Poetry Centre

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  • First Place: 'The Kodachrome Book of the Dead' by Mark Fiddes

    Frozen in their Kodaks,
    our old folks wear slippers
    to protect the carpet from their feet.

    Colours leech. A tap drips.
    Dinner lingers in another room.
    A yucca erupts on the lawn.

    The lounge is an orgy
    of fakery: leatherette armchairs,
    plaster dogs, silk orchids,

    mock encyclopedias
    and more fringe than necessary
    on lamps, hairdos, lips, pelmets

    plus random tassels
    wherever there is dangling
    and come-hither velvet.

    If a grandparent smiles 
    it is like a wolf had stopped by
    for tea and a slice of Battenberg.

    Parents vogue in folky
    knitwear surrounded by cigarettes
    and the Sixties.

    Is this how they will see us,
    our early years tucked into albums
    balanced on the knee like babies?

    Will pages crackle as laminates
    separate and we stare back red-eyed
    as hounds from blind pubs?

    Whereas our last few decades
    will click past in seconds on a screen,
    backlit, cropped and cherry-bright.  

    There they can find us,
    between swipes, catching our breath,
    wiping the joy from our sleeves.

    Mark Fiddes
  • Second Place: ‘Love Song for a Bigot’ by Robert Hamberger

    I refuse to disappear –
         this hand is my complexity:
    count its rivers and wedding rings.
    Marrying a man is my victory,
    your disgust. If years before I married
    a woman, that proves the riches of love – 
    see them pour from the unpeopled heavens.
    I slip like an otter past your nets.
    Note how various I am – my children carry
    rivers in their hands, my ancestors lifted
    doors onto their backs, lifted toddlers
    and boxes in their arms two hundred years
    ago, tested home against the holes
    in their boots, the spit of neighbours.

    I come from heroines who spoke another 
    language – see them climb carefully
    into rickety boats, measuring safety over 
    every wave and mile, shushing their babies,
    softly patting their backs, pinning hopes
    on half an hour’s doze. What triumphs!
    To arrive and think I’m not welcome here
    but that door needs a lick of paint. I’ll make it
    I carry their name and if you can’t 
    pronounce it –  if it gutters
    against your tongue – 
    it’s as glorious as my fingerprints,
    singing for my mouth that shapes it,
    my ear that answers to it like a perky dog.

    If whatever I do tonight
    makes you shudder you don’t need
    to watch. When I kiss his eyebrow
    his shoulder his dick it’s none
    of your business. I claim sanctuary
    in his arms. My door is bolted.
    I’m an eel and he’s my river.
    Call me scarey queen or gulley queen. 
    Quote Leviticus, its abominations. Answer
    me with your machete. It’s nothing personal.
    Stop me seeing my child, my grandchild.
    I might infect them with my love. Build
    a thousand walls to block me, I’ll find
    a thousand rivers to swim. 

    Robert Hamberger

  • Special Commendation: 'The Buddy Holly Fan Club of Damascus ' by Christopher James

    Seventeen of us in horn-rimmed glasses:
    the rock and roll fan boys of downtown Damascus.
    We met on Mondays, in the cellar of the Al Pasha Hotel
    with a bottle of Arak and a copy of 20 Golden Greats.
    Our prize possession was a pick Buddy once played
    at the Fiesta Ballroom, Montevideo, Minnesota. 

    A few of us made up The Crickets, Tarek on bass,
    Victor on goblet drums and myself on Qanun.
    The drain covers hiccupped as we cranked out
    our version of Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues.
    Once a month we went head to head with Rifat,
    the Syrian Elvis who performed in a kaftan wingsuit.

    That spring, when the people filled the streets,
    we played Marjeh Square: raving on a flatbed truck,
    shaking the windows of the Interior Ministry.
    When the shots rang out, we fled down an alley
    and hid in the upstairs room of a hair salon. We left
    one by one in pink dressing gowns and perms.

    The next day we painted a pair of Buddy’s glasses
    on a twenty-foot portrait of Bashar al-Assad.
    Bombed out of our basement, we took to the hills
    still wearing pencil thin ties and suede loafers.
    We traded vinyl for Molotov cocktails, then, on every
    shattered tank scratched ‘True Love Ways.’

    A year on, just six of us left, Tarek sold his watch
    for a passage to Greece and a tub of day-old falafels.
    The rest of us joined him, squeezing into a dinghy
    while mothers held their children. The boat swamped,
    I collected five pairs of glasses then swam for shore.
    In the sand I left these words: ‘Buddy Holly lives.’

    Christopher James

  • Special Commendation: 'Dihedral' by Mary-Jane Holmes

    Every photograph is a certificate of presence.

    Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

    After the paramedics claimed the body, the coroner
    his bundle of forms, my mother, untrained in grief’s
    protocol took a photo of where her husband died;
    a kitchen in England tiled in scattered fossil and
    shell. You can see where the tiler under-measured,
    the grout line thick, jagged, not quite reaching the
    bespoke cabinets.

    Six time zones back in another continent, before
    the future vibrates as one incoming message, I’m lying
    between Resurrection Fern and Ocotillo, watching
    the first sign of a desert spring. My body’s outline–
    a deviation of leaf-cutter ants on a caldera of limestone.
    Turkey vultures kettle the bluff of our six-month rental

    I long for one of them to break its spiral, swoop in so close
    I’ll glimpse the pink scald of its head, but they rock
    and soar, diffident in their teetering flight, knowing
    the difference between living and dead, while I search in
    every pixel for my father’s presence, finding only
    my mother’s thumb blurring the lens with its raw imprint.

    Mary-Jane Holmes