WINNING POEMS 2019
SILVER WYVERN 1ST PRIZE
Rower, Battersea Lake by Helena Goddard
First, he considers the surface - lilies,
damsel flies bulbing with cobalt at both ends,
mating and hovering between mating; next
the strangeness beneath – slow puffs of sand,
bulging newts, the ghostly rocking of leaf-mould
undredged for decades; last, the reflected land –
trees rippling but exact as a Magritte,
clouds, the unfilled sky between - a silent place,
shimmering with the animation of shape,
vision. He muses to me that the world
is these three - all given, though hard to hold
simultaneously. And now how cupped
the black moorhen in his variegated reeds,
red beak tipped with yellow, dipping, feeding.
SILVER WYVERN 2nd prize
Dead in the Water by Graham Burchell
after a photograph of a dead SS prison guard floating in a canal,
Dachau, 1945, by Lee Miller
Think of a single note, e flat, reeded on a clarinet just
as night passes and the canal with its hard edge is monochrome.
A corvid cries. The longer blades of apparent grass shiver,
start to glow glaucus green as light builds. The grey water
of Dachau browns, bruises blue. All the fight has gone from it.
It’s proving to be a sunny day, so the aching woodwind fades.
Instead, hear ripples passing over an obstruction;
a sacrifice or something fly-tipped, more than half-submerged.
A mallard, out of frame batters the water, rails against the stillness.
The wave from it slaps a leather arm, fills an ear.
There’s little left to see of the man, the gaoler, tossed in,
dredged up. No-one could swim in such a heavy coat.
With the sun rising over him, wagging a finger, dripping light,
see his soul leaching out, his face just beneath the surface, at peace,
freed from what it witnessed, from stony dispassion, grimace,
snarl – no more a cathedral gargoyle. Not a dark hair
seems out of place. This is a baptism of death, of ridding. Lying
on his left, heart under water, this looks to be his gentlest sleep.
Think of a soprano saxophone introducing jazz riffs as afternoon
wears into evening, as evening loses its grip, as the stuff of ditch
gathers into him, algae, discolouration, the softening of dirty chill.
There are leaps and bounces in the syncopation. A V of geese
passes over. They cry out to the horizon. Think of his family,
packing, scurrying like rabbits-in-headlights through the night.
1ST FORMAL VERSE
What will survive of us is . . . by Ian Royce Chamberlain
(after Philip Larkin: An Arundel Tomb)
But consider: was the great man right –
that all we leave behind that longest night
is merely notional, a concept staged
to fit with words of tenderness like his
in celebrated lines across a page?
Is it not more desirable to strive
for legacy more tangible: a cache
that will outlast the wind-blown ash,
the drift of memory, the tiny span
of a single generation’s short-lived lives?
Ah, hence the tomb itself – a worldly plan.
But note – the poet, he was tongue in cheek,
ironic at the tableau he discovered:
earl and countess laid like lovers,
but in that last verse he boldly writes
of finding little truth in this antique:
alive, theirs was a union less than tight.
Of Philip Larkin, that which still survives
may lack embodiment in stiffened pleats
but lies indelible on flimsier sheets,
memorial to a mind, a man, who knew
how passing is the love in earthly lives:
our almost-instinct, almost true.
WINNER OF ‘SPIRIT’ THEME
Mardale Common by Erica Bell
I’m not waiting for you
here, in the wild bright sun.
I am leaning on the shoulder of the fell
wrapped in the arms of the wind
and pressed, like a lark, to the breast of Air
but I am not waiting for you.
I am watching the clouds
dragging their dark weight over the hills.
Ahead, on the ridge, cotton-grass dances
like tiny bright kites on the line of sky.
I am not waiting for you.
You see, it is as if your spirit scrambles –
up through the steep glooms of the ghyll
lost to the clatter of battering water
wrestling crystalline gravity, light –
but you are here, watching the clouds
and the cotton grass dancing
along the sky’s line
your arms wrapped around the wind
bearing the weight of the larks’ singing.
SILVER WYVERN 2018
My Dawtie by Jane Burn
I am gone on the Husvik boat. I will bring back
combs for your hair, silk for a dress, pearls to swing
from the lobes of your ears, lace for the pale
of your heather-bone throat. Fear not. I will return,
come back to you and a small but fertile patch
of our own – buy stones to build around you.
Brick you into a home for us. Nothing here but stench
and snow as cold as your breasts in the byre
back home, at dawn – I rub my palms
on wind scoured wood, think of ridges on a ram’s horn,
think of good meat not skrott set adrift – its tissues fed
to the carrion throng. I hear the wind skirt the oil drums,
mouth the rivets, lick the paths of salted rust.
So many things made for hacking and flaying,
so many tools to carve pain, to whittle lard and bone.
I have skill – remember the coggies and spoons I made
for the sip of your mouth? How I watched with desire
the curve of your kiss upon morsels. I pare the flesh,
thin as bible leaves and picture you reading out loud,
hope your pages hold comfort – more than I find
in this stinking book of flesh. My bitten hands find heat
for a while but you cannot warm for long on the dead.
When I return they say there will be such spoil
that we shall burn our cruzie night and day – I think
I will choose not to snuff it out. I have filled myself
too many times with chill and dark – I have looked
into begrutten eyes and put them out.
(notes ed. DAWTIE = darling HUSVIK = whaling station in South Atlantic
SKROTT = carcasse or scrap meat COGGIES = small bowls CRUZIE = an oil lamp BEGRUTTEN = swollen with weeping, tear-stained)
Aubade by Anne Ballard
Your head is growing heavy on my shoulder,
your slow breath tells me you are sleeping now.
Gently I stroke the damp hair from your brow
and draw the quilt up as the night grows colder.
If only we could lie like this till morning
wrapped in the bliss we made, but soon the light
will creep like an intruder on the night
firing the dawn sky with its angry warning
to drive you from me, to your bitter life
where our concord is seen as treachery,
our harmony the cause of others’ strife.
We are in prison, when we feel most free,
those furtive meetings all that keep us strong:
sleep still my love, this peace does not last long.
Now I must be by Maggie Butt
scatter wisdom over myownhead
like an upturned bowl of rose-petals
name myself with sprinkled water
offer pie-and-mash advice
remember to lovemyself
pridepuff at my small achievements
my flocks of imperfections
The Longest Day by Roger Elkin
Not the heroics of John Wayne
spearing across D-Day beaches
while extras get blown to bits.
Not fish-face Robert Mitchum
leaping into the sea and wading ashore,
his rifle carried high to keep it dry.
Not Richard Todd, steel-eyed
and stiff-upper-lipped, revisiting
Not even Kenneth More trying to hide
behind a beard as Beach-Master Colin Maud
roaring “Get off this blasted shore”.
But hundreds of fameless men being strafed
in that vastness of sand and cloud
with nothing to hide behind but fear,
two planes raining bullets and noise –
wave after harrying wave –
the menacing, the menaced.
Watching that, you remember
standing stranded, exposed
in slow-motion monochrome
hour after hour and so alone
by your Dad’s hospital bed
your moment’s longest day.