I’ve won the 2021 erbacce prize!!

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Poetry

P Rock Aug 2020 xss

The news arrives with 4 exclamation marks

into my inbox where I have to read it 3 times

to understand they’re actually talking about me!!!!

I’m still so blown away and in slight shock

which is why it takes me 2 weeks to share it here.

Hugely honoured by the decision of the erbacce team

You were unanimously selected as the best poet

                 from 12,500+ submissions worldwide…

And now the hard work continues to fulfil that promise

The team have have decided to offer you a contract

to publish a perfect bound collection of your poetry.

P …. for poetry…. perfection always my arch enemy…

#2021erbacceprize

He dreamed he’d beat a drum that’s got no soul

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Place / Travelling
He says he don’t have long

his getting out of jail card

won’t last no eighteen months

doesn’t say where to go

‘cause it don’t matter      it’s the going

not the over there      like in summer

there’s only heat risin’ in huffs ‘n puffs

over the city’s sleeplessness

there’s no snow feelings

no memories of starched skin

over barren muscles

‘round them brittle bones

like ivy clutching to your soul

You’ve gotta go while goin’s easy

before ya’ll ask too much

of a tired mind gone timid

To unlockdown

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Poetry

To unlockdown     [verb]     (quite passive)

Winter and Covid have entered a pact

they won’t move       Acholi people

would call that stubborn       layella

but I feel all Cable Street about it

something to offer resistance to

in this white out blur winter 20/21

won’t allow them entrance

into that soft chamber of my heart

painfully erected while others stash up

toilet paper     Heinz beans     bleach

I’m stocking serenity     stamps

the jar of salt Simone has sent me

from Salzburg     because not all borders

are sacred

Asked to write about ‘daffodils’ and ‘morning stretches’

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Poetry / writing about blogging and blogging about writing

Daffodills xs

I’ve got some back injury

I know     not even a Latin name for it

on top of it there’s also osteoarthritis

meaning my lower back gets tired easily

Women’s stuff     you think

          This is called an assumption     but

          they say everything’s allowed in poetry

Everyone I know with back problems is a woman

fortunately not all women have back problems

that would be an epidemic

          And a generalisation     they are not popular in poetry

          particulars are preferable     like     daffodils

I get angry looking at them     their heads

too big     heavy     yellow     for their thin stem

Still they stand upright as soldiers

          That’s called a metaphor

          many poets are fond of them

         maybe they make them feel like a painter

When I stand upright for too long

my back crumbles as if I could break in two

I do my exercises first thing in the morning

when I feel like an idea scrunched up

into a tight flower bulb     eager to stretch towards light

So I stretch     rotate     swing     pull     push     squeeze

always feeling better after 20 dead lifts

Daffodils don’t last long

it’s the stems that still live

when the flower has long parched

a waxy tissue-paper death

In my language people call them by their botanical name

Narcissus     the proud one

too preoccupied with his own beauty to care about back pain

When it gets bad I resort to my hot water bottle

I make it too hot     the burn cauterises pain

it etched a mark onto the small of my back

flowery henna tattoo like

in medical it’s called Erythea Ab Igne

The other word we use in German

for Narcissus is Easter Bells

I’m thinking Easter Belles

          that’s a pun and some poets hate them because they are funny

Easter is now mostly about chocolate

it used to be about re-birth

before that about fertility

Maybe Easter is also women’s stuff

My man won’t use a hot water bottle

even though he keeps one in the bathroom cupboard

he thinks they are for period pains

In London Easter Belles now come out around Christmas

that’s untimely     out of order

dollops of yellow in bleak midwinter

like the sunny face of a fried egg

In medical language The Change is called climacteric

it can heighten sensitivity to pain

also to brightness     strong smell     high volume

          That’s a fact and facts can sound poetic

          like     the bulb of the daffodil contains toxic alkaloid

          keeping the flower safe from predators     also a substance

          that might have healing properties for breast cancer

          They are celebrated as a symbol of hope

London Bridge a remembering

London / Poetry

That first time you crossed me     on your 33rd birthday

yelling     arms swinging     eyes spinning    like fidget toys

I mistook your cry momentarily for despair     it’s not fair

that I should know that so well     being five months younger

than you     you just know how to keep it moving     like

everyone else     they come to go     flocks of destinations

surround me as swarms of bees never to stay     not even that drift

of sheep     I’m the only constant in your constant passing

absorb your kicking    sweating    spitting     ducked down

between my sisters     willing to be just the bearer of an aurora

of photographers    who won’t notice I’m arching     with a wing span

bigger    flatter    prouder    closer to the water’s surface

than any boobrie beast     The only two times I ever flinched

that muggy evening in June    you’d just crossed    head full

from your poetry meeting     not looking up at people coming your way

missing your chance to be someone’s last kind encounter

with a perfect stranger     The other time you’d already left

the city    not remembering the last time you crossed me

though you did look up at their memorial shrines     felt my shiver

Like you forgot what you wrote down on your 33rd birthday

head full of someone else’s writing     “If only

you knew how terrible it is suddenly to know everything”*

Photo of fragments from Sue Hubbard’s poem ‘Eurydice‘, once written across the walls of the foot tunnel from Victory Arch (Waterloo Station) to the IMAX cinema, London

*Quote from a letter of Frida Kahlo to Alejandro Gómez Arias, 29th September 1927, read in a 2005 exhibition at Tate Modern

Now that you’ve unpacked everything

Poetry

Ammonite

When you finally stop

ironing the jacket

dusting the shelves

darning the hat

eating something

writing a text message

checking your eBay notifications

eating some more

shuffling papers into neat piles

trying out different arrangements

clearing the dish rack

boiling the kettle

drinking something

following his request

to sit in silence for five minutes

your blizzard of thoughts bounces

off the hum of your fridge     away from

the water pipes swishing close by

to the ants     down Earth     beneath your house

the ancestors’ bones     underneath

the nagging question of how deserving

right down to the ammonite’s shells’ memory

twirling     swirling     spiralling     you

into the eye of the tree that saw it all

that held the branch

that held the nest

that held the eggs

now it’s just a knot

in my door frame

framing what exactly

and how deserving?

Let me be your bar of soap

Poetry / relationships

A&P

Because you’ve sent me my new SIM

in the envelope I’d already addressed     stamped

with three inappropriately white Virgin Marys

And because you only wrote three words

that said so much of your contempt

for corporate cunningness     for how much

you’ll look out for me     you even kept

the other SIM just in case     after I’d suggested

to throw it away      then needed it anyway

thank God you’d marked it     in the midst

of your life’s current chaos

And because I’ve just peeled an orange

sticky juice trickling down my fingers

fragrance down my nose    and because

I wonder    again    where it began

at what point in history     someone deciding

to wash their skin    make soap    add fragrance

orange is a smell you hate

And because you love your evening shower

and because sometimes it takes you two    three

five hours to get there     singing to yourself

as you turn on the tap     strip your clothes

step into steam     and because I don’t know

anyone who can shower as hot for as long

eyes closed     orchestra in your head     shea

butter richness cupped gently     wetting it

watching it go slippery     under your touch

stroke by stroke anointing your dripping body

from between your toes up to your hair

everything in between     all the while

singing to an invisible audience in your soul

And because you have me in the palm of your hand

Geeking out about a trip to Groß-Gerau

Place / Poetry

Growing up he garnished many a family gathering

going over gouged-out puns     gospel of gloomlessness

Germans of Granddad’s generation gratefully grabbed

his good-natured gigs     groomed his gumption

to get on stage with god-knows no grace     nor airs

just grinning     giggling     glibbing his way to glory

in grave suit     greasy comb-over     goofy humour

galvanising a nerve     grasping a growing hunger

for a post-GI glamour Made in Germany     His gift

a gala get-away from national guilt     new glue

for the new nation     gobbledygooking in G Major

das-grose-heinz-erhardt-buch

Homage to the German comedian Heinz Erhardt prompted by a writing exercise

**Notes**

* Heinz Erhardt once improvised an-almost 5-minute sketch where every word begins with the letter ‘G’

* Made in Germany is also a reference to one of his all-time popular poems about the ‘maggot’ called ‘Made’ in German language

River Nights

Nature / Place / Poetry

 

She’d always felt unbearably lonely

in those nights of fog     maybe that story

of the lonely man who’d gone missing

they said he must have drowned in the river

As a child fog was a cloud of tiny fairy flowers

fairy flower fog    sprinkling out of the river

Yesterday she saw a white heron    tiptoe

through its water    kissing water’s skin    little

Victorian pecks    and again    and peck    and again

then fog followed    spilled out over the river banks

swallowed the willows    erased the bridge

the car dealer’s show room    train station

as night settled only will-o-wisps were left

to be seen    flickering along     tracks

for pixelated moments    before being hushed away

Her face wet now    hair heavy    her heart

pulled to follow that last light    further

deeper    into a vast breath of fairy flowers

heron waited    wings spread out for her

quarantine-like

Poetry
  
The word lockdown has become blunt
each cut less precise    all the more painful 
that new 10 mile permission zone around me 
severs the one line I’ve got in an unhomely country 
still called home    the line that towed me away
from my other home    The 8pm curfew    a curtain 
keeping out hairy Rauhnächte’s heavy breathing 
from the other world   a ruined church deep in the woods
of tall pine trees    keeping in the sweet illusion 
of control they sold their soul to here    
Someone sends me a line from Rilke in English 
I’ve never heard in German before 
Live the questions now

Quarantine 7

Poetry
 
I can’t help thinking of the storks in the marshland 
behind the row of new builds   they’ve stopped returning 
to their African home    maybe they’ve grown used 
to their icy South German escape    I don’t know why 
it feels significant    why I prefer listening to Radio 4
watch the Queen’s Christmas speech for the first time 
the pomp behind thin lips   commentators found it comforting
I once found a serpentine   it didn’t shine or glitter 
small as my thumbnail   almost as flat   easy to miss 
but for its colour of tree moss    it holds as much wisdom 
as ancient forests  unprompted the Stoke Newington jeweller
pressed the filigree of a leaf into the silver plate he mounted it on 
Much later it turned out to be the same jeweller 
who set your Carnelian   both semi precious stones 

Quarantine 6

Poetry
  
Because they’ve revoked my quarantine exemption 
changes in regulations for anyone from the UK 
after the new strain of the virus    straining logic 
Fear lives in the reptilian brain 
just look at how thick their skin alone 
so I don’t argue back this time    quietly 
reduce my radius to what I can see 
grateful the message came after yesterday’s walk 
across deeply frozen ground    leaves crunching 
underneath my hiking boots like Kelloggs 

Christmas Day 2020

Poetry
 
They’re trying hard    for Christmas 
everyone in my family does the Covid test 
offered for free by the local Red Cross
helping families enjoy Christmas 
the curfew is lifted    for Christmas 
I feel caught in the invisible web 
of unspoken expectations 
surrounding Christmas    wishing
for a moment I could disappear 
into quarantine  remember the ermine 
I saw this morning    wieseling about 
white as an apparition   through islands 
of long leaved grass   the woodpeckers 
that greeted me in Tanner Hood 
the fungus   brimming   bright

Quarantine 5

Poetry

I find out that I’m released from quarantine
after all    my negative result from a test 
taken on arrival day counts    after all 
because I’m visiting my sister with no intent 
of living at their home    § 2 Abs. 3 Nr. 2 a) 
is freedom wedged between curfew and 
Christmas tree    I find myself offering
a helping hand to my brother in law 
tasked with decorating it    for the first time 
in over two decades    carefully threading 
fragile baubles into resin sticky branches
we settle for pure baubles    all colours 
all sizes    matt and shining  silver  gold
red   white   orange   purple   aubergine
more red   like a box of Quality Street 
I read about Kenneth’ over 30 Christmases 
in US High Security Prisons    at first 
so shellshocked he didn’t expect any Christmas 
sentiments    by the time he’s transferred 
to a new built maximum security facility 
he misses the cards    kindness    decades later 
he surprises himself   singing God Rest Ye Merry
Gentlemen    to his inmates    I think 
we should be careful   using language
like lockdown curfew    while laughing

Quarantine 4

Poetry
  
I swear I heard a slow drum beat   low pitched 
like tympanis    solemn    marching forward 
but then it was my heart    our hearts    beating 
together    in this silence between day and night 
thin as a knife’s cut     when I finally fell asleep 
I was greeted by a brown bear under the canopy 
of green leafs    no danger just strength    maybe 
your quarter Canadian spirit willing me on 
I remember it now days    later up here on the ladder
cutting back my sister’s hop vines at night fall
tearing   pulling   wiggling    tangle of dried twigs 
setting off a snowstorm of fine brown flakes 
from dried seed cones    as glitter in a snow globe
the garden’s boundaries my see-through glass walls