Poetry Centre

Shortlist

  • Girl Poets, Polly Atkin

    The girl poets are unconvincingly heightened.
    They are ground-breaking and important. It is a shame.
    They live in un-assuming vignettes
    fuzzy with new possibilities  intellectually
    abstruse.  The girl poets could be in trouble.
    The girl poets are not an idle concern.

    Their poems were born in the rubbish tip  awkward
    and misunderstood. Their poems are creatures
    we can never approach  boxes of trinkets
      decorative and over-designed  crude
    with sentimentality  like internet censorship.
    Their best poems are double  faced.

    The girl poets are lexicographal conjecture.
    They are trivial  beasts  stalking themselves
    down streets of dissenting cities  tailing
    versified intelligence at the supermarket  aimed
    and aimless  drawn by the superficial tingle
    of their mildly irritating electric heat.

    The girl poets are successful and very presentable.
    Slight  brusque  tricky. They pummel
    with chatty allusion  childlike. They bark.
    They cannot be taken seriously  wearing
    as they will  warm and woolly  restless
    feelings  (like the best and worst of this style).

    The girl poets live like they write  with charming
    clumsiness  unconvincing  florid
    with earnestness. It blooms  sixth-formy  from
    their oblique and gracefully elaborate skin.
    The girl poets are working harder  transformed
    into soaring birds.  The girl poets win. 

    Polly Atkin

    All Souls’ Day, Masham, Geraldine Clarkson

               and Autumn has been gashing herself in the gardens early,
    her gammy leg suppurating crimson in the hedgerows,
    splashing Japanese Maples and dragon trees, and depositing sick orange
    onto copper beeches, as she limps and wobbles to winter. In her uncertain progress
    she hauls down horse chestnuts whose burnt hearts show behind spiky plackarts—
    sick with armour. A thin silver dolour winds through the season.

       November 2nd, and I am back at the grave,
       still risen like a dowager's hump, unrepentant.
       I leave blood-red geraniums.

    There is a goat’s broth of a gathering afterwards,
    the passing round of soupy condolences.
    A shadowy man in a maroon velvet jacket
    and tap dancer’s shoes, stirs spices into a tureen.
    ‘We could have a song now, in honour …’ he says,
    looking at me. I demur, putting a hand to my throat
    where, I’ve forgotten, I’m still wearing her choker.
    He hands out individual pork pies, like recriminations.

       The Heaven Ladies come in after late shift, pulling off beanies
       and letting shot-silk blue hair tumble. One of them calls me over
       and gives me some forms, everything to be completed in turquoise.
       ‘There’s no rush,’ she says, ‘only they’re always changing rooms
       and it will be less confusing—’ (someone hands her a glass of mulled purple)
       ‘—if you do it before midnight.’

    The print doggy-paddles in front of my eyes,
    wheretofores and whereuntos and notwithstandings coagulating
    like raisins in cake. ‘I’m not sure,’ I begin, but they’ve all turned away
    to where someone has started up on the piano, and is serving low curves of jazz.
    ‘And don’t forget the wax seal!’ one lady spits back
    through the gristle of a pie she's chomping. Someone phones

       from the hospital to say there’s been a mistake, no-one
       has died, and the funeral is thereby declared invalid, if not
       actually illegal. The words are bluebottles circling the room,
       causing outrage and sniping. The maroon-tapdanceman
       seems to hold me personally responsible and says he'll be in touch
       for expenses. The Heaven Ladies suppress little sighs and smile
       maternally, buttoning themselves up against the east wind
       and calling out seeyousoons.

    As they depart, I stand in the doorway like a broken sheep.
    I say ‘you are welcome’ but am careful not to let my hand stray
    too far from the latch.

    Sevda Salayeva

    The Swans, Lauren Colley

    This year they leave together
    before the first real frost sets in, the mist
    a not quite kiss above the sleeping lake

    soundless until a goose barks out
    like a chair scraped back in the dusk.
    Which goes first we couldn’t say;

    the whim of one, or some collective knowing
    sets those great primeval feet pedalling the water,
    breasts heaved up, wings thrashing,

    and just when it seems too improbable -
    their weight too great, their necks too long -
    the first bird tips and begins to lift.

    Through the mist and mire they rise
    unsullied, unforgettably white,
    then parting, then dissolving into night.

    Lauren Colley

    Richey Edwards Driving Home, February 1995, Jonathan Edwards

    The car is snug with the warmth of the heater
    and his body. Raindrops
    do their dot-to-dot
    on the windscreen, the wipers
    play their backing track. His passport rests
    on the passenger seat with tablets, a pile
    of books. London

    is behind him; mile after mile
    appears, disappears in the cinéma vérité
    of the rear view. He gives himself to the certainty
    of driving, makes
    a drum kit of the steering wheel
    with his fingers, sings along badly to all
    his heroes. Now he grips the wheel

    tight: a lorry
    flutters its eyelashes at him,
    overtakes. At the toll booth,
    the teller looks at him once,
    twice: he conjures a fistful
    of change from the pocket
    of his jeans and he’s

    through, the time-stamped receipt
    on the floor of the car. He rubs his eyes, sees
    the sign for the services, but keeps
    right on, in fact speeds up:
    at the last moment, he cuts
    across three lanes, towards
    Little Chef, Shell. Here,

    the car park is
    almost deserted, WH Smith
    selling darkness, the closed coffee shop’s
    line of tables where no one
    talks to no one about loneliness
    all night. He lifts
    a bottle of Smirnoff

    from the glove box, steps out, carefully
    locks the door behind him, pockets
    the key, hitches
    his jeans. His jacket
    isn’t thick enough in all this
    cold: he folds his arms, perhaps
    grins a little. As he walks away,

    he is already
    male, Caucasian, twenty-seven,
    last seen wearing… and these
    are his footsteps – here, here—
    crossing the car park now,
    in the direction of this awful night,
    this streetlit wind, and this forgetful rain.

    Jonathan Edwards

    Revisionist, Carlos Andrés Gómez

    A year into his second marriage it
    appeared: precise amnesia. My father’s
    inverted symmetry through which
    his children are mapped. He cannot
    remember to address any of the four
    of us by the names he gave. Not
    to say he has forgotten them—
    instead, my older sister borrows
    our younger’s name, my younger
    brother mine as wrinkles are
    ironed out of off-white slacks for
    a first date. My father is more
    of a father with his second family.
    We are more of a family. But I travel
    too much like him. He says, I am
    worried you’re away from home
    too much, Nico. And, each time,
    I am called by the wrong name,
    I almost correct him then wonder
    the cost of each small revision and
    how it might change that sprawling
    unknown in the distance. If I
    might someday need his tools
    to right my own family  again.

    Carlos Andrés Gómez

    Counting Cars, Onjezani Kenani

    The children of our village have a curious hobby. Every day
    They queue up to count the cars of our president’s motorcade as it passes
    And argue afterwards whether there are thirty-one or thirty-two.
    Later, they run on their cracked, bare feet
    Chasing disused bicycle rims all over the place
    Or kicking a football made out of plastic papers.

    Onjezani Kenani

    She is at a funeral. In the evening I do not hear from her, Simon Murphy

    The horizon carries the day in its jaws like certain dogs
    have learned to carry animals without breaking their skin,
    because today there is something indecent about the day.
    It’s curiously small and close: the clouds as pale, slim

    and delicate as first ice tightening a pond’s surface.
    The wind sits like a portrait. Despite the fact
    the day is cramped as a pod with hours, in sequential instants
    it hardens like a chrysalis, and night insists upon itself.

    I go indoors to read. In stillness and silence
    a moth the breadth of night steals to the house,
    drawn by the moon spread ciphered in my hands.
    It signals the collision of everything beyond,

    comes to wrap its wings and make velvet the brickwork,
    to smother the windows, eager to be vast around tiny light.
    She is yet to call, and wide night knows no kind way to
    close the spaces left by unsaid words.

    Simon Murphy

    Touching Base, Judith Rawnsley

    The day they eat the dog, Mama begs Chi:
    Swim! Take your girlfriend. Time has run out.

    Ten miles a day in the Pearl River roping
    muscles, honing hopes, until the October

    storm-clouded night they bind
    themselves together, drop

    into the mouth of Mirs Bay. Ahead
    figures already swimming, swallowed

    by cold, against the current, still afloat
    Death circles in the darkness. Waves snarl

    like patrol dogs. Bullets bite. Fog obscures
    those starved, shot or drowned, washed up

    on Shenzhen beaches, TB-ridden,
    limbs bitten off by sharks.

    With each stroke Sea-Wing counts
    the things they’re leaving—

    elderly parents, siblings, college educations –
    chokes, feels the line jerk—

    three years pig farming, dead cousins,
    public beatings, that official’s hand up her skirt…

    Chi ploughs on towards a rich man’s floor to sweep,
    a factory job, a paper that says he belongs, pushes

    past a bloated corpse, buoyed by Sea-Wing’s
    lantern heart.

    They wake on a littered beach, see English
    letters on a rusted Carnation can,

    the frayed rope a wedding band:
    Typhoon Dot their witness, waves their guests.

    Judith Rawnsley

    Walk With Me, Roger Robinson

    I walk through Brixton with a young man
    in screw-faced street mode,
    and I tell him it's okay to relax.
    His temptations course through his blood.
    He calls me witness, he calls me bookish.
    We walk avoiding certain streets,
    Loughborough, the railway. We both know why.

    I tell him that under these very streets we walk
    deep beneath the concrete, beneath the tarmac
    beneath the rubble, the dirt, and the rock
    there is a river flowing called Effra.
    A black and powerful river coursing without light.
    That one hundred and fifty years ago
    royalty would sail down this river
    in their best finery into Brixton
    never thinking about crack, never thinking about cafes.

    But every now and then
    these towerblocks act like speakers
    and the calming sound of a pure flowing river
    can be heard throughout Brixton's streets.
    I tell him even though the river calls
    that things have moved on here.
    Brixton is not its history,
    We are not our histories.

    Roger Robinson

    sound of August, Sevda Salayeva

    the clink of the fork of the unaccompanied
    young boy at the next table echoes in my head,
    loud enough to sway me back and forth
    on the old swing hanging from the apricot tree
    on a scorching summer afternoon in the small
    fishing village. the apricot tree whooshes
    as I sway back and forth and forth and back.
    clinking cutlery and cheerful laughter of people
    sitting under my grandfather’s enormous mulberry tree,
    gathered for the August celebration after harvesting.
    a mouthwatering smell of fresh watermelons mixed
    with the smoked fish odour. my grandmother waves
    her hands in the air. to attract my attention or
    to chase away the violent bees – they blur to me.

    Sevda Salayeva

    Losing my virginity to Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Di Slaney

    Not actually to Frankie, you understand, but
    to that rainhissing Relax beat while cheap struts of the bottom bunk creaked and smacked at the blue Anaglypta wall. He lacked
    the knack and patience to show me how to come that first time when Don’t Do It seemed like some insistent dare, his paintflecked fingers thick and sticky with me, my frantic tongue rough and licky
    with him, saltsweat rubber and the smell of his leather jacket blurring with chips from his mam’s kitchen, weather
    outside cold and wet, it was November I think, and what I wanted more than anything was to have it done, to finally be sore
    from him, so all the fumbling on dustsheets in the back of his van
    could stop. It didn’t, of course. We carried on using paint cans
    as props and even now the smell of thinner brings back the crusty
    feel of dried gloss rasping my bum while he’d thrust
    deep in time to Frankie on repeat, each time a little slicker
    and each time a little quicker, while I learned how to stroke his balls the way he liked them, and he learned nothing at all
    about the way my nipples hardened at his breath against my ear, and how it now took only seconds to bring me near enough.

    Di Slaney