Monday, 21 August 2017


Bridget Sprouls!

Our 5th Fortnight winner!
Sprouls' poems have appeared in Field, Map Literary, The New Yorker, The Stinging Fly, and elsewhere. She lives in New Jersey, USA.
Her winning poem 'Chatter' - she gets £280 as this was a double-fortnight contest - appears below.
The runners up are:
Meg Eden, for her poem 'spirit house'
Anders Howerton, for 'An Original Series'
In general, this was a very strong field of poets, and poems - over 350 - one of the strengths of this particular prize is that we receive submissions from across North America, but also the UK, Ireland and beyond.
Howerton's modern sonnet was contemporary, quirky and compelling in its digital age syntax - an original lyricism emerges here.
Eden is clearly a fine poet - her poem - long and discursive, filled with rich questions and surprising imagery, was both clever and profound - not easy to pull off.
Either could have won - however, having to choose among my three top poems, it came down to a sense of overall achievement - and by a hair's breadth, on this day, I chose 'Chatter'.
This poem's appeal and impressive tonal range is easy to see - it finds a very persuasively contemporary, personal, funny, but poetically savvy voice, and then extends, in quasi-Homeric, or shaggy-dog fashion, an exploration of lyric narrative and self-expression, in a way only the very best contemporary poets can manage. This is fluent, intelligent, skilful, and wonderful writing. A poem to share with friends and fellow poets, as a way to do poetry, thinking on one's verbal feet...
and the ending is so lovely, with its knowing echoes of Frost and Ransom.
No one has lived here in decades, but now I do, 
so I shift the bookshelves when it rains
to catch soup from the ceiling, catch punch. 
I nail the upstairs blankets so the top one falls loose, 
like a focusing hood, letting me under to revel privately
in the bareness of the ocean. As temperatures fall, 
the dog and I keep bonding, folded up like tacos
in comforters and wool. He’s smart enough to stay there
while I boil water and crouch in the bath before work, keeping on
and steeping my sweater, listening to the plastic on the windows 
not do its job, not hold out the outside air. Some kook left a perfectly good—
only slightly rusted—fifty-millimetre telescope here, 
so the other night as the moon, like an unfelt cut, cropped up,
I climbed to the roof of a neighbor’s, a house more abandoned just newer, 
and shimmied, scrunch-faced, outside the atmosphere. In the distance, 
a humid light swallowed me. Then I swallowed it. But how to show this?
In summer, when eyelashes reflect inside your shades,
only thick as tree trunks, and you become a river observing 
some arid basin it once carved…. This morning the wind has knuckles, 
and the knocking sounds urgent. It may be time to nail 
more blankets up, say so long to daylight’s stencils on the floor, 
exaggerating paned openness, as my friend up the street claims
people in this town keep doing to his rear. He sees
more than I do and suffers for it, aware that we do not belong
by the shore, can’t afford it, simply put, not even at medium wage, 
not the way most bosses micromanage. Just floating in the surf, 
he gets screamed at by fishermen, their rods rigged 
with invisible flags of dominion, flags that can’t but whip
a light-footed sloth, an unambitious moss, in the face, 
as it gets colder and colder then warmer then snows.
poem by Bridget Sprouls, copyright 2017

Sunday, 20 August 2017



Here are the 21 shortlisted poems.  The winner will be announced no later than Monday 21st of August, before midnight GMT. The new contest begins tomorrow.

1. ALISON PALMER –‘Days Fallen Into’
2. AMY SONOUN – ‘The Death of Clive James Has Been Postponed Again’
3. ANDERS HOWERTON – ‘An Original Series’
4. ANNA LENA PHILLIPS BELL – ‘Qualifications for one to be Climbed by a Vine’
5. AUDREY MOLLOY – ‘On the Rocks’
6. BRIDGET SPROULS – ‘Chatter’
7. BURNSIDE SOLEIL – ‘Sundays’
8. COLIN DARDIS – Lost to the Night’
9. DAVID ADAMS – ‘Dominar’
10. EMILY OSBORNE –‘Diacritics’
11. ERIC SIGLER – ‘Celestial Probability’
12. HALEY KARIN – Cover Girl’
13. LOU HERON – ‘The Ant Under The Bar Stool’
14. MAUREEN MILLER – ‘Funeral for my Excuses’
15. MEG EDEN – ‘spirit houses’
16. MEGAN COLEMAN – ‘Licorice and the Underworld’
17. P.C. VANDALL –‘After a Poem by Leonard Cohen’
18. PAMELA JOHNSON PARKER – ‘Months Later, I Stand Here Ironing’
19. TOM DOLAN – ‘Surrounded’
20. WES LEE – ‘You Are The Envoy’
21. YESSICA KLEIN – ‘Let’s Do Some Work Then We’ll Make Love’

Saturday, 19 August 2017




I could lie and claim Larkin, Yeats, or Dylan Thomas most excited me as a young poet, or even Pound or FT Prince - but the truth be told, it was Thom Gunn I first and most loved when I was young.

Precisely, I fell in love with his first two collections, written under a formalist, Elizabethan (Fulke Greville mainly), Yvor Winters triad of influences - uniquely fused with an interest in homerotica, pop culture (Brando, Elvis, motorcycles). His best poem 'On The Move' is oddly presented here without the quote that began it usually - Man, you gotta go - which I loved.

Gunn was - and remains - so thrilling, to me at least, because so odd. His elegance, poise, and intelligence is all about display, about surface - but the surface of a panther, who ripples with strength beneath the skin.

With Gunn, you dressed to have sex.

Or so I thought.  Because I was queer (I maintain the right to lay claim to that identity, regardless of who I sleep with, when or why), was shy, and loved words, loved eloquence, and control, Gunn meant the world to me, and so I always gravitated to a sense of presentation that was formal, smart, and yet also, erotic, and aware of the real world of physical desire, music, actors, and what means something to people.

Clive Wilmer's new selection has a useful introduction, insightful notes, but is mainly invaluable in presenting handsomely most of Gunn's finest poems - his best poem was one of his last, about his mother's suicide.

Gunn was early associated, perhaps incorrectly, with the Plath generation, by Alvarez, and he made much of not liking that so much - though it did him no damage in terms of early fame.

His career had three or four stages - early meteoric success; then a disappearance and lonely years of general indifference; then a great return with the AIDs poems - and a final, valedictory sequence of solemn late poems.  Few poets get to write great poems across a whole lifetime - Gunn's youthful poems are among his best, and so are his last.

Like a less vast Yeats, he rang all the changes.

When Gunn died I was sad more fuss was not made.  In my world he was a poetic God. In many ways, my name, Todd Swift, was chosen (I dropped my first name in favour of my monosyllabic middle) in homage to Thom. Gunn, as the first and foremost gay poet of my lifetime (other than Ginsberg), moves me so much, allows me to be sane, in my rich imagination. But of course his work is inspiring to everyone who wants to write well, despite their desires.

One thing he gives us permission to do is to be elegant, stylish, formal, and traditional, but in non-boring, unsafe, risk-taking and surprising ways.

When I come to compile my final selection of the work I want to keep, of my poetry, I hope it will be read on the terms that Gunn's are here - as a folio of sustained excellence in individual, exceptionally-crafted but compassionate, wit-infused, tradition-drenched, body-aware, poems. Control, poise - the armature of poetic rhetoric deployed to keep us safe - is vital to my sanity. As it was to Eliot.

Gunn is a great poet, and this is a great book.

Here is the poem I wrote on his death, in April 2004:

Elegy for Thom Gunn


You moved between worlds,

As a god does to men, who

Puts on the used-clothes of

A swan, to beat about girls;


Crossed channels, a motion

In the very style you took on;

Became a pop star of form,

Reformed the common, into


Something rare.  Jacketed

Muscle and passion, a uniform

Uniquely yours.  Revved

Engines, made language


A throttle that could roar

With poise and sexuality

And remorse, for loss.  Tossed

Love and its deadliness out


As the first ball of the game;

In and out of season, came

And then were able to write

About it, with ease, intellect,


Control, but freely, like a stone

That takes, as it rolls, moss

And other earthly bric-a-

Brac with it, to compose


A song in the movement of

Its going; hurtled most, talent

Calm, loins ruffled, Fulke

Greville like a sock in your jeans;


Tested the means, renamed

The terms, conditions, of renewal.

Became a sort of rocket fuel

For poems that, changed, from sea


To sea, from Atlantic to Pacific,

Shone with American grandeur,

Retained British propriety – hard

To do when boss of desire’s realm;


When speeding down lines

Wearing flesh’s delicate helmet

For radical protection.  Fallen,

As all captains are, sadly, last-reel

Come up on the high screen, at

The drive-in where your Wild Ones

Would have been, acting out,

Tough and languorous with beauty


Only men under twenty-five can

Display – you are, with precision,

Forever as alive as Whitman, Gray:

One of those who mastered the elegy


And the ecstasy of living, in one pose;

Like any lover in a battle who knows

Survival is a craft as well as an art;

To keep the spear and arrow off


The ever-beaten, ever-won heart.



London, April 28, 2004

Charlottesville One Week On - Guest Article by Sarah Burk



This past Saturday, a week ago (it seems longer) the quiet college town of Charlottesville, VA became the site of violence and vitriol as white supremacists and neo-Nazis rallied to “Unite the Right” against the removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, clashing with counter-demonstrators.

This scene turned tragic when a man drove a car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing one and injuring 19. He had earlier been seen marching with the symbols of far-right extremist group Vanguard America, though according to the group, he was not an official member.

As physical confrontations erupted between protesters, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and law enforcement officers attempted to stop the rally under orders that it was an unlawful assembly. However, the damage had already been done.

Indeed, it seems there is a state of emergency in the United States. This is not the first rally of its kind to be held in Charlottesville this summer, and there have been several others across the nation. It remains personally shocking to me that such philosophies remain so rampant, as demonstrated by the near-historic number of far-right groups and individuals that gathered in Charlottesville this past weekend.

I first learned of the events in Charlottesville when my phone alerted me that #Charlottesville was trending on Twitter. Without comment or conscience, my phone arbitrarily decided which information would be important to me. Perhaps it is telling that breaking news reached me through a social media site, but it is also important in demonstrating its scale. In this instance, the algorithm for Twitter’s in-app notification accurately identified a story that was relevant not just to me, but to the entirety of our society.

As a white American attending university in the South, this incident strikes close to home, both figuratively and literally. I grew up in Virginia, and my university, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, bears a striking resemblance to the community in Charlottesville. In fact, a statue of a Confederate soldier remains on my campus, and has been the subject of numerous debates throughout history.

It is all too easy to treat my nation’s history as exactly that: history. In our high schools, the American Civil War is discussed as an isolated set of events whose aftershocks contributed to the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth century, but rarely is history contextualized for the modern era in any meaningful way. However, when I see rallies like the one held in Charlottesville, it is hard to believe over 150 years have passed since the end of the war that these statues commemorate. When I hear alternating cries of “You/Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and soil,” it’s hard for me to believe that we have learned anything from the systematic genocide of Hitler’s regime.

While Sinclair Lewis’s novel, It Can’t Happen Here, has already been revived in the post-Trump era, the sentiment echoes in my mind. Continually, I am proven wrong. It can happen here, as the violence this weekend has shown. Many of my classmates attend the University of Virginia or live in Charlottesville, and just as easily as they could have been involved in the violence this past weekend, a similar event could have occurred at my own university and might still.

But the “Unite the Right” rally isn’t terrifying because it’s close to me or people I know. The idea that such white supremacist, far-right groups still find footholds in society is abhorrent to me, as are their philosophies. Honestly, I feel rather ashamed of my own relative ignorance in this way, and I am made ever more aware of the privilege that allows me to be so unaware. However, I don’t believe this is a problem I alone encounter. Too many times do riots and rallies spread across social media feeds like wildfire only to largely die down among the mainstream focus. We cannot let Charlottesville become another such instance. It shouldn’t take mass casualty or a declaration of war to capture an attention span longer than it takes to read a 140-character message.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the use of social media for information and advocacy, but we must avoid remaining isolated in the echo chambers they create. Events like this must force us to recognize the existence of such hate-groups that congregated in Charlottesville, now emboldened by a president who seems reluctant to condemn them. Globally, we are a people of diverse backgrounds, passions, and interests, a fact that should be celebrated, not reviled. As we take care of the injured and move forward in an ever-evolving belligerent environment, recall the words of Maya Angelou: “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.”
Sarah Burk works for Eyewear and is based in the American South, where she studies.



Almost the last line of the play - in a shocking shit-fan whirlwind - gives it away - "what will we do"? Far from being merely a stereotypically Irish problem play in the shadow of the gunman, or the ploughman and the stars, Jez Butterworth's bizarre post-modern masterplay directed by Bond helmer Sam Mendes, is all about stories, and how they are told - often very badly.

This is a play of half-remembered poems, dementia-fuelled fairy stories, and lies and demi-lies, all spoken in the name of attempting to find a strand of sense and narrative in the melee of time and history - we are reminded that even Darius interrupted war to let the harvest come in, so potent was the symbolism of that ritual.

There is the harvest story, and the boys' stories, and the story of Jesus on the cross, and the stories of love at the GPO... all the stories in the play end badly, or are told badly. Of course, it is also about feast and famine, sowing what you reap, and ghosts becoming visible...

But mainly, it is a pastiche of poetry and poetical tropes. It is astonishing how many references, indeed shaping measures, within the play, take their bearings directly from the great poets of The Troubles.

Firstly, the victim found in the bog, perfectly, preserved, is pure Seamus Heaney - and the victim's name is: Seamus. And who is the man who comes after? Why, Mr Muldoon... That's not all - the title is based on a reading from Virgil... which is actually reminiscent of Heaney's poetry and  classical focus on the dead, and burial (such as at Thebes).

Even Tom Kettle recites a poem - ironically by Sir Walter Raleigh, a British imperialist. But Kettle's name comes from a mostly-forgotten Irish poet. Moreover, the mother's ghostly presence and absence and name exactly mirrors that figure in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night - whose structure this play emulates, and whose echoes of ghosts and fog and the past heaving into view are endemic here. Yeats' poems and songs are referenced throughout...

In fact, watching this play one becomes incredulous, excited or enraged, at the multiple acts of homage/pastiche that riddles the text like bullet-fire.

Surely, this is intentional - surely, what is at hand is a rough Ur-text, a big shambling beast with the spoor of the Yeti, screaming - all your stories of empire and Ireland are just that - stories - show me where the bodies are buried, and dispense with the story-telling... words have never solved a thing in Ireland... nor love, nor violence... so - what do we do?

Monday, 14 August 2017



Elisabeth Moss - mostly a TV actor so far - is perhaps the televisual equivalent of Kristen Stewart (who she appeared with in On The Road) at this stage in time - the world's most enthralling and important young female icon in their medium - she is acting's Taylor Swift, as it were. Or, this generation's Gillian Anderson, perhaps.

Moss has an impeccable TV resume - as a young person she appeared in two major shows - Picket Fences and The West Wing - both considered key to their periods. More recently, she was central to Mad Men, along with The Wire, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, the most significant TV series of the past two decades.

Meanwhile she is brilliant and again central in two vitally important more recent feminist TV shows - Top of the Lake and The Handmaid's Tale - each superbly-made.

Her characters Peggy Olson, Offred and Robin Griffin are as important to this century as any we can think of. That's what being an icon is. And she inspires more than young women. She is a stunning actor, and only the fact she espouses an eccentric religious view gives one pause at all.

However, putting that aside, since we are not the arbiters of the soul, she is a great cultural figure of our moment, and we must wish her well and hope Moss keeps applying her intelligence and emotional complexity to more excellent projects in the years ahead.


August was once (still is?) called the Silly Season, because less news happened then. Indeed, Malcolm Bradbury's classic novel of the 70s, The History Man, opens with a page on the subject. Ironic, because more than one war has started in August - no month is ahistorical, apolitical. Even the name August refers to an imperial figure. Our editor went away for a fortnight to relax, and like the rest of the world, has witnessed one of the least pleasant August's in living memory, in terms at any rate, of the news.

No point in rehearsing the obvious: Donald Trump and his administration are the worst since Nixon's, and may well be worse. Nixon himself toyed with using nukes in Asia, and harboured hard-hatted rednecks as allies. But the refusal over the weekend to properly condemn extreme-right actions is breathtakingly un-American and unsettling. America has not been as unwelcoming to non-whites since Reagan - probably since the end of Jim Crow.

A tweet the other day was shocking, and informative - from a conservative poet, who must be right-wing, given his comment, it said - "why should I mourn the death of a left-wing protester?" - trying to be clever with the allusion to the Dylan Thomas poem, presumably. But again, where did this permission come from, if not Trump, to be so heartless, cruel and sharp in public statements?

My God. Any death is to be mourned, but more to the point the young woman killed in the car attack was murdered by a terrorising figure - she was innocent - and brave - and good. The person who could not imagine shedding a tear for such a person must be very supremacist, indeed.

America is riven, as it has been before, during the Nam protests, and before then in the Civil War. Some surrounding Trump crave a truly apoplectic apocalyptic schism between Before Trump and After Trump - they are as celebratory of violence and fascism as the Futurists of 100 years ago. This is a horrible time in America. The whole world is seeing a relative decline in good governance, not very good even at the best of times.

There will likely not be nuclear war before the summer ends. But already there is an awful sense that the worst is coming with regards to the Trump world view.


A WORK IN PROGRESS... I am writing this first part on the eve of New Year's Eve day - and as new remembrances come to me, I may well...