A big thank you from Carole for all your poetry
A big thank you from Carole for all your poetry

Thank you to everyone who entered the YorkMix/York Literature Festival Poetry Competition. I have loved reading the poems (all 850 of them). A full judge’s report will appear on my poetry blog after the award ceremony on 18th March at 8pm at the Black Swan.

My shortlist is below. I had some difficult decisions to make and many, many strong poems did not make it on to the list but I really did read them all several times with great attention and enjoyment. The process was completely anonymous. I had no idea who the poets were or even whether perhaps two or more of their poems were shortlisted.

My final selection will be made from the poems below and the winners will be informed before the event and invited to come and read their poems and collect their prizes in person. Whether you are one of the winners or not I would love to meet you. I felt humbled by the high quality of so many of the entries and my only regret is that there were not more prizes.

 

The shortlist

 
Cheryl Pearson (Newton le Willows, Merseyside)
Bat (A Sonnet)

The thin wing-spokes turned inside out
like a flimsy umbrella in high wind.
Just last night I saw, flickering about,
three, four, hitching star to star with bounced sound,

casting ripples around the moon, sound-stones
deftly skipped. Now there’s this: stiff in the grass;
alien. Look at the fine fan of bones.
Fox-ears, fur. Look at its fixed, curdled face,

see your own occur in it. Palmed, it’s dry
and cool as leather. Little sky-mouse.
Moth-mouthed predator. A vacant space high
in the roof, a tenant less in the house –

say a prayer for its small life. Say a spell.
Incant its names: Grey. Vampire. Pipistrelle.

 
Lucy Antwis (York)
Bay Town

She looks across the Bay, gulls circling the rooftops below
Towards the bank she resists a run as the steep hill slopes
Past the openings, the doorway to a maze of hidden streets

The wagon stones, the mouse carved on Beckfield house gate
The Bramblewick’s hearty smell of the lunchtime rush
Crackle of the beck, the hum of the sea, she is running

The crashing of King Street pulling back from the seabed
Approaching the dock, the coastguard station is waiting, ready
Horses pull fishing boats crowded with the catch of the day

Smelling the oarweed, the salt, she rushes to the way foot
Stepping onto the beach, the starfish are lined up like arrows
Water greets her feet, his boat is coming.

 
Mike Barfield (Helperby, York)
Black Cherry Yogurt

It is 1975 and Mark O’Hara and I are having a slow yogurt-eating contest.

We are sat either side of a trestle table in the dining hall of Bushloe High School, Wigston, Leicester, England, Europe, The World, The Universe.

A few years on from this time, this table, this yogurt, Mark will tell me he uses heroin.

He will also tell me that he has out of body experiences where his spirit leaves his body while he is fast asleep and travels – equally fast, I presume – around The World.

Possibly even The Universe.

He will tell me this in Wigston Library in 1980 and I will not know what to say to him.

Instead, I will simply remember all that yogurt.

And how slowly we ate it.

But right now it is 1975 and we are having a slow yogurt-eating contest at lunchtime in the hall at Bushloe High School and Mark is winning.

This is in spite of the fact that the yogurt we are eating – slowly – is black cherry and I do not even like black cherry yogurt.

I like the buckets it comes in, though.

Large white plastic buckets with metal handles.

Really good solid white buckets.

The school throws them away but I think they would be great for collecting frogspawn in, and one day I will pluck up the courage to ask the dinner-ladies if they can spare one.

But I will not tell them the real reason for I am afraid they will laugh at me.

Back in 1975, Mark and I eat our yogurt incredibly slowly, licking ridiculously tiny amounts of yogurt off the tips of rough-edged steel teaspoons.

Forensic amounts of yogurt.

The rule is that for a spoonful to count you still have to be able to taste the yogurt.

Though mostly you can only really taste the spoon.

Dip. Lick. Dip. Lick. Dip. Lick. Dip. Lick.

The game is a complete waste of time.

But back then we both had lots of that.

And lots of black cherry yogurt too.

 
Andrew McDonnell (Norwich)
Carole

It’s 1994, I’ve just turned 17. Nothing to do during
school holidays when I’m not at Sainsbury’s pushing
trolleys around to ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ in my
head, but to hang out in the fields near the cottage
hospital above the A21. Paul warns of ravers who
might appear at any time and have no sympathy for
our fashion sense. My hair is long, shoulder length
and curly blonde. I’m interested in a girl named
Carole who looks a bit like Mark Keds, the lead
singer of the Senseless Things, who is androgynous,
so it’s ok. We hang out and smoke Royals as there’s
24 in a packet. I think Carole smokes too, but not as
much. Sometimes she foregoes which makes her
more mysterious. She has a boyfriend, Simon Laszlo.
He doesn’t like me much, we never meet. Once, on
stage with my band, I performed in bare-feet and he
took one of my Converse and hid it behind a curtain.
I never found it and went home with one shoe,
hopping to the transit van. Simon is tall and lanky,
he too has long hair but he’s under attack from acne.
Mine isn’t too bad I reason; most of the time it hides
politely behind the hair. I always like to wear my
Screamadelica t-shirt when I visit Carole, as she’s
commented on it. We wear friendship bracelets and
watch the moths under the Victorian street lamp in
the middle of the field. I try to write poems about
moths and lamp posts, as it produces a longing I
can’t put my finger on, but ultimately the poems
always lead back to Carole. In the end, I take it too
quickly in a tent near Plaxtol. I never really see
Carole again, only at the edge of the local indie
scene, though I always see her, in the morning mist
on the farm where we camp, looking lost amongst
my friends, looking at me as if I were a stranger, her
deciding to walk back the eight miles to Tonbridge
with Paul as chaperone. I’m sorry Carole, I try to say,
too ashamed in my Screamadelica t-shirt and goose
bumped skin.

 
Terry Jones (Warwick Bridge, Carlisle)
Clothes

It is only when you see them hanging
about, draped languorously over chairs,
standing quietly in wardrobes or on stairs,
deceased in drawers or relaxed and lying
like sleepers on the floor, that you realise
clothes could get by easily without us:
shirts, vests, frocks, coats, even shoes strike a pose
of being in the world. They have projects
that cast them; they have iron in their souls;
they have angst and existential creases.
And clothes are philosophers: these trousers
embrace their emptiness like zen masters.
Clothes are dependable, know where they are:
take that skirt, take those knickers, take that bra…

 
Rose Drew (York)
Disconnection

I’m sorry but the party you are calling cannot be reached.
I’m sorry but the party you are calling
does not wish to speak to you.
I’m sorry but the person you are calling
is appalled that you have called and wishes fervently
you will lose this number.

You may not leave a voice mail.
You must not text a desperation note.
You will not be permitted to re-place this call.

I’m sorry but the party has no phone,
it has mysteriously flung itself
out of the window at top motorway speed.

I’m sorry but the cellular service
does not have a tower in your area
or anyplace that you are.

I’m sorry, but this calling plan
does not allow for stalking.

I’m sorry, you are being disconnected now
erased now
deleted from Missed Calls
Received Calls
speed dial database
even from living memory:

I’m sorry.

 
Chris McLaughlin (Belfast)
Frankel

His trainer travelled alongside in
A jeep: watching that now famous
Elongated stride; bay body, white star,
Against the backdrop of cancer.
They fretted over him daily,
Kept a constant vigil, as he
Provided the requisite scares
En-route to a maximum clearance.

Effortlessly shifting through gears
As if perhaps they were infinite.
Confidently pricking his ears
With another victory imminent.
Proof that he lay beyond the norm
In fourteen perfect lines of form.

 
Robert Gwynne (York)
(From East Coast Main Line): Near Doncaster

Chocolate before 10 am
I must be on a train.
Familiar whine,
North of Doncaster
Drifting, listening,
Conversations half heard
Mobile deals, career moves,
Inconsequential connections.

Outside, a land softened by snow;
A power station, all comic-book ocean liner
Sinking ‘full ahead’ in a white sea.
Just a glimpse and move on,
The language of trains.

Surrounded by people
Clutched by phone to home,
To work,
As our land speeds by,
Sprinkled with winter.

 
Lynda McDonald (York)
Henri Cartier Bresson takes Sunday Communion
Harlem 1947

He’s captured the intensity of the sun
in black and white. It’s in the play
of light and shade on the flaking stone
of a seedy apartment block. It’s in
the illusion of sparkle on blank windows.
In the shimmer of sweat, as light licks
across the black faces of Sunday best children,
in crisp taffeta and pint-sized suits.
Out of church they teem, eyes squinting,
at the vision of a man in winter tweeds,
leaning on not one, but three sticks-
his head, apparently stuck,
inside a big wooden box.

 
Lydia Harris (York)
I go to Tonia’s when I’m in Vegas

She turns me from, Ho-hum
to, I feel beautiful,
records my formula on cards,
is doing my colour for the cruise.
Just another week then off to Rio.
She feathers my layers
hangs baskets on the walls
because she’s one eighth Paiute.
Her nails are gorgeous
although she used to bite them
and when she stopped
her mum gave her a Bible.
She shows me how my nape’s tapered,
giggles, You show me your routine.
I lie face up, kick my legs,
do the splits in the air,
roll over and I’m up again
wiggling my hips. Pouting.
Whoa! she whoops.
She doesn’t know a word of Paiute,
wears section clips on her tunic,
looks like this singer I saw in Melbourne.
Her dad died when she was 38.
She won her Yasakas.
Here let me take some of the weight off.
You like it natural. How it falls.

 
Neil Davidson (Glaisdale, Whitby)
Just a Moment

Just this morning, we woke early: the glow
of sun above Arncliffe with shifting mist
and you just waking and, just smiling, kissed.
Tea made, bird feeders filled, the chickens let
free and, on a round table, breakfast set
in the sunlight of the square bay window,
with dancing angels prism split to rainbow.
The steps, where I had relaid broken paving
and left a mess, you swept whilst I was shaving
and your complaint given and received. Now,
we sit at the far red end of the room
to take coffee and the first taste of Stollen.
We talk of your puppy and could a broom
be soft enough to be a companion.
You are re-reading Georgette Heyer
a sure sign that you are tired,
really tired, after your journey
and, remembering missing you,
I, of course, am writing poetry: letting
the words search our their place and their setting
coalessing out of the quiet and new.
What am I writing? What is this?
Why ask, when the whole thing just is
a love poem to you.

 
Seán Hewitt (Warrington)
for David Kato

Open your mouth again, Canon, for peace.
Ministers of grace, defend us! Call sermons
and drive them out until we see lines of men
hanging in the street like bunting, the wind of change
rippling their toes as it passes. Roll the stone away.
Then, in the silence that follows, picture the town,
church-still in the dead of the night, the car pulling up
in the dust of the dry road, its scrape echoing
in the vaulted sky, and them going secretly
to the altar of his small bed, where he’d slept in
too-perfect symmetry with another man. Here,
take your eye for another’s eye, and see instead
the bludgeoned head, the birds shocked into flight,
their wings like the hammer of law falling and falling again.

 
Chris Robinson (Billingham, Teesside)
My Date with Mike

I woke up early, my sleep cut
short, my solid self left behind
in suspended animation.
Concentration curdled as date
night nerves crept into my colon
and rendered me immobile. I
took care to pick the perfect outfit,
to style my hair, to chose which words
to share, then the moment arrived
and I found myself standing
before him, wondering where the
day had gone. My plans packed
into a pocket in the back
of my mind, a switch clicked on and
I adopted a different persona.
I positioned my trembling
legs between his feet, ran my
perspiring palms down his long hard
shaft, licked my dry lips, leaned in
closely and spoke softly these words:
“Hi, I’m Chris, and I’m going to
read you some poetry”.

 
R.M.E. Thornhill (Bristol)
Not Silver, Not Gold

Not silver not gold,
Useless things with histories dipped in blood.

Give me a ring made from wood –
Stolen from oak or willow or ash,
So fresh, the sap still dripping.
Old and rich with silent wisdom,
I want tentacle roots to sink through my skin,
To branch out within.

Find me a ring made from bone –
A vertebra, polished and clean,
An ivory O like a mouth in a scream,
Or a finger, curled and beckoning,
A white brittle stone. Your bone
Rattling next to my own.

Make me a ring from your laugh –
Delicate tinkling on my hand,
Like a thousand bells in a row,
Shaking with mirth, making night
Look like day. When I’m lost
I want it to show me the way.

Bake me a ring made from your words –
Knead and ply your yeses, your nos,
Sprinkle in your wonderful lies then,
Warm the hubbub and babble through,
Leave out what you say to the rest. I want what’s
Whispered under your breath.

Of wood or bone or laughter or words,
Dirty metals not allowed,

Make me proud.

 
Jennifer Moore (Ivybridge, Devon)
Old Havisham’s Toaster

‘And there, amongst the cobwebbed clutter of discarded wedding gifts, sat the gleaming John Lewis toaster.
“I measure out my life,” she explained to the still-trembling boy, “in shades of bread.”’

Some days the polished chrome walls
dazzle her,
breaking through the gloom
like a silvered sun,
levers stretching heavenwards,
dual dials poised in trepidation,
four mouths gaping wide –
toothless and grinning like once-dreamt children:
she feeds them white bread, thinly sliced,
coaxed to a pale gold crisping,
to a tender, butter-melting warmth.

Some days she almost smiles
as her tongue creaks across her withered lips
hunting for jam streaks,
as her knotted fingers pluck and dive
for toast crumbs trapped in yellowing folds
of satins, and lace, and silks.

On dark days she turns the dials high,
blackening bread like a vengeance,
gorging each sagging lung on that charred-air smell
until they swell
and strain against her brittling ribcage,
wizened heart a-flutter like an angry bird –
she would peck his eyes out if she could,
claw each cheating cheek to shreds.

Some days she almost breaks
as her gaze strays across the mirrored walls
for her own reflection,
as her lidded eyeballs squint and strain,
trapped amongst the yellowing folds
of skin, and skin, and skin.

 
Anna Kisby (Brighton)
Reap the Benefit

Because I don’t know what’s to be done
with all these rosebuds

I tune into Radio 4, Gardener’s Question Time.
I’m startled to find they’ve replaced the pips and chimes

with a Member of Parliament who snaps at me:
tighten your belt – tetchy

as hell, every quarter hour. Tricky, I say, with a full-term baby
under my ribs (a third, I’m that greedy

but not alone – statistics show in times of recession
citizens eat more cake, make more children).

The time has come to cut back, a voice soothes,
slash overgrowth, prune –

that’s when my waters go, no free midwife
in the whole city to ease him into life –

I’m on my knees when I didn’t get into this to hurt people
you know, the MP confides, sorrowful

as a topiary crocodile. Tomorrow I’ll be too milky, too sleepless
for economics and backchat. I’ll dig three beds

under the ailing rose, root a child in each (we’re all in this
together I’m assured, and all the falling petals

will make such a pretty quilt) until they up like spades, turn over
new earth.

 
Kaye Heyes (Todmorden, Lancashire)
See Life

I’ll take your hand, the left,
say: touch me there, exactly there,
stroke my scar with tender, with care
your heart bursting out from your fingertips.

Really examine that crescent mole you love,
trace the stretch marks snaking over my hips,
shaving rash stings at the top of my thighs.

Enter with your stare from the bottom up:
fill my feet first, the toes one by one,
work your way up my calves and gristly knees
walk into my womb, squeeze out my spleen.
This is who I am: watch me bleed,
battle-scared and weary, hollowed out. In need.

Once upon a time your body fitted mine,
a perfect turn of phrase: my lock, your key.
Now every strand of DNA is aching for your glance.
Please, come inside, take off your mask,
your shoes, your coat – hang out a while,
it’s only me – and you, how did we deny?

Trace it back to that long night you saw me floored
with the weight of my failure, disappointment
cleaved to my shoulders, my core.
I counted the hurts, barricaded my soul
armoured up for the daily front-line.

Now I plead: unbind me. Prise me open
with your thumbs, crush my shell in your palm,
this sea pearl is biding, gleaming with desire.
Take this precious, she’s yours, do as you wish,
I’ve saved her too tight, too long,
the great white shark of resentment is gone.
Please let me see her, feel her again,
know we are still we and I am still I.

Then,
let’s take your hand, the left, together,
draw a line, and re-start. Exactly there.

 
Julia Key (York)
Still I Find You

Sometimes; no, always.
Folding linen,
In a hiss of steam;
A bunch of snowdrops, raffia-tied;
In the way you sneezed.

I find you when the blackbird sings;
In that old blue shirt;
Lizard skin, as nothing now
The one who lived within
Has gone.

In a badly sung hymn;
When the brakes squeak.
I find you crushing garlic,
Your Sunday face on; that smile.
The smell of a smouldering candle wick.

When the geese pass;
Yes, always then.
At 4 a.m.,
When stale sleep taunts but will not take me;
In still warm pastry, or the morning mist.

I find you when the damsons rot;
In the jam that goes unmade,
The sticky stones not littering the plate.
In the little things
That speak the love you could not voice;
That push me, gently, forward now.
I have no choice.

 
Caroline Price (Tunbridge Wells, Kent)
Summer night garden

Outside, night has shaken its sleeve,
moths mob the streetlamp,
dozens of tiny mandibles tear and munch.
The Montgolfiers of the dusk
have been tricked away, replaced
by the moon’s full, stippled grapefruit.
It balances on the wall at the end of the garden,
almost within reach. Look –
you start to say, and at the same moment

a fox appears, picks its way along the wall
through ivy and ivy-leaved toadflax
and enters the moon
and stops, stands inside it
like an outline of a fox, a weathervane
that on the current of our indrawn breath
turns its head towards us – at that,
you’d whisper if you dared make a sound, at that.

 
Elizabeth Sandie (York)
That First Letter

That first letter
Typed, tissue thin,
it was a puzzle, that first letter:
it spoke to a Dear Cherub,
was signed by a Bless you.
Get well soon it said,
Come round to finish the game.
I loved how snugly
it folded up, and tucked into
its miniscule envelope;
how it could come out
to be read all over again.
How it was kept in a box.

The next month,
Bless you was poorly,
worse than chicken pox,
but unnamed.
She was put in a box,
with my doll for company.
I didn’t like what they said
about flames.

 
Genevieve Carver (Ellerton, York)
The First Poem

The first poem in my new notebook is for you.

The first poem in my new notebook
is going to change the world.

The first poem in my new notebook
will be shouted from the rooftops
and blasted out of minarets.

It will have its own radio station
and a free copy will be found
in every bedside drawer
of every hotel and B&B.

The first poem in my new notebook
will become the national anthem
and all the protest songs.

It will be learnt by heart in school classrooms
and sung outside the school gates by truant lovers.

The first poem in my new notebook
is an adventure story about a princess
and a dragon.
It’s a thriller about a secret agent
with 15 seconds to save the planet.

It’s deeply philosophical
and sparkles with wit.

When I read the first poem in my new notebook
out at a wedding,
everyone will cry.

The first poem in my new notebook
is much better than
the last poem in my last notebook.

The first poem in my new notebook is for you.

 
Caroline Price (Tunbridge Wells, Kent)
The Guide loses one of his group in Martinique

Will she turn, the girl in the red dress,
through another archway opaque with shadow
before he can reach the corner, will he still see her
walking rapidly into the distance, brushing past
the clumped flowers that hang over walls
hardly strong enough to take their weight,
hugging her arms to her sides and staring ahead
as if she knows exactly where she’s going? –
and he starts to run faster
along the alleyways, soft in the dust:
he wants to catch up with her, though what he will say
when he does he has no idea;
he’s in the open street now and breathless
by the steps where they’re setting up stalls
of fruit and leatherware, they’re unrolling carpets
and the air is tinkly with the bells tied to the fringes
of cloths the tourists finger,
tourists who’ll happily pay double for packets of spices
they could find on their shelves back home;
and all they really need to do – he thinks
as he watches a sweating middle-aged man swearing
as he tries impossibly to photograph a humming-bird –
is to put out a jar of sugared water and wait,
a jar of sugared water in the evening in your own back yard,
that’s where the humming-birds come
hovering, dipping their long tongues.

 
Grace Clarke (York)
The Last Summer Before You Left

The last summer before you left

and we spent it sick and sad.

Shattered glass, slammed taxi doors,

speed.

The summer went and my life became just purple lips

green bottles and bedrooms.

There was a new boy down the hall who cooked me dinner.

He’d turn out to be poison

But back then we shared sheets

and he let me sleep.

 
Rachel Glass (Seamer, Scarborough)
When Love Stumbled

When Love stumbled into my life,
he sat down on my sofa and
put his feet up on my coffee table.
Whilst Love rendered me speechless,
he rarely shut up.

I thought I knew Love.
He played sports, played guitar
and bought me flowers simply
because he liked the weather.
But my Love is clumsy,
sings like a strangled cat
and buys me roses,
when he knows I don’t like them,
because he’s done something wrong.

I thought I knew that Love
was clean shaven, wore nice suits and
owned a tie.
But Love has a permanent 5 o’clock shadow,
wears un-ironed jeans and
almost strangled himself
trying to put a tie on.

I thought Love owned a nice car,
could read maps and drive well.
But Love owns a rusted pickup truck,
got us lost going to the supermarket
and thinks he’s a NASCAR driver.

I thought I would hear angels sing
when I looked at Love.
But all I hear is my favourite
Billy Joel song,
which he has memorised.
Love smiles at me.
Love has a black coffee in one hand
and the TV remote in his other.
Love slips his shoes off.
Love promises to stay for a while.

 

The full list

Avebury Barrows
Gareth Potter, Newton Abbot, Devon

Bat (A Sonnet)
Cheryl Pearson, Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside

Bay Town
Lucy Antwis, York

Bishopthorpe Road
Doreen Gurrey, York

Black Cherry Yogurt
Mike Barfield, Helperby, York

Carole
Andrew Mcdonnell, Norwich

Clothes
Terry Jones, Carlisle

Coup de Foudre
Caroline Price, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Disconnection
Rose Drew, York

First Moments With Our Son
Jane Park, Bubwith, Selby

Frankel
Chris Mclaughlin, Belfast

(From East Coast Main Line): Near Doncaster
Robert Gwynne, York

Henri Cartier Bresson Takes Sunday Communion
Lynda Mcdonald, York

Holes
Gaia Holmes, Halifax

I Go To Tonia’s When I’m In Vegas
Lydia Harris, York

Just A Moment
Neil Davidson, Glaisdale, Whitby

Legion
Seán Hewitt, Warrington, Cheshire

My Date With Mike
Chris Robinson, Billingham

Not Silver, Not Gold
R.M.E. Thornhill, Bristol

Old Havisham’s Toaster
Jennifer Moore, Ivybridge, Devon

Practice Sessions
Rosemary Badcoe, Sheffield

Reap The Benefit
Anna Kisby, Brighton

See Life
Kaye Heyes, Todmorden

Still I Find You
Julia Key, York

Summer Night Garden
Caroline Price, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

That First Letter
Elizabeth Sandie, York

The First Poem
Genevieve Carver, Ellerton, York

The Guide Loses One Of His Group In Martinique
Caroline Price, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

The Heart Of Mary
Lydia Harris, York

The Last Summer Before You Left
Grace Clarke, York

Today, I Pulled On The Coat Of Seamus Heaney
Maureen Oliphant, Merryoaks, Durham

Upland Scene, Malham
Mantz Yorke, Didsbury, Manchester

We Got The Hall Stand
Cora Greenhill, Grindleford, Derbyshire

When Love Stumbled
Rachel Glass, Seamer, Scarborough

Zoom
Anthony Watts, Taunton, Somerset