Please note our Annual Poetry Slam 2020 is postponed until further notice.
Unfortunately we will not be running the Nottingham Open Poetry Competition for the foreseeable future.
NOTTINGHAM OPEN POETRY COMPETITION 2016
First Prize: Testament: in an Embankment Garden Kathleen Bell
Second Prize: Darling, What If … Julie Mellor
Third Prize: Spring on Bardon Field, with love John Gallas
Merit Prize-winners: Adrian Buckner; Lesley Burt; Katy Carrington; Alan Dunnett; Marianne Hellwig John; Roy Marshall; Matthew Smith; Paul Stephenson ;David Thear; E K Wall
Testament: in an Embankment Garden
Blackbird, I see this garden
should have been planned for you
and now it’s yours, as the woman
sprawled on the bench spits phlegm
and the man clutching the railings
taps at his phone, willing the screen to load
but there’s no reply, and the sky brightens
and doves descend, a bicycle crumples
and roots wrench roads out of true, a tree twists
to demolish a wall, leaves break through brick –
so sing, blackbird. The river rises. We dying bequeath
this garden to you and to your heirs
and ask that you use it well who stay
– and look at me, blackbird, now and sing
till you splinter air with your sweetness –
here, blackbird, here – let me hear you sing as I vanish
Darling, What If …
What if I choose this one small fly, iridescent on the daisy’s white ruff.
What if I choose to follow it with my eye from flower to flower
as I sit on this bench, a wooden sleeper resting on two grindstones.
And what if other flies circle, for example, that fat atheist bluebottle,
searching for something more akin to a shopping mall than a lawn.
What if nothing happens but sound, trains across the way
sliding in and out of town like pharmaceutical salesmen or lovers
who’ve met on the internet. What if the wind repeats the rumours
of their wedding vows from mid-week town hall ceremonies.
What if the fly disappears, only for a minute, but completely,
dizzying blindly through a portal into another world.
I know this can’t happen, because a fly has a thousand eyes
and can’t go anywhere blindly. Imagine our world as it appears to the fly,
like a shop front on a 70s high street, stacked with colour t.v.s,
all tuned to the same channel.
This is the closest you’ll ever get to understanding, not being a fly,
but at least being able to picture it, that feeling inside my messed-up head.
Spring on Bardon Field, with love
Here, the hedges bristle. Bosky blades burst
swording at the sky. And from the general barrack
of the earth its flagged army shoulder-storms into the field.
The sun provokes. The air excites.
How surely Spring is sprung.
This little, ranty daisy, see, blundering to snatch
existence with its petal-fist upon a ram of glaucous flesh,
will do well enough to figure this,
the earth’s renewed attack,
which you have made on me.
No room! No room! Let fail and fall the contents of
my last years’ arms before this green; occupy, and overthrow,
erupt in your advance, unsheath from me,
whose Wintertime I was,
and whose Summer I will be.
Darling, meet me by some water
My inclination is
to write you a love poem
in the time honoured
There might be a moon in it,
or a sun westering
below an urban roof,
but mostly it would fix
on interior details –
space we share,
all the grimy lyrical things
that lie around
when we wake
in the evening after red wine and love.
have re-discovered rivers
and their flowing,
is now an important word
and I feel a little shallow
in our entire, sealed
put on your shiny boots,
clumpy and dewy,
and meet me
by some water – whether in full spate,
dried up and lamented –
as long as
there is enough of it
to string the measure of a proper line.
Botticelli in the Hebrides
A moon-cast trail puckers ocean skin,
fades into some out-of-sight place
deeper than herring, and greyer.
Tide and wind grind shells to dust, blast onshore,
spatter with heath orchid, harebell;
oystercatchers gleam monochrome,
scoop scallops, shriek from shoreline nests –
northern birth’s buffeted on islands
that dissolve in changing currents.
Stars perforate navy-blue sky,
monsters lurk in murky caverns
beyond trawl-nets – bare dagger-teeth.
Chaperones on the machair wrap her
in fleece, lead her to a croft heated
by glowing peat and bowls of broth.
Turner in Saltfleet
Mr Joseph Mallord William’s safe with us, dear Aunt,
lost his travel Bag, two Waist coats in the mud,
tramping out across new Drain cuts from Louth wold.
His hat’s bob bobbing all hours atop the estuary Wall.
I told him, take the Lambing lamp. He says he goes
to meet a Greater light. On another Shore.
I’m his gray Pearl, his Pale. The Grump calls German Ocean
Smoke and Bleach. We’re his Haven interlude, icy Clarity, if you please –
sharp as Pickle to my mind to his lordship’s Dish of sunbursts.
Fowler’s lad as blows the Flute in the Crown, the Prussian –
Mr Turner made his Sketch last night in chalks and ink,
named it Willow, for the tune he says. And all the lines as thin, as Bright
as lad’s poor shins, white arms, the silvery Whistle,
then a bare Tree crowd like shipmasts through side window.
I’m cutting from your Chine tonight, dear Aunt,
Mr JMW says: Parsley, Samphire and a Jug of ale
are good as any inn in Alps. He’s drawing Buckthorns every day
and cattle over Paradise. With sails of all the coal boats beating seaward
from working up, he says, as big as our back Kitchen
with spring Tide flooding Marsh in moon Light
just as Dawntime silvers Sky.
Nothing to Declare
To this I do not bend – I mean, to grief –
and yet I yield like a reluctant thief
to staring dully on a dry red leaf
that fell that autumn when time hooped the back
and stopped in death, its memory a rack,
and everywhere I look, I see the lack.
Bad news shuns the brain but sharpens the eye.
I watch my hand pick up the phone and try
to return to you. Remember the lie
of the land, I say to myself. Break bread
and continue. Though nothing was declared,
something was understood, always, and bared
in secret, examined like stolen goods,
silk-bound, then buried, in the glowing woods.
How to be obsolete
Be born yesterday
when the door to the dream world was still open.
Make coffee in a jug,
know that Glastonbury is famous for its thorn.
Be taught to suck eggs, to make Yorkshire pudding.
Still measure in inches, in ounces;
oil your sit-up-and-beg bicycle
for the long road to the present.
Write by hand
for those short seconds of inspiration;
know where to use apostrophes;
keep pencil sharpener and rubber in reach.
Keep shelves of real books,
read and reread old favourites
an unblinkered state of affairs.
Cherish quotations, remember where they’re from.
Remember heavy utility blankets, cold beds
for a sleep and a forgetting.
Wear woolen socks that need darning,
know how to darn,
Keep a tin of old buttons.
then is diffused now.
Prefer eau de Nil to shocking pink,
prefer eau de vie to Coca-Cola.
The Glasgow tram you went to school on
sits on a plinth in the Museum,
for others you are peripheral.
Class 6 children gaze in disbelief.
Spare parts are unobtainable
for the computer new to you.
You discover that the ON button also means OFF,
there is nothing between you and the horizon.
Marianne Hellwig John
New Model Village
Each house once held a family; the man
maybe an opener for the cricket team
or one who limped home from the pit
with a crook back and worn out knees:
the Dad who winked and fished for a coin
to buy a quarter of sweets; who, after his bath,
lifted children so their shadows filled the wall.
Or one who never laughed, face
dark as the peak, eyes, always coal.
And daughters who dreamed of boys
to bring them posies from the hill;
men who’d not get sick from drink,
grow generous with their fists, or both.
A man who’d not crack like a prop shaft;
the kind a woman might love enough
to rise like a lark over red-bricked yards,
lines of shirts, long-johns, a pinafore dress,
the blown bow of her camisole, cupping April hail.
Something bolder than her
alights on the stone tiles,
wings folding like patterned silks.
Her visitor waits
patiently, until at last
she raises her eyes.
Storm or sunlight embodied
in a smooth face, godliness rising
to an unknown grade. A hand lifts
stopping the sun for a while, or so
it seems to the girl, kneeling
in its shadow.
The world tuns a little.
History turns around the exchange
of a few words.
When he flies, nothing seems
changed at first, but the gentle blurring
of memory. A new burden stirs.
Worry locks itself in,
she murmurs, like the walls
of this garden.
Wrists crossed, thumbs entwined,
spreading her fingers’ wings
backwards and forwards in time
for a moment she feels she may
exit from the garden the same way as him –
or soothe the small bird that reels inside.
Snails. Slugs. Sloths.
Cobwebs convening in corners.
Scaffolding clinging on for decades.
Grass seed roped off and germinating.
A s p i r i n t a k i n g e f f e c t.
Stonemasons carving the Sagrada Familia.
Streptoccocus dividing on a glass petri dish.
A speech therapist breaking down dipthongs.
Lustre, patina, tarnish. Sheen, gleam, burnish.
A drunk stranger’s joke and receding punchline.
Young men on crutches with both legs in plaster.
C o d e i n e t a k i n g e f f e c t.
A giant turkey in the oven refusing to cook through.
Mediterranean bureaucrats in charge of local archives.
Starting up an old computer with its whirring processor.
Transatnlantic flights with headwinds and no recent films.
Lulls. Quiet patches. Picking up a little. Things tailing off.
The Sisitine Chapel being faithfully recreated in needlepoint.
I b u p r o f e n t a k i n g e f f e c t.
Retired men with walking frames in Paisley silk dressing gowns.
At the far-edge of the field, a Massey Ferguson combine harvester.
A learner driver performing a three-point turn in a Luton cul-de-sac.
The highlights of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix replayed in freeze-frame.
Pedalling a 1:5 that’s becoming a 1:4 and keeping going for a good cause.
Builders with flasks drinking tea in the van each time you checkon progress.
P a r a c e t o m o l t a k i n g e f f e c t
The local department store at 3.06pm on a January Monday with three customers.
A cross-Channel swimmer at mile 19 with shoulder cramp and no sight of the beach.
Watching white emulsion dry while it’s raining and helping it along with the hairdryer.
A bean on a paper towel inside a jam jar sketched in pencil each morning by a schoolboy.
I have never known this elsewhere.
The town stops dead.
After brambled banks of chalk
and barren fields
the empty wood.
After the tree-laced hill
bare branches twist and thin
under a leaden sky.
A streak of sunlight bursts through
lighting a matchbox farm
and blessing the fields with green.
Oh, please shine on me.
I am February inside and need the sun.
Like an invisible gasp,
you blow out through
the tiny keyhole
that has terrified me
all of your pink, chubby life.
I forget that you grew up
within the lonely, crumbled years,
like a sunflower between
two, dry paving stones
daubed in blackbird droppings.
You were always small to me.
Fragile, a bald sparrow fallen,
too soon, from the rickety nest.
At night, sometimes, I hear you
squeaking, stranded, on the busy A30.
You were never mine to trap
behind the piano in our shabby lounge,
embossed with velvet anaglypta,
watched over by three ducks
frozen in their winter migration.
I always shivered when the hoover picked up
mottled feathers from your corner that we
barred the cat from all of your little life.
I prefer not to believe that you
might ever choose to leave us.
All that time, the key to the council-glazed
front door hung on grubby twine chaffing
my heavy, redundant breasts, near to my
skittish heart where all of my love for you
was folded and stuffed and jammed.
I didn’t notice the early frost
that crept over our pristine doorstep
or realise that you didn’t think that you
would survive this time. To me,
you were never meant to be free daughter.
E K Wall
Copyright The Poets 2016
NOTTINGHAM OPEN POETRY COMPETITION 2016
PRIZES: 1st: £300 2nd: £150 3rd: £75 and Ten Merit Prizes of £10.00
Adjudicator: Liz Berry
Closing Date: 9th August 2016
1. The competition is open to anyone aged 16 or over.
2. Poems should be in English, unpublished, not accepted or submitted for publication elsewhere, and must be your original work.
3. Poems should not be entered in any other competition, or have previously been a prizewinner in any other competition.
4. Poems should be no longer than 40 lines.
5. Each poem should be typed on a separate sheet of A4 paper, and must not bear your name or any other form of identification. On a separate sheet of paper list your name, address, titles of poems submitted, and where you heard about this competition. No application form necessary.
6. Entry fee: £3.00 per poem or £10.00 for 4 poems.
7. Any number of poems can be submitted on payment of the appropriate fee. Cheques and postal orders should be made payable to Nottingham Poetry Society. No stamps, foreign currency or Irish P.O’s accepted
8.Winners will be notified in September 2016
9. Prizes will be presented at a public adjudication in Nottingham in October 2016. All prizewinning poems will be published on this website. The decision of the adjudicator is final.
10. Entries should be addressed to: The Competition Secretary, 38 Harrow Road, West Bridgford, Nottingham NG2 7DU
11. No entrant may be awarded more than one prize.
To request further details, please contact us.