The winners of the 2017 Wordsworth birthday poetry competition

We had so many great entries for this it was really hard to come up with a shortlist, and our judge Jenny Uglow had an even tougher task coming up with a winner.  As she said, “The shortlisted poems were fascinating, technically and in their subject matter. For almost all the writers spots of time rightly meant memories rising up: of childhood, of a lost love, of youthful happiness, of a much-loved mother or grandmother,  seen in a precise time and place,, often with the surging life of springtime set against the darkness of loss. I was impressed by the fidelity to the spirit of Wordsworth, less in the occasional archaisms, than in the carefully observed details and natural imagery. It was intriguing, too, to see that several writers used their 140 words to write sonnets, again in a Wordsworthian vein.”

The winning poem is Boating by Alison Carter.
Jenny said this poem stood out because of its strong personal voice, and its clever shift of ‘spots of time’, seen unusually, from a parent’s perspective, from the observed boy to the adolescent – with a lovely sly tribute to Wordsworth in the boy in the lake. It is very vivid, both visually and aurally, and the images continue its theme of the delicacy, and the near-painful tingle of recapturing time, with the barely audible voices ‘ like midges on the water’s skin.’

Here’s the poem:

Time shifts, and here’s my eldest son,
ten years back, caught in a loop, dizzy,
trying to break the arc he perfects,
oars swimming free of rollocks,
drifting on the water like signposts
he cannot follow. And now he rows
to the centre of the lake with ease
the same little boat almost weightless,
as a light wind carries him and his girl
to a place where my sight dissolves,
where voices, barely audible, waver
like midges on the water’s skin, where
an openwork of light fastens to glitter,
till out there is nothing, and everything.

Jenny said “Runners up were very hard to choose, but the first selection is Luna Tumida by Tiffany Francis, with its Blakean child-vision of the eclipse, and the way that the near, living, ‘golden’ dog replaces the vanished sun.” Tiffany is actually one of our bloggers, so a special shout-out to her (though, for the record, Jenny did the judging without knowing the names of the poets!).

When I was seven years,
We all went to the garden
To gaze up at the sun because
The milky moon had swallowed it,
Like a whole edam set alight;
Rusted round the edges.

They gave us plastic glasses
to stop us getting eye tumours.
I put mine on the dog,
Who had a golden face
And glistening nose,
And was simply more important.

The second runner up is Bringing in the Washing by Annette Skade, “which manages to avoid sentiment through an energetically graphic scene, with the wild and the domestic beautifully balanced.”

Rain whips window
like flex,
we break mid-sentence,
head out.
At the side the washing line
takes off
in wild geese formation,
the prop
tethers and leads
the V.

You and me, snatching at
shirt flaps
grown strong against grey sea,
shape shifters
we pin by one cuff:
blue cliff,
chough’s wing,
bear hug,
creased headland,
tattered island.

We fold them fast into us,
tuck away,
the bundle swells under elbow,
And in before they’re soaked,
pile all
on the chair while we finish
our tea.
I take my leave of you – as usual,
arms full.

Jenny also wanted to give an ‘honourable mention’ to Spring Wish by Alison Brown, which she called “bold and inspiring” and “makes a carefully judged, and very moving, use of metre, rhyme scheme and sonnet form”.

Fling open jealous doors and let spring in
to sad, dark rooms asleep with winter warmth.
Slip shoes on and step out; expect the best:
warm skin, green shoots and whisperings of life.

Ignoring distant surge and thrust of road;
forgetting endless lists of jobs to do,
close eyes and feel the dappled touch of sun,
quite undeserved and randomly bestowed.

Then wonder at the fortune of your birth
that quiet mornings wait outside for you
to notice them, despite the constant rush
to text and read and speak and spend and do.

Let your indifference to the pulse of things
expire and be replaced with all that sings.

Huge congratulations to all the winners!  Alison Carter will receive a copy of Alexander Larman’s book Byron’s Women, and Tiffany and Annette will receive copies of Frances Wilson’s  Guilty Thing: The life of Thomas De Quincey,   Many thanks again to the publishers for generously offering the books as prizes.

Thank you, also, to everyone who entered – it’s wonderful that Wordsworth’s work can inspire so much creativity today. A fitting birthday present I’m sure he’d have enjoyed.