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The London Magazine Poetry 2018 was judged by Sophie Collins, Les Robinson, and Mark Ford. The winning entries are transcribed in full below, with Sharon Black winning 1st prize, Matthew Smith in 2nd place, and Alycia Pirmohamed in 3rd place.
The Lean Years
I was a burnt stick, and a handful of paraffin:
an empty house, the yard at the back;
a winnowing shed.
I remember the deliciousness of No,
my whittled body, flesh an outsider,
the cult of bird-bones.
I gathered shells and stones.
The aching in my belly became a song
I’d known forever and I sang it loudly to myself.
It was the world seen through church glass.
I was bloodless and smooth,
an alabaster, useless clock.
I gulped air as if it were a reservoir.
My pockets were full of fish and they sparkled:
you could see them through my clothes.
I remember blank days, blackouts.
Days I forgot names, forgot what names were for.
The revelation of a sweet clean drop.
Then a small bright pill –
Gone, the chest of snakes.
Gone, the restless doors, the plastic anchor.
A friend speaks of her violent ex,
the relief of her new man, gentle as a dog
but sometimes she misses that electrifying yoyo.
I left my shadow in Sicily, draped across a chair.
I was eating swordfish and the last words
of an argument with my daughter.
My shadow didn’t flinch as I stood and turned
and left it there. Sometimes I night-walk under streetlamps
to remember its feet hobnailed to mine
and I wonder if someone else is wearing it
or if it’s folded in a cupboard, or gathering dust,
beyond the orange orchards, the high Sicilian sun.
You gave me black fire
one day like a fistful
of ice and I watched it burn
like a storm cloud’s face
and I heard it eat
the air like a small forest
blaze. Carried it about
in front of me, banal
one moment, all milk
and kohl, now dancing
henna and shimmer.
It turned into a bird
one night when I tried
to write, left through
the window open to
the stars and dissolved.
You wandered in to find
the gift ungiven, the sky electric,
strange effects in the torrent
of rain across the elms
outside the window.
I tried to remember
when it had been
a mere speck flickering on my skin.
Where had you found it?
Bottled on some shelf and stamped
with moebius script or moving
between the gaps in
rotting waste, radio-loud, a
siren outside flashing in. Or had you –
to tell me something
when you were struck dumb once
at something I’d said
and puzzled at your inability
to make words of use to you
or us – invented it? And had I
failed you once again by
and I was quiet too,
then I found the sound
of rainfall softening, heard
the hurricane sigh and subside.
We stared at a crystalline sky,
the houses and the lights
of the world all in
their proper place, water
precipitating gently from
Where is it now?
I asked, but you
had noticed something
new, the way the moon’s
calm light fell
sidelong, making the world
a magic lantern,
Into the tall dark,
into the tamarack wood,
into a city, which at this hour,
could be the shape
of any migrating bird.
This is me, driving straight
into my own life,
past the river frozen over
slick, the chokecherry’s saw
into the roughage
of memories that surface slow
and tired, memories so alike
the stars enacting
what is already gone.
I am grasping at
the things easiest to love:
Anas acuta, Pinus resinosa,
Anthaxia inornata, the language
of the prairies,
syntax that I have held
like a dog with birch in her
mouth, a landscape that runs
through a body,
is a body—
into the boiling ginger,
into the neck of a loved one
folded like a leveret,
folded like a letter closing with
I wish you were here,
I wish you were here—
Sharon Black is from Scotland but now lives in the Cévennes mountains of France. Her two collections are To Know Bedrock (Pindrop, 2011) and The Art Of Egg (Two Ravens, 2015).
Matthew Smith’s poetry has been published in Acumen, Envoi and will be published in the autumn in Poetry Salzburg Review. His first novel is The Waking. He lives in London.
Alycia Pirmohamed is a Canadian-born poet living in Scotland. She is a Ph.D. student at the University of Edinburgh, where she is studying poetry written by second-generation immigrant writers. Her own writing is an exploration of what it means to be the daughter of immigrants; it grapples with language loss, cultural identity, and displacement.
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