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Earlyworks Press Poetry Uncategorized

Earlyworks Press Poetry Competition 2020 RESULTS

Judge’s Report by

Mandy Pannett

(The poems were judged anonymously but we’ve added names here, and a selection of the short listed poems below)

Congratulations to all the entrants for managing, in this terrible year, to write such well-crafted, strong poems. I feel the standard has been exceptionally high and I found it difficult to limit the short list. There were several other poems – many others – that deserved a mention. I have no doubt that the authors’ achievements will be recognized elsewhere.

The winning poems and those on the short list are incredible. Such a richness of theme and craft. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read them.

Ist Prize

Terra, terra

by Roger Elkin

The opening of the poem is unusual. The poet begins by musing ‘Strange to think that …’ From that moment I was captured and entranced. The title itself begins the clever play on the sounds and meanings of words – terra, terra cotta, finisterre, terra firma.

There is a wealth of imagery. We are in another world, overwhelmed by the names of ancient places – Phoenicia, Sparta, Greece, the Levant, Carthage, Alexandria, Byzantium, Iberia, Gaul, Albion. There are ‘lashings of olive and grape, oil and wine’ and we are left with exotic ‘lapis lazuli seas,/and earth the colour of spilled blood.’

A superb poem and a very well-deserved winner.

Runner Up

Requiem for a Kayaker

by Clifford Liles

The structure of this outstanding poem where we have the juxtaposition of narrative with phrases from the Requiem for the Dead is perfect.

I have been thinking of the best way to describe the piece and have come to the conclusion that it is visionary. Although the theme is tragic, the death of a kayaker, there is no impression of tragedy or grief. Rather there is a sense is of reverence, of redemption, of a surrender that is willing, an acceptance of sacrifice. At the end we are led to ‘a bright encounter’.

The author of this poem has a real feeling and flair for language. Wonderful.

Short List

Museum Piece by Pat Childerhouse

This is an excellent dramatic monologue with subtle and sinister implications.  I like the naming of characters. A clever, interesting poem.

Bridge by Pat Childerhouse

There is beautiful clarity and simplicity here. The image of the bridge made with old man’s beard and honeysuckle is beautiful and just right.

Pig Succour by Alan Bush

This poem made me shiver with the image of the ‘undressed light’ photographing ‘other-thoughts amongst the hogweed’. It is sinister and nightmarish and brilliantly written.

Unseen by Alan Bush

Another poem with sinister, dark, violent undertones. Deftly written with a perfect choice of words and images to create atmosphere.

You Let the Cat Out by Ion Corcos

This was a strong contender for a winning place. I really like the surrealism of it and the insistent repetition of the title line. An excellent poem.

Supplicating God by John Moody

The way the poet creates a sense of extreme heat is brilliant. I love the sonics of the first line ‘Burning earth beneath our surly struggle.’ Great use of long and short lines.

Dragonfly Thoughts for a Dried-Up Land by Camilla Lambert

Another strong contender. Some effective and imaginative juxtapositions of imagery and a perfect choice of words throughout. An unforgettable poem.

Shadows by Camilla Lambert

A terrific opening line and a shift of tone at the end. Strong images throughout especially the one about Lavender. Lovely poem.

Winner

Terra, terra  by Roger Elkin

 Strange to think that something

as transparently aquamarine and slicked

with turquoise as the Mediterranean

should be named, in part,

after the Latin for earth

but that was when this sea-cradle

was Rome’s lifeblood, its trade-routes

stolen from Phoenicia, Sparta, Greece

and the Levant; and its imperial money-mould

swapped hands in the markets of Carthage,

Alexandria, Byzantium, Iberia and Gaul –

reason enough for this stretch of treachery  

at the centre of things to be called  

the middle of the earth – that red earth  

they fired to amphora, and pan-tile:  

Italy’s terra cotta

 

And yet, more certain, more contained,

this slippery sea than that terra incognita

where Visigoth and Hun – wolves

circling wolves – grew mean-eyed on envy

and waited patiently for erosions of will.

And not as indefinable, this sea, as that  

where Iberia gave way to landless horizons  

at the world’s end, so named it finisterre

Or as divisive as Caesar’s Albion gamble, 

that uncertain terra firma made secure  

by history’s cliché – veni, vidi, vici –  

and lashings of olive and grape, oil and wine 

shipped in for centurion and legionnaire 

skulking in draughty camps 

and getting maudlin-drunk  

on memories of warmer shores, 

lipped by lapis lazuli seas, 

and earth the colour of spilt blood. 

~~~

Runner Up

Requiem for a Kayaker

by Clifford Liles

                                     Dies Irae

Behold, this loud altar, a cataract

all draped in thunder; this throng of hushed ferns

and rushes. In the shallows, a kayak.

Did strength leave him? What left his boat upturned?

                                     Offertorio

This man, who but for neoprene is naked,

Drifts by beeches hewn from time as soaring pillars.

A nave of Nature, still as roots and mud,

where man’s survival turns on strength and skill.

                                     Libera Me

Past timeless trees, flowing ever downwards;

his paddle’s gone, surrendered to the rapids.

Torrents crash. This surge slicks darkly seawards.

It passes empty scrubland, wild and arid.

                                     Lux Aeterna

                A clearing opens in the wilderness;

                a bright salvation, where he comes to rest.

~~~

A selection of the shortlist

Museum Piece

by Pat Childerhouse

In which the puppet-master gives a talk about his craft

Here’s Mr Punch – hook nose, hump back, crimson tunic.

Very popular. Yes Madam, I do know he’s a violent fellow,

I spent many summer days in a booth with him.

Children loved it. Some sneaked in round the back.

I let them stay, the quiet ones.

I’ll press on. These have strings and moving joints.

Here’s Bluebeard, and the sweet girl whose brothers did for him.

Yes, I made her – stitched her silk dress and lacy underthings.

We played lots of different shows, had a kind of magic,

Pulled people in.

Some characters are missing. Columbina’s gone.

What with all the travelling I don’t remember when she went.

I was fond of her. This is Mephistopheles – black velvet, scarlet trim.

You can touch the soft material. Faust’s here with him,

Always looking sad.

That’s Raven. Yes she has a piercing gaze. I’ll put her away now,

Don’t want those glossy feathers to fade. Yes, I do miss them Sir,

Miss those times. The puppets will be on show again next year.

I heard that! I suppose I am an exhibit too. Out-dated.

Things were different then.

~~~

Pig Succour

by Alan Bush

I find a dream-part

under a hedge

written

on the sleeve of a discarded box:

some pigs, freed by a Road Traffic

Incident stare

at street furniture, a concrete culvert

the tarmac beneath their feet:

‘none of the pigs were harmed

in either the crash or the capture

process’ we must be told…

as the undressed light photographs

other-thoughts amongst the hogweed

as we will forget the empty snail-shells

in the grass-dark

that are clustered bright as steel. 

~~~

Supplicating God

by J H Moody

From Paul Gauguin’s painting ‘Vision of the Sermon’

Burning earth beneath our surly struggle. 
 A cow looks on in extinction-dread

spooked

by awkward pink and angular feet scrabbling
for purchase in dry, red-orange sand.

Coughing on seventy kilograms
of methane in her bovine burps and farts,

she poisons the golden winged angel who

                straining wrestles

me for a firmer grip, throwing me
to baking terra firma.

I’m losing this desperate fight
with everything, a world, at stake.

If she grasps and then grips harder
I’m scuffled to the earth.

The cremating sun to consume us all
 was the final message from her sermon.

Supplicating an absent God.
That’s the sanctimonious plea

of the praying, watching women
not accepting they share my fate.

They shake their chalky bonnets
flapping limply in enervating heat.

No protection from the

                furnace

to follow.

I weaken in a Seraph’s clutch. 

~~~

Dragonfly Thoughts for a Dried-Up Land

by Camilla Lambert

Passing what once were ponds, all cracked

like potters’ bowls fired too hot, we follow

narrow paths where reeds struggle up from black

marsh-sludge. They whisper, brittle, hollowed.

In these edge-lands insect bodies, sucked dry

of life, pile up, compressed. Frail gauzy wings

that soared are now inert; we are denied

the glinting fly-dance of summer evenings.

Were we to cloak these remains with sheets

of green dragonflies, might memories of dash

and dart last into the arid time? Could fleets

of wayward thoughts and challenges flash

out brave new ideas to lift off in rapid flight

above darkening water, be couriers of light?

~~~

NB There are no plans for an anthology from Earlyworks Press this year but if/when we’re in a position to plan one next year, the authors listed above will be invited to place their works.

NB 2 The poets, of course, presented their poems with evenly spaced stanza breaks. If/when I can work out how to make this blog-editor thing do that, the stanza breaks here will be even. Sorry!

Categories
Book reviews book shops Uncategorized

Beauty is still dying

When I read Sheri S Tepper’s ‘Beauty’ back in the early ‘90s, I thought she had done me an injury.

I enjoyed it, but the Ending (not the ending of the book, The Ending) was just too dark. Not fair.

I just read it again, here in 2020 and, when I got to the bit about the Ending (which she places in the 21st century, round about now) I just thought yes, fair enough – but she left out the climate crisis.

Sheri S Tepper’s ‘Beauty’ offers hope, inspiration, and a tremendous call to action. It’s rich, it’s complex and – ooh, I don’t often use this word – it’s seminal. Next time I find myself looking at one of the more recent popular fantasies – Terry Pratchett perhaps, or J K Rowling, I’ll enjoy seeing the star-fire flashes of Tepper’s ideas in them.

Read ‘Beauty’, and remember – a fantasy book is as good or as bad as the ideas and the actions it inspires. Read it, then – as Ursula K Le Guin was fond of saying – go do the next thing. It may well be a better thing than the one you would have done if you hadn’t read ‘Beauty’, and you can’t say fairer than that.

Find out more here

'Beauty' by Sheri S Tepper - cover image
Categories
activism Book reviews book shops Earlyworks Press Election flash fiction media Poetry Politics Short stories Uncategorized

In the Absence of Hard Evidence

In the absence of hard evidence of a divine engineer in the sky, I’d say the patterns in your mind are who you are.

This is my thought for the day because it became necessary to clean and decorate the back room, and to do that, it was necessary to move two wallfuls of books, including the poetry and the political sections.

It isn’t a chore. If you’re one of nature’s librarians (ie, your childhood created bookworm patterns in your mind) – if that’s your story then you’ll know that moving and sorting books is the third best thing in the world, coming after reading them and helping to make new books happen (for me, that’s publishing – for others, it’s writing, or buying, or borrowing, or reviewing, or forming clubs around discussing…) books.

Are books better?

Funny thing is, most people don’t read books. In a recent survey among some schools, kids were asked who reads books. “Old people and people with no friends” was a common answer. How much they are missing! To all those who say ebooks are as good as books, or browsing the internet is as good as any kind of book, I say – look to the patterns in your mind. Does bouncing around on the internet, slipping from link to link and forgetting where you started, really lay down a strong, comprehensible and retrievable pattern in your mind? How much do you remember of the stuff you clicked through yesterday, last week, last month? Can you flip to-and-fro, contemplate and come to know an ebook the same way you can a book on your shelf (not just when you’re reading it – all the time).

How gullible are you, how confusable are you, how well do you know your history, your environment, yourself? I suggest to you, along with David Didau, that people who read books have better lives – and the reason for that is the quality and retrievability of the patterns in their minds.

From Ely to South America and Back

While I was moving the political section (remember, we’re clearing out the back room so we can decorate) a hundred and one worlds opened their doors in my head, and reminded me of the richness of the forest in the mind. Here’s one: When I picked up The Open Veins of Latin America, I remembered a beautiful bookshop in Ely. It was a day of beautiful things – the cathedral, the river, the teashop with the samovar and the gunpowder tea – and this bookshop. And this book which, I confess, I picked up because the colours on the cover caught my eye long enough for me to notice what a startling title they presented.

And then, as I look at the book, more and more doors open in my head as I remember reading this tragic history, and how it led me to watch a film about Hugo Chavez, and how I learned that socialism must, and can only ever be, international socialism (act local, think global) because socialism is about people, not flags.

Socialism relies on ‘class analysis’ and you just can’t do that by the kinds of hats people are wearing, these days. Who is the ‘them’ in ‘them and us’ these days? Isn’t it the international corporations? Is it not the case that the ‘them’ we are up against are the world champion border-jumpers? If they can put the cause and the effect of their actions in different countries. And hoover the profits into their (global) banks while you’re watching the misery and chaos on the national news and wondering what it all means, they have already won. You’ll probably end up losing everything, and all the while looking around the neighbourhood for someone who looks a bit different to you to blame it on.

Narrativium – the drug of the post-truth generation?

And then another set of doors opened, and I remembered the more recent discovery that the author of The Open Veins of Latin America had expressed some regrets in later life, that he’d got caught up in what Terry Pratchett called narrativium, that if he’d  had time to write it again, he would have written it differently.

That doesn’t mean the book is wrong, or bad, it means that a story can have the same start and a thousand different endings, depending what lines the author gets a-running along. But sometimes, like the author of that book, you need to retrace your steps, and take a look at some of the things that got lost along the way.

And that opened another, more recent set of doors, about all the things from recent years that are beginning to be forgotten in the daily click-fest – I remembered writing an essay for my CLP, explaining the theory of the ‘Overton Window’, of how the movement that gathered around Corbyn was steadily leading us back to socialism, to caring about others and our environment, caring about the truth – but they really didn’t need my essay – a tide was flowing our way. It isn’t now – and that brings me right back round to today, and reminds me how I need to talk to our local socialist group about the importance of getting that report properly investigated, so the truth will be known properly, and the size of the victory of the anti-austerity movement will be seen, despite the loss of that election, and so that we remember who the enemies were, which brings me to the importance of getting down to some serious political education so that our local socialists don’t forget that socialism is, and always must be, internationalist, analytical, and founded on strong, joined-up ideas – which requires an enormous bookshelf and/or regular, good-quality political education.

And that’s just one book, on one shelf. Going to go move the poetry books now. I wonder what’ll happen to the patterns in the mind then.

Think global, act local

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And if you’d like to spend some time on enjoyable activities numbers one and two now (you know, the reading and writing ones) here are some links to Earlyworks Press comps and books…

Flash Fiction comp – £100 for the best 100 words

Short story comp – £200 for the best story

Short story anthologies

Poetry anthologies

Categories
activism Labour Politics women

What do Rosie Duffield and J K Rowling have in common?

They’re both well known, one extremely well off and the other at least comfortably secure. They both have ways of making themselves heard, and they also, according to those on the left, have allegiances to the wrong kind of Labour Party members.

Duffield and Rowling both recently spoke up about their worries over women’s rights – in Duffield’s case, merely our right to see and hear ourselves called ‘women’ – and I learned all the points above from comments about them doing so – but what matters to me is something else that they have in common.

Knowing your rights, knowing your needs

For various reasons, I made it my business to find, and speak to, as many women as possible who’d spoken up, or wanted to speak up, about what the queer-theory inspired trans rights movement is doing to women. Time after time, when I found those women and spoke to them, it would turn out they were abuse survivors: women who understood firsthand why we need women’s groups, women’s services and women’s health provision clearly signposted and easily accessible and also, why a distressing proportion of the women around us have a deeply emotional need to know that when they’re told they are approaching a women’s service, it will be women who greet them there.

That is why I am still angry. That is why I’ve bashed on with this campaign until I’m absolutely sick to death of it. Please get this, even if you don’t grasp anything else about this tortuous issue: a frighteningly large proportion of the women in this country are, or have been, traumatised by sexual violence at some time in their lives. They are the women most likely to speak out on this issue, and it costs them dear to do so.

And when they do speak out, the more polite trans rights activists tell them they’re being cruel to a group whose oppression and suffering they cannot begin to imagine. The rest send them piles of violent and sexualised abuse. Neither reaction is easily forgivable.

Please pass this message on to all who need to hear it

All women need women’s rights and services. Abuse survivors need them desperately, and need to know that ‘women’ means ‘women’. There are a million and one things we could be doing that make life easier and safer for trans people, things that do not deny traumatised women what they need. If you are so progressive, if you are so righteous and compassionate, could you please go work on those, and leave women’s rights and language alone.

If all you want to do is slap down any and every claim women make, accept that you’re not fighting transphobia, you’re fighting women – that’s just misogyny.

About Duffield’s tweet

About J K Rowling’s tweet