2022 Winning and Commended Poems

English as an Additional Language (EAL) category


First Place: 'Orange Blossoms' by Angeliki Ampelogianni

in the bed where we conceived
a collection
of paper codeine and fingers

seven weeks and six days
you shove four pills inside on red
oily sheets

a house evacuating in three
to six hours
like olive trees shedding fruit as they burn

towel upon towel
thick pads
and hands over crotch

the clots come
like fish in the bathroom floor
at this stage you will not see anything recognisable

still the fruit have faces as they gulp
drop
get caught on tissue

the wall contracting in Athenian
earthquake style
bleak door frames standing lathered in soap

the ice clatters two more pills
dissolve contract
the leaks on fabrics early years making

oranges growing through the windowsill
the dark birthing
with some grey feathery blossoms

this fullness emptying out of you
like sand
measured in maxi pads and water marks


Second Place: 'Rehearsal' by Elena Croitoru

We rehearsed what we were
going to do if we were ever
asked to denounce one another
but we didn’t understand that

it depended on how much sleep
we were going to get in the concrete
annexe at the back of the militia station,
where we could still hear

the echoes of schoolchildren
singing the national anthem
at 9 in the morning. We were
all kept in cold rooms

to repeat what we'd heard at home.
We’d noticed our parents never said
much to each other, we never spoke
about our hunger, nor about the men

who watched us from street corners
as though we were small animals
that turnstones found & ate. & when
our tongues went numb, our parents said

they’d rather have us mute & at home.
We thought about them as we breathed
in the mildewed darkness & forgot
the words that made us soft.

We could only talk inside our own heads,
though our mothers were still there, not quite
believing how far we'd had to take
the idea of loneliness.

When we returned to our homes, we turned
our TVs on & kept them on mute
to warm ourselves up as we tried to trace
the wires in our bedroom walls.


Special Commendation: 'Hania at the End of the World' by Agata Masłowska

She howls in pain shaking her
fist at the god she hopes exists:
it’s time to die, skin flaking
on the floor.

Outside the passing cars hum
like tanks, her body still remembers hiding
as a five-year-old in a potato field
dirt in her mouth, bullets flying over
her mother’s body stacked on hers.

First Hitler didn’t kill me,
then Stalin didn’t,
I’m now afraid
to put the kettle on.

At night she doesn’t sleep,
rubbing remedies onto crooked fingers,
wanting to grasp at something solid,
like crochet tablecloths or baked red bricks.
The neighbours’ orgasms pulse
through the walls,
still on the cross, chipped Jesus
looks away.

Men came hoping to marry me,
I rubbed my feet in chicken shit,
tangled hay in my hair.

She unties her hair in the orchard,
the thud of apples on the ground,
we gather to collect the ripe fruit.

Having grown up in the war,
I couldn’t imagine having children.

We eat plums, then run to the wooden
toilet just beyond the barn. Inside a pile
of newspapers and an old copy
of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, not to read
but to tear out pages from.

In a block of flats shit can come up the pipes
at any moment. But in the village
it stayed down in the ground. When I die
I am only afraid of being eaten by worms.


Open Category


First Place: 'The Seventeenth' by SK Grout

I cut my hair so the roots grow black
but still the king desires me.

“Darling,” he calls me. “Peculiar.”

I spend hours bent in corners reading books
counting constellations, or inside impossible towers.

“How charming,” he says. “Such foresight.”

I don't speak a word for sixteen days. When he summons me
my voice creaks like a rusted hinge.

I want the egg inside me to crack, spill its yolk
and birth a harpy eagle. It stays warm,

nestled in my kidneys. No amount of throwing myself
from low windows will bring time forward.

The king’s physician patches me up
as he gossips about foreign diplomats
swanning at court, their curious dazzling predilections
for telescopes, flying carpets, white peacocks, bearded nymphs,
painted finmen, tiny bombs.

I don't ask the goddess for much
but when it rains, I run outside
without a parasol, arms outstretched,
believing she's caressing me.
There, there, she murmurs.
Nearly done.


Second Place: 'Sunday (Payday)' by Shaw Worth

After all, a great rain comes.
The pulled candy legs squeal,
the sliding doors of hips. Touch
more this flower, sweet pea.
It’s too too late. My new friend
looks forward to the future. You
ever hear? They’re turning the canal
into a perfume. Summer eggs,
insects are descending
and a woman gives me bread
in the long rain. A street unpeels
up to the sky. The soaking trees
give us several ways of being
sincere. Go out in shorts
to tell the truth. Pussywillow,
you have no more choice.
I laugh rocking horse; I laugh
left calf, I laugh Skin Hare,
burnt in the book for too much
loving. How is it like this on a
Sunday? The boys outside stick
out their tongues and play poker
of the heart. I swerve rocking horse,
skin my knee. Blood and the rain.
We were just excited that someone
was coming to save us. Now
it’s just foot spasms, dreams of
reintegration, in the park, in the rain.


Special Commendation: 'Paradise' by Katie Hale

Boys are like feral dogs, we said: run
and they’ll only chase you faster.

So we practised in the yard, very still
between the pebbledash art department
and the prefab blue of the canteen,
our skirts betraying each twitch, the shame
of shifting our own slack weight.
Tuesdays, the wind band’s brass neck
bullied from an open window. Fridays,
the tennis club’s pock-pock-pock
unbuttoned the air, the same slurs
passed between them, week on week
till the bell rang time. We didn’t care.
We stood right through the lunch hour,
swaying in a field of flashing stars.
Once, we stood so still, a flock of sparrows
landed, pecked the crumbs from our blazers.
The boys called us mental, which was how
we knew we’d won. We called the game
Paradise. Let’s play Paradise, we’d say –
though play was wrong for our persistence –
unless of course we meant the way we chafed
at violins on Thursday afternoons:
our slow adoption of the four steel strings,
while the spit-breath man from the agency
beat his arms and said, keep it together,
girls.
And so, we learned to play
each scratchy tune as one – to sound out
music from the hollow dark, to build
our unrepentant standing into song.