children they only see at weekends,
the hope of returning home for good.
I watched their shells open, letting out their brine.

Simon Lewis

The Viewing

Recall the first afternoon, arriving
At the cabin as heavy scud pushes up
The canyon trailing cold rain.

It is like the quickening of first love,
Driveway circling blackberry bramble,
Stands of wild fennel, steeply rising wood,

And the cabin itself, slightly ramshackle
But weathertight. The big picture window
Frames an orchard reclaimed by pell-mell,

And beyond it blacktop’s thin bow,
Vineyards’ long rise and fall.
Only just hidden below,

River’s broad curve, then far slope’s wall,
Huge and blank at first, but when your eyes
Accustom to green-black a thin mist shawl

Circles a redwood, and tangled ranks rise
In vision, one after the other.
Another river of raincloud flies

From ocean upstream, sweeping over
Ridgeline then dropping down to hide it.
Now you are inside. The landlords turn

Lights on and the world outside dims.
Remember this too, the moment when
You stood on the threshold and the scrim

Descended. Here’s the contract you signed then.
The first line reads Always, the last Never Again.

Michael Werner

Wunderkammer

November 2016

I have heard that a falcon hangs from the ceiling
like an Angel, broad wings outstretched above a room
where dust still rises, caught in flashing points of light.
Behind the latticed fronts, they say, the books are stored
spine up. There’s talk of a pink suit, the letter A
on folded cloth, another man’s shoes you can try
for size. Two suitcases with flute music beside
an advertisement for a salon where they braid
black hair. I’m told there is a clockwork pig that walks
on its hind legs along a shelf, past a schooner
in a bottle, her masts stiff like spines, a model
of the mill where the last Red Man died and rabbits,
soft-furred and looking almost real. They say in nests of
of tiny drawers and pigeon holes you may find gold
in nuggets like your fists, a map, a speech, a thing
with feathers. Visitors report they saw strange fruit,
held a red hand, pins from a doll, a pointed star;
some shared an invisible breakfast, heard seed tick.
A long bow hangs above the door and a still life
of the doctor and the priest in long coats, running.

Sharon Flynn

Uncle

I’m looking at you down the barrel of a gun,
the gun’s long-snouted nose taking in your
face then knees then feet before you reach
and grab its far-too-heavy-weight and help me
lift the butt to my ten-year-old shoulder.

Ten, or twelve, or eight – do you remember?
I think Aunt Jenny’s there, and some of the others.
It’s likely Christmas, we’re in your kitchen
and maybe dishes are being cleared
crepe hats and cracker-snaps being binned

and I’d left the table early anyway and found
the gun in the closet beneath the stairs.
That smell of farm, the waxed texture of pockets,
those boots you must have hosed each night
wide as my head, and the double-barrelled glint

that caught my eye, no doubt, as tindered risk
and definite attention – the cool wood heft,
the size of the trigger, the way it parts
the ham-and-turkey babble, until you take it
a hand on my back
and show me how to aim as if it’s loaded.

Michael McKimm

Clearing

He takes my head and places it in a plastic bag.

Downstairs, two officers stamp their feet,
blow into their hands.

The windows are cups of water. Filled with winter.

He holds the bag open, seems to be
searching for a gaze to meet.

The cold pulls. Magnets thirsting at your bones.

He doesn’t see me standing there,
He doesn’t hear me speak.

A detective circles the front yard, leaning
back to see the smoke. Or is it steam.

Is it fire or water that makes a body heavy.

Makes it hard to tell what is in your hand and what
is watching from the corner of the room.

This house is a gas lamp. Soot frosts its glass-white gut.

The officer closes the bag. Tilts his head back.
His eyes are two offerings. Two tears at bay.

From the bag, I see his face turning away.

From the corner, his body bending towards mine.

Jay Bernard

Seasoned With Thyme

—225 Church Street, Burlington, Vermont: 1964

She feels weightless as she unlocks the door
despite the infant in her arms, twelve pounds
of wiggle and warmth, to step into the tiny apartment,
painted an edgy greenish-blue, dissonant

as an untuned flute, and yet “It’s ours,” she thinks
as she glides through the two rooms, sneakered feet
barely touching the worn carpet, the faded gray linoleum floor.
“Home!” she tells the baby, unbuttoning his sweater,

gentling him onto the hand-me-down sofa bed.
She feels her life unfolding now, like the pages
of a musical score, days absent exams, term papers,
a professor’s droning voice, without the upspoken

expectations of her parents’ home. Hours she can infuse
with her own pianissimo: a morning nap, perhaps,
an adagio afternoon stroll. ??Capriccio??—
double-timing it into town for a cup of tea,

a lively tour of Woolworths Five and Ten.
Afternoons she sings with the Beatles,
unobserved except by the child propped on the counter,
her off-tune lyrics spinning at 45 RPM into the kitchen

redolent of formula, onions and Velveeta cheese.
They dine on an oilcloth-covered table on a budget
of $15.00 a week, supermarket bargains except
for trips to the nearby butcher, a smiling, burly man

who boosts her culinary skills by scribbling instructions
on shiny white butcher paper: Eye of round: 325 °
40 mins. Season w/ salt, pepper. Fresh sprig of thyme.
Evenings, the baby asleep in a corner in a bureau drawer,

her husband opens the sofa bed into a tangle
of blankets and wrinkled sheets and she lays down,
her arm across his chest, content in this solace..
This harbor. The assurance of skin.

Suellen Wedmore

The Measurement Institute

You wouldn’t think to look twice -
no high fence crowned with broken glass,
no guard nursing a cigarette,
        his lanyard keyed with self-importance.
I’d seen the sign each day, driving to work.
Having composed a list of things
the Institute might consider:
        how far moonlight extends into a fox den,
the influence on the inner ear
of the drone from competitive grieving…
I entered the drive.
        No retina scanner
or voice recognition technology
awaited me at the door. I was not shadowed
by a suit with an earpiece
        coiled discreetly into place.
No one paused mid-conversation as I passed.
In a corner, a photocopier was dispensing
thin repetitions of light, and somewhere,
        perhaps from within my head,
a sound like a pulse underwater.
At the end of a corridor, in a room
without windows, I found a man
        leaning over a microscope,
his eye to the portal of another world.
Enquiry is haunted with inference, he said,
without looking up. The heart, for example.
        Like the collective weight of sunlight that falls,
each second upon the earth, our hurt can be measured.
I had never spoken of how,
on our last night together, she had held my hands,
        looking down as though trying,
through sheer concentration, to revive them,
and was now resigned to letting them go.
In the morning, as she drove away,
        a parrot had clipped the side mirror,
causing her to slow, glance back,
then accelerate around a corner.
When I told the man her name
        means breakwater in Welsh, he whispered,
as if quoting from a psalm or spell:
Consider, then consign to memory, the call
and distribution of the monogamous swift.

Anthony Lawrence

Coundon Road

I couldn’t find your door on Google maps;
I could find the road but not the door;
I saw a wall, a bolting weed, a bin …
Somewhere behind had been your workshop once;
Now everything, front or back, seemed undone,
Abandoned to the gauge of those who’ve had
The measure of our time; and nothing like
The field you over-grew inside yourself,
Your worldly and your local plots entwined.

I can’t say why I tried to track you there,
Reaching after arrows through a screen,
As seasons lurched from frame to frame, first
Sunlit, then abruptly lit by rain … The road
That once ran through runs out – a bricked, graffitied
Cul-de-sac. Why click? There’s no redress
For damages long done. There’s nothing there
To which a dog might raise an ear – forget
Its bark. Someone took this with a camera
From a car, and then went home …

Leaving, if I tilt the view, a cheesecloth
Smudge between the sash and first floor blinds,
Tethered to a room embalmed for fifty years –
Its Bunsen burners, dental wax, wry
Canisters of laughing gas, its bottled ship
In ersatz brine – islands hanging off
The map, St. Kilda’d in their unclimbed calm,
Where, raising what I searched for, I can raise
No ghost except my own.

Will Johnson

1957

It’s 1957. Winter. I am three years old. Walking.
Sort of walking. We are at the Catalog Counter.
Sears on Lake Street. Minneapolis. I am bored

beyond belief, staring into the deep wood grain,
the intersecting rivers of wood grain at my eye level.
My mother is ordering something. I don’t know what.

We will get it later when it doesn’t matter as much
as it seems to matter to her now. She can’t decide
among the shades and sizes. Why must I wait?

I want to return to the Appliance Department
where the floating beach ball spins forever, the colors
melting together above the magic vacuum.

I want to get back to the ??Candy Department??—
those sprinkled chocolate stars, the corded licorice,
popcorn sounding like a snare drum in the Sears Orchestra.

But we’re still at the Catalog Counter. My mother
still can’t decide. She wouldn’t want to make a mistake.
It’s 1957. Winter. I walk away on my own good feet.

Timothy Nolan

Dear Sadness

with reference to The Merchant Shipping (Distress Signals and Prevention of Collisions) Regulations, 1996

“Rule 1a: These Rules shall apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels.”
Dear sadness,
you’re the hull of a ship run aground at night onto gravel;
the shock in my bones when I jumped in a thousand lochs;
you’re the tug and surrender of thread as it starts to unravel.

“Rule 7c: Assumptions shall not be made on the basis of scanty information, especially scanty radar information.”
You’re the voice in the straight-to-voicemail call at 4 in the morning;
the clunk between third and fourth gear on my bike;
the anonymous user who edits my Google documents;
you’re the faulty connection on Skype.

“Rule 8c: If there is sufficient sea-room, alteration of course alone may be the most effective action to avoid a close-quarters situation provided that it is made in good time, is substantial and does not result in another close-quarters situation.”
You’re the left oar of a rusty canoe on Loch Sween;
the crack in the voice that tries to sing quietly at night;
the zip of the tent when I get up at dawn to pee;
you’re the sleep in my eyes as I blink in the quavering light.

“Rule 37: Distress Signals: When a vessel is in distress and requires assistance she shall use or exhibit the signals described in Annex IV to these Regulations.”
Dear sadness; my stalwart, portside companion, what are you trying to warn me about?
You’re the scrawl on the page after the 8th or 9th gin and tonic;
you’re the splinters of a mast that’s snapped in a storm at sea;
you’re the dust in the hallway once the front door’s slammed;
you’re the years learning how to breathe.

Ayesha Drury

The Bridge

Not being exact, I thought I couldn’t be owned,
taking, as I did, a terrible pleasure in my hacked timbers.

My gaps were eyes where I glimpsed wagtails upending
in shallows or moorhens fussing with their lives.

I welcomed the wild chalk of children scratching
out their startled Picassos on my splintered surface.

Through my brokenness, I glimpsed waters running
under me, skeins that unravelled over

rocks and flints or pooled in meditative clouds,
so that I could gaze on the sky beneath.

Though I knew that, for many, I served only as a walkway
to the field of irises flying their yellow flags,

I would still inhale the hazy stink of meadowsweet
as if it were incense given for passage to the other side.

And when the dust of nettles flew over me
on the breeze and tried to settle, I let the seeds

into my softened wood to grow their rooting sinews.
And when the dogs dug their claws into me,

I was glad of the fierce and playful scuffle
of the living and the tread of the walkers’ boots,

until the owners came, who axed the footpath sign
adrift, and hammered me into the true.

In all my fearful imaginings, I must confess that
I had not foreseen privacy, the limitations of repair,

or known how I would miss those foreign witnesses
to the long slow loveliness of my decay.

Stephanie Norgate

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