2011 Competition Results

Buzzwords Open Poetry Competition 2011

Results and comments by Alison Brackenbury

Thank you to all who entered; we had 600+ poems entered and secured Buzzwords' future for the next 12 months.

General comments

The high standard of entries made this competition one of the hardest I have judged. The shortlist could easily have been twice as long! I do urge competitors to try again. Many of you were only a whisker away from the prizes. Next year could be your year.

Individual comments

1st prize ‘Wall Mender’ Anthony Martel
This is a patient, profound poem, in which the details of a life are as solid as the wall’s stones. It records, honours and presents surprising truths (‘a disappointing peace’). Like Wordsworth’s, the writer’s attention to the poem’s subject is wholly absorbing.


A drystone wall divides the sheep-strewn hill
like a parting, and climbs for a furlong
or so to the horizon before arching
out of sight into a further valley fold.

Old Ben, bandy as a bicycle clip,
crouches by the wall, his weather beaten cap
crowning a head much beaten by the weathers.
Behind him on the grass lies an old army

small pack with sandwiches of thick corned beef,
(which he had carved in the dawn-cold kitchen
of his clammy cottage), two chocolate bars,
and a peeping thermos of strong sweet tea.

His bicycle which he has pushed a mile
from the nearest road, leans against the wall,
sturdy and without gleam, its battle scars
mantled with a dull and mellowing rust.

In front of him one of several breaches
in the wall, an outcome of subversive frost,
intrusive bramble, or a simple lack of will
to hold together. It is a refuge that vagrant leaves,

nettles, and spindly grass have made their own.
On one side are piled creamy coloured
pieces of freshly quarried stone,
sharp edged as broken crockery.On the other

a smaller heap of weathered mossy stones
taken from the wall itself, while in between,
a rough assortment of shards and rubble
that somehow will be used to wedge and pack

the reconstructed wall. Old Ben has cleared
away the plants and debris to reveal
the jagged edges of the gap. Selecting
a piece of stone he tries it at the base.

Not satisfied he searches for another
larger stone, a process unhurried and .
and deliberate. The stone now chosen
is carefully put into place.

Then more, until the whole base course is laid.
He lays another course, longer this time,
- the stones all sloping forward to discourage
any welcome to insinuating rain,

each placement a seeming necessity.
Sometimes he takes a fragment in his hand
to trim a corner or remove a lump
with a ringing tap of his sharp stone axe

In the pub at night, behind a slow-sipped pint
of bitter Old Ben, when asked by visitors,
shrugs off his skill by saying that it's simply
a matter of one stone on another - nothing more.

And yet his listeners seek a mystery,
eager to discern a fellowship of hand
and brain – some deeply rooted wisdom
that springs from the soil itself.

Pausing and stretching every now and then,
Ben is indifferent to everything around him -
birdsong,wind in the grass or munching sheep.
His temperament is suited to the pace

of lonely tasks that give him time to wander
through his store of recollections -
a wife long dead, and children gone away,
of wartime friends (the war,for him, a happy time),

the hardships of a disappointing peace,
rewards not striven for, and not deserved.
The horizontal stones have all been laid,
making a rough-darned patch of new and old

Placing the last upright header stone
Old Ben stands back, looking neither pleased
nor proud. He turns and sizes up
the remaining gaps in the wall.

"About a fortnight, " he thought, ''til Whitsun'
And gathering his things prepares to move.

2nd prize ‘Seeing No Harm’ Michael Hutchinson
This is a chilling, timely poem of personal and political deception. The flow of the speaker’s thoughts is quietly convincing, and will remain so, even when the shock of recent events has faded.

Seeing No Harm

No matter, it’ll only be five minutes
parked on the double yellow line,
they can wait. And there’s no need
to stick to thirty, unless of course,
there’s a camera. This fancy pen
I got from work is empty now; it’s

time to get another, everybody
does it. Last week, my wife was away
seeing her sister in Grantham, so I stayed
the night with that girl in Marketing.
We all have secrets; take my brother.
Why did he buy that place, take out

a mortgage, when he knows nothing
about farming? He can’t learn that
off the internet. Ellen says he should
get married; he must be lonely now
on that farm. She wants me in church, but
Sundays I help him shoot crows. Dan likes

guns, got me to teach him. Nothing wrong
in that. He always complains about people,
immigrants. Even when we were kids,
he’d rubbish all our fun, call us stupid.
I haven’t seen Dan on a tractor, yet, but
he’s got in plenty of diesel and fertiliser.

Gloucestershire Prize ‘The Last Day’ Tricia Torrington
This poem balances fact and feeling, the demands which people and animals make upon us. Its story emerges skilfully. The courage and simplicity of its close is shockingly moving.

The Last Day

When I got him up that morning he all but fell down the stairs.
He took a little water.
I went about my usual: the breakfast set for guests;
making coffee in the large caf├ętiere;

chatting about the coming party, the occasion;
what we were going to do that day.
Then my husband came back from his first walk
carrying the newspaper with my crossword in,

he was lying there breathing like a diesel engine
and it was below my conscious, at least at first.
So somewhere in my head I was thinking about that noise
and what it was, but not so concerned.

Then I realised he was lying half under the table
and I knelt down to feel him, running my hands across,
his body heat crazy on my fingers, his breathing
chugging along almost by will alone, his heart thumping.

He pulsed. Somewhere inside I think I knew,
but, anyway, I went and phoned and even though he
was twice my size I carried him to the car
and then in to the examination room.

And later I held him while he stared like a scared colt
until he lay down in my arms and slept.
I held on until he couldn’t hear me anymore.
I wept for losing him, because I killed him,

I wept knowing he would be my last unconditional love.
And the vet praised me for not causing additional distress.
And I thought how much kinder we are to dogs
than we are to ourselves, or to each other.

Highly Commended

‘Ratcatching’ Michael Yates
A deft, deep poem, beautifully timed and narrated, whose humour twists into a political horror story, of McCarthy, of Stalin, of our own time.

‘An Atlas of the World’s Edges’ Stuart Nunn
The spacious layout of this poem catches fragments of British life and work, with clarity and compassion. I particularly admired the confident challenge of its ending.

‘St John’s Avenue’ Tom Bryan
This delicate poem demonstrates how much can be held in a few lines, balancing past and present in circling rhymes. What more can a poem do, but capture light?

St. John’s Avenue

Where the couple and child began a life.
On fresh grass, a blanket, a baby, a young wife.

Now a neighbourhood where thin men
are dealing under hoods and caps.
Or just hang out for some
street windfall, scoring again.

But in the old photograph all is bright.
The mother holds her prize aloft, smiling
into their future. Houses newly painted,
porches full of light.

‘Military Handbook for Flying Cadets, 1941’ Marilyn A. Timms
This poem’s alternation between etiquette manual and military reality dramatises the contradictions which still haunt a fighter’s life. Its power comes from its unsparing truthfulness, and from its rueful humour.

Military Handbook for Flying Cadets, 1941

“Immediately on being seated, a guest should place his napkin in his lap, unfolding in one direction only. It should never be unfolded completely, or tucked into a belt or collar.”
They are more than boys, but not yet men, embryonic air-crew sat in rows
On a booming, airless, airfield, beneath the savage Florida sun;
Two hundred homesick English youngsters in a sea of Air Force blue:
Each thumbing through his handbook on just how a war is won.

“The soup spoon is dipped gently into the soup away from the person eating, and conveyed slowly to the lips, which are placed against the side, never the end, of the spoon as it is tilted toward the mouth.”
It’s not enough to be a fighter, dining etiquette is de rigeur;
But if etiquette’s so important, why not have an etiquette for war?
Escort your enemy into dinner, seat him safely at the table,
Refrain from killing millions, sip your soup, and talk some more.

“The soup plate may be tipped only away from the individual…it is unnecessary to pursue the last, precious drop.”
According to the handbook, to help a fellow fly give him months and months
Of marching; mathematics daily and rarely let him see inside a plane.
Flying Cadet Cross must keep on drilling, wheel and tip like birds at evening,
Not knowing he’s pursuing his precious Spitfire dream in vain.

“The knife is never used to convey food to the mouth and, preferably, it is not used to cut the lettuce of a salad.”
Cross doesn’t make the cut for pilot, though he’s in the top five in his group;
This chastened, second Icarus tumbles down to Wireless Ops A/G.
Motto: Per ardua ad astra, through adversity to the stars.
Go, take the fight to Hitler; go fly and make us free.

“It goes without saying that one should refrain from the practice of juggling the knife or spoon, or toying with other implements at the table”.

Pensacola to Toronto; back to Pensacola, on to England:
From Sumburgh Head and Bircham Newton, to Wigtown, Prestwick, and Petrivie,
Flight Lieutenant Cross is juggling Hudsons, Dakotas, Dominies, and Ansons
With Wellingtons and Warwicks, and Lancaster 523.

“As with every other article of an officer’s equipment, his calling cards are required to be of the best quality.”
Mr. Barnes Wallace begs permission to present his card outside the door
Of the Misses Mohne, Sorpe and Eder, that distinguished family of dams.
The squadrons focus their attention on attaining the unthinkable;
Ultra-low-level bombing, with a bouncing battering-ram.

"Nuts may be placed upon the tablecloth but one should not place salt upon the tablecloth and then dip wet items into it, as this practice soils the linen.”
Back from practice over Ireland, the plane overshoots the Wigtown runway.
Flaps down and undercarriage lowered, it staggers up the wooded valley;
Flying just above the sunlit water, it clears a bridge by merely inches,
Negotiates a second; then the port wing strikes a tree.

“Cheese must be eaten with a fork. Elbows have no place on the table.”
As trees flash by the drooping wingtip, Cross wonders why the flaps aren’t up yet;
Leans across his wireless table and wraps both arms tightly round his head.
The merest kiss from the rushing ground wheels the plane straight over on its nose:
It totters, topples forwards: pilot error, pilot dead

“If, through some error, a guest should end up with a spoon where a fork is required, it is entirely correct to request the proper implement from a servant.”
Cross lugs his crew through leaking fuel, three unconscious, two are dead:
Tends their wounds in thistled grass, beyond the shredded, severed wings.
He asks a car-load of spectators for coats to warm the wounded. They refuse
Because the man who has no legs might leave blood upon their things.

“One should always raise his napkin to his lips before drinking from a glass, in order not to leave grease marks on the rim.”
Other airmen died for king and country, all that he did was survive,
But Flight Lieutenant Cross has won the DFC. Toast the peace, (long may it last)
But know that wars can have no winners; that everybody loses, because,
Friend or foe, each lonely corpse was someone’s darling in the past.

“One should not push one’s plate away, even slightly, at the completion of a meal.”
Military handbooks fail to mention the pain that goes too deep for tears.
A wreath of scarlet. Pause. Remember. Watch, as Squadron Leader Cross salutes
Those men who gave away their futures so that you and I might have today:
Salutes fathers, sons and brothers, with silent poppy tributes.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, he will remember them. And never dream of juggling his knives and spoons.

‘The Truth about School’ John Whitworth
Powerfully patterned, relentlessly rhymed, this bare, brief poem carries a charge of wisdom whose field extends far beyond schooldays.

The Truth about School

I knew the countryside beyond the bend.
I knew the plesiosaurus in the pool.
I knew the language of my secret friend.
I didn’t know you had to go to school.

I knew my mummy wasn’t always right.
I knew the next door mummy was a fool.
I knew my teddies came alive at night.
I didn’t know you had to go to school.

I knew you could. I did for weeks and weeks.
I didn’t like the boy who showed his willy.
I didn’t like the teachers’ mouths like beaks.
I didn’t like the lessons. They were silly.

I didn’t like the children. They were rough.
I didn’t like the punching and the snot.
I thought that when you knew you’d had enough
You could just stop. I found out you could not.

Other poems which were shortlisted, in no particular order (shortlist was 50 including winners)

‘Excavation’ - Jo Bell;
‘Reading The Great Gatsby at McDonalds’ - David Keyworth
‘Odds On’- Jane Commane
‘USS Pampanito’ - Chris Sparks
‘Outside, Inside’ - Margaret Beston
‘The Art of Folding up the Family Tent’ - Pat Borthwick
‘Medley’ - Howard Wright
‘Honeymoon’ - Geraldine Paine
‘Free Now’ - A F Harold
‘Don’t Murder Nature’ - Nadia Mahmood
‘The Spaces that they leave’ - E K Wall
‘The Foothills of the White Mountains’ - Myra Schneider
‘I will buy a trunk’ - Catherine Whittaker
‘Expedition’ - Robin Thomas
‘Cupboard’ - Rosemary Long
‘Allen Ginsberg..- Owen Bullock
‘The Horses II’ - Jamie Walsh
‘Domestic Incident’ - Jennie Powell
‘Phantom swan lake piano lessons’ - Michael Skaife d'Ingerthorpe
‘Drum Solo’ - Peter Wyton
‘ Let Go, Let Wild’ - Helen Hail
‘It starts with pigeons’ - Peter Wyton
‘One Weekend Last Summer’ - Chaucer Jane Cameron
‘Moth’ - Jennie Farley
‘Great Inventions’ - David Hale
‘Definition’ - Jennie Powell
‘The slip’ - Julie Runacres
‘Toffee Apple’ - Rachel Murray
‘Dropping the pilot on the downs’ - Jane Seabourne
‘Submerged’ - Sheila Spence
‘Hurting’ - Sarah Mears
‘Back to Basics’ WE Holloway
‘Wisteria’ - Mark Mayes
‘Walking to early church, February’- Robin Gilbert
‘Sluggard’ - Jennie Powell
‘In Sandford Park’ - Jennie Powell
‘Blue’ - Tricia Torrington
‘Waiting at the oncology centre’ - Andrew Edmonds
‘Together’ - RV Bailey
‘The Grammarian’s Circus’ - Stuart Nunn
‘A likeness’ - Marianne Hellwig John
‘What’s your Poison?’ - Mark Mayes