Revealed! The shortlist for The York Poetry Prize 2020

Photograph: Tracy Adams / Unsplash

Thank you to everyone who entered the competition this year.

Organised by YorkMix, in association with York Literature Festival, the competition was launched in January. A total of 497 poets submitted 1,139 poems. Our judge, Sean O’Brien, has now selected his final shortlist of 34 entries.

The poets are competing for a top prize of £600. The runner-up will receive £150, with third, fourth and fifth-placed poets receiving £75, £50 and £40. Prizes for the best international entry (£100) and the best entry from a York postcode (£50) will also be awarded.

Winners, Highly Commended and Commended poets will be informed of their success on or before Tuesday, May 12, and the results will appear here on YorkMix soon afterwards.

2020 shortlist

Here are the title and some opening lines from the shortlisted poems.

A short 16mm home movie
Bavaria, 1936
He cuts a fine figure. Mein Herr.
Bolt upright against the granite crags.
Squinting into winter sunlight. Not tall,
but somehow compelling. His bark
outsnaps my terrier. Testier
than his own vulpine hound.

Against all odds
When I hear that climate change will result in
ecosystem failure and wipe out half all insects
unless drastic action is taken by 2030,

I think of the male peacock spider in Australia,
vibrating his behind for some stunner
then dinking towards her in a series of natty steps

Albino Raven in the Wild
It is a prototype, a mould
into which the petrol blues
and matt black ravenness
should be poured.

BEAUTY AND THE HUSBAND
He had a few hairs on his chest,
enough to get her fingers in, and tug.
He had strong white teeth, a nice smile,
but it took a lot to make him roar.

BUYING TIME
The first emperor of all China,
Qin Shi Huang,
a monster by every account,
hoped to prolong his days
by quaffing ampules of mercury.
They killed him.

CLONCON GARDEN AND THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
I could see that tree of small sweet apples—
each red half bleeding into lemon green—
framed in one mullion of the kitchen window

County Lines
Scratching her wrist with
gnawed nails, black polish;
hidden herringbone twill
of scar under-sleeve.

Desire
I stepped outside the chapel and stood
beside a bush, lit
the wandering mind’s synapses
with my last cigarette.

Endnotes
In time I thought I understood
how it must have been for you, driven
as I was to the worst details: what
the newscasters didn’t say, where
the prosecution stopped. I was wrong.

Envy
Just when the kestrel became the oak tree is uncertain.
It could even be the moment the oak tree became the bird

so united in their camouflage but for the February sun
hinting at something softer than wood, a texture blurred

From the Foss
In the dawn garden, dark with damp and starlessness,
my dog sniffs grass, intent
on her own business. All’s quiet.
No creep of distant cars. No footstep in the street. No birdsong.

Happy Days
Aaaay! Fonzie – I speak in your language from this age of vulgarity
because I have a question only you, I believe, can answer:

Heifetz in the Field
(Italy, 1944)
The battered upright, painted olive drab,
is trundled off the truck, third time today,
strings jangling.
We’re both in khaki, honorary Captains,

Her Brother Absalom’s House –
Samuel 13:19-20
I was asked not to throw stones at the Vicar Man. I was told. I was told to be nice to the
Vicar Man, and then God would be nice to me.

Hide
Those creatures that turn white in the snow,
mountain hare, the stoat, arctic fox
pale as the ground he streaks across,
bring to mind others of their kin

Innings
What we lost when they left,
when they left without saying
why they were leaving

Insomnia
My strategy’s simple when I can’t sleep
I think of the men I’ve bedded, not sheep.

Intersection in The Early Eighties
Down Speakers’ Corner, Jimmy Sommerville’s double
gets on a soap box

lectures a crescent of white liberals
on The Subway Disease, AKA, acquired immune deficiency:

Mother and Father of Hospitality. (War)
Brenda presses her foot to the bottom rung
of the ladder fastened against the side of the tree and
her playmates call up into the dense branches of the world above,
‘Come on Joan, step onto the ladder, come on, you’ll be alright’

RULES FOR THE MEMORY OF THINGS
Learn the Rules for Places,
Cicero instructs, then construct
in your mind a Palace of Memory
with many rooms, spacious and well-lit.

She said she would buy the flowers herself
The skivvy snuffles, serves her grievance cold
and hears the mistress slither
from polished graciousness to vowels that whine
imagined maid-speak.

Shepherd
The last time I saw father
in his death
was among the leaves
outside a parish church

summer
there was a boy
in her village
who shot himself
in the head
in his father’s shed

The abattoir is Eden
how tenderly the slaughtermen
hook the carcasses onto rails
and back them into rooms
where armfuls of guts
are lifted from zinc tubs

The apprentice of lavender bags
Didn’t know my mother was so talented at death. When,
every August, we made lavender bags she never watched the seeds
dance across yesterday’s newspaper, though her thimble and needle
tapped the quick tinny rhythm of their shaking, rattling, rolling about.

The Clocks
Neither of your clocks are going,
but then they’re from the junk shop
so what can you expect?

The dead days
That final time I saw you, I couldn’t see you
for all the years that’d silted up my eyes.
The four decades I’d spent telling myself

The Replacement
Gordon waits
in our reconstructed Dorset kitchen
tucked in a corner of a basement

The Song of Three Cross Wives
Turning up outside our houses
With no shoes and socks, no trousers,
Nothing on! Three shameful strippers!

Top of the Pops
Year after year every last-night-but-one
of the school week we girls watched
our parents and brothers and neighbour uncles
watch Pan’s People, Legs & Co.

VENUS VICTRIX
After Antonio Canova, “Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix”

Because we are American & he’s very
bored, we catch a glimpse of the unknown coast
& say We’ll take it all. So we drive east

Wedding Photo
Light breaking after the war,
the two of them beneath a recovering sky
aglow with each other. No sign
of the blessing priest, just dad in his winged cap

Yorkshire Tap
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven
All at once in metric heaven;
Tippy tippy tip tap tip-tap-toe…
Form a line then turn and go