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The Winner of the 8th Fortnight Poetry Prize is...


Our 8th winner!



1.      DENIS BERNICKY – ‘The Moose And The Coyote’

2.      ANNE CASEY – ‘Metaphoric Rise’

3.      COLIN DARDIS – ‘Look Out’

4.      ANNA DE VAUL – ‘Broken Up’

5.      JAMES FINNEGAN – ‘Ghost Effect’

6.      SEANIN HUGHES – ‘A Collection Of Small Things’

7.      JOE LINES – ‘Crossing Harbour Street’

8.      SHEY MARQUE – ‘Unpicking A Bird’

9.      JESS NIEBERG – ‘Cherries’

10.  ROCHELLE POTKAR – ‘Atonement’

11.  CARRIE RADNA – ‘Studded Buddhas’

12.  LAURA SEYMOUR – ‘Dry Stone Waller’

13.  MADELEINE STEVENS – ‘The English Student’

14.  GLEN WILSON – ‘Mouths To Feed’


Anna (A.E.) De Vaul pictured above writes both prose and poetry. Some of her recent work can be found in The Fenland Reed, Under the Radar, The Literateur, Wasafiri, and The New European. She is also an editor of the literary journal Lighthouse. Her chapbook in progress is Cosmonaut.

Broken Up
And so I stand
intestines spilling from my fingers
heart long scattered
to wind and the beaks of birds
who circle now, who see
the blood and the absence
spilling across the pavement



They've come home to roost
feathers sticking to ribs
and sternum, wingtips poking
liver and spleen
talons curled around collarbones
when they hang to sleep
like bats; some are bats
I can hear the rustle
in my chest, almost rhythmic
I can almost feel the warmth



When I open my mouth
to sing mites pour out
trickle up my face to my hair
find homes, build nests
wave their legs in time
to the keen of jetplanes
and my battered ukulele



There's a sparrow
lodged in my throat
She shivers when I drink
sparkling water, screeches
at Oban and Laphroaig
but she likes the peat and sweet
of Lagavulin, coos and curls
herself into a ball so small
I could almost start eating again



It's hard to ride a bike
when you've got birds
in your lungs
I cough up pinfeathers
and the hulls of seeds
on the bus, try to hide
my spattered hands
from the grandmothers
sitting silent around me



Pebbled eggs slip down
through my esophagus
tip and tilt from vertebrae
squeeze past my stomach
and through the ruins
to the cradle of my pelvis
I walk with hips held forward
to protect the fragile shells



In this city that lacks
the songs of birds
they're the last
of their kind, refugees
bearing witness
to a history
we’d rather wash clean
I can’t help but cling
to their tiny bodies
can’t help but feel
the urge to nurture
to never let them go

copyright 2017 A.E. De Vaul



And still, poets return to Greece. From Sapphic verses and dactyls – the very structure of English poetry – to Ocean Vuong playing Telemachus, so much comes from the Ancient Greek. And the winning poet this week begins with an image of Prometheus, the god who loved humans so much that he gave us fire, and was cast out of heaven for it. 

Remaking the classics with originality is not easy. What de Vaul has done, impressively, is to take the idea of Prometheus’ protective love, sacrifice and obsession to create a poem that manages to encompass childbirth, fear of death, and the ecosystem in its exploration of a singular image: that of a body containing birds. The ‘Pebbled eggs’ which: 
slip down
through my esophagus
tip and tilt from vertebrae
squeeze past my stomach
and through the ruins
to the cradle of my pelvis
are both baby and the circular cells of cancer, the image of swallowing eggs allowing us to hold both alien body and pregnancy in our minds. It creates an unsettling idea of invasive foetus, an refreshingly honest view of how pregnancy can feel. And simultaneously, suggests a poignant irony for a body blossoming with cells, which cannot sustain itself, let alone any other life.

Fragility is a theme in this poem, evoked with ‘pinfeathers’, tiny bodies and their tenderest parts, sticking-out hipbones and lungs. The careful descriptions serve as a meditation on the speaker’s own body, and reveal her fear of sensuality and physicality. Indeed, many of the poems this fortnight are reflective of a time when we live longer than ever, yet are therefore more concerned with illness, and have become more and more obsessed with avoiding all reminders of death and decay.

Googling symptoms is normal behaviour, as is following the latest trends in exercise and eating for self-improvement, having plastic surgery and mechanical implants, and buying bloodless, heavily packaged meat. Poems dealt with hypochondria, sense of dissolving self, or the death of something symbolically fragile – there were several about the death of beloved cats, animals which describe the tension between fragility and resilience, or innocence and callousness.

Seanin Hughes’ ‘Cats Get Killed All The Time’ was a worthy contender, however, her poem ‘A Collection of Small Things’ stood out. The repeated thump of the refrain ‘small things’ echoes in the reader’s head. In a long poem the insistence small belies the speaker’s compulsive need to constantly reiterate words and phrases, and is revealing of her mental state. Italicised in a way that goes against every schoolteacherly convention of poetry, the speaker’s restrained desperation is truly evident.

The runner-up, ‘Mouths To Feed’, [TRIGGER WARNING FOR CAT LOVERS LIKE THIS EDITOR] is a deceptively simple poem named for a common figure of speech. Like Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Early Purges’, Glen Wilson deals with the drowning of cats on a farm and the uneasiness produced in an observing child.

Kitten murder is, of course, no laughing matter, but this poem has a particular sense of threat, with an almost medieval atmosphere. The rhythm is built on downbeats: ‘Calloused hands / red with the cold, caked in dark clay’ relies on alliteration for its aural power – it is like Old English poetry, reminiscent of dark battles and binary figures of darkness and light.

The poem as a whole is structured on half-rhymes: ‘behind/stride’, ‘hour/raw’, ‘him/shins’. Each one falls short of what the reader expects. It trips us up. Within the poem, the character of the uncle is strangely unsettling. He is always described with movement, with ‘wriggling’ kittens, ‘ma[king] his way’ down to the brook, his ‘stride’ cowing the dog at his heels. In contrast, the boys in their bedroom and the aunt in the kitchen (domestic slavery) are compartmentalised, powerless.

And, in this poem, stillness is death. The kittens take up ‘circles’ of space, their markings described through movement as ‘runs of ginger’. The shock of their death comes in the description of the empty sack that held them: ‘neat, folded’ – not moving, ‘wriggled and bunched’ as earlier in the poem. Wilson described an ordinary, necessary culling but creates a sense of overhanging menace; there is a feeling that for the parentless boys kept in the bedroom, all does not bode well.

There were many excellent poems this fortnight, carefully crafted voices, and, believe it or not, much humour, which is a bonus for anyone judging a literary prize.



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He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.