The Votes are in for IS&T’s Pick of the Month for June & it’s ‘We didn’t know we were poor’ by Rose Mary Boehm

Huge congratulations to Rose Mary Boehm whose poem ‘We didn’t know we were poor’ emerged as IST’s ‘Pick of the Month’ for June 2016, beating the runner up by a single vote.

Rose is the author of Tangents (published in the UK in 2011). She has also been widely published in the United States and was twice winner of the monthly Goodreads competition. A new poetry collection is earmarked for US publication in 2016.

Rose lives in Peru and has asked that her National Book Token prize of £10 be sent to her granddaughter in London.

 

We didn’t know we were poor

Sometimes we went hungry.
Mother made dandelion salad
and stingy-nettle soup. Potatoes
and carrots in water with salt.
Mother had been on the train again
to visit farmer Ruttenberger. Left our
last silver flatware with his wife.
Brought back a big sack of rye.
Can see her still, her too large dress,
her apron, the coffee machine
between her thighs, milling.

My scary aunt with the deep voice
and a wart on her chin would send us
into the woods: ‘Don’t you go eating
the blueberries now. Bring them home,
you hear? I need them for jam making.’

There was a place near the brook
where the world smelled of woodruff
and ceps, where bluebells announced
our indelicate approach.

Getting back empty-handed, round-eyed
and honest-to-god we hadn’t found even one,
my aunt wiped blue-purple stains
from our guilty faces.

 

Voters’ comments included:

A true talent. One of a kind. I love all of her work.

I was immediately transported to another place and time yet the story is totally relatable and the style is engaging

It reflects the innocence of childhood and the careless years we all had back then, not understanding what was really going on around us. And not caring either. That’s what being a child is all about.

The simplicity of the story. The touching ending. The thought-provoking title.

The genuine emotion in this poem resonates with the reader.

Simplistic yet hauntingly beautiful with pathos!

Rose has led a rich and full life, and her poetry reveals the happiness, as well as the sadness, of success and failure.

She is a very talented writer that makes you feel every word she writes. Her poems stay in your mind and should. Love it.

I can visualize every scene so clearly it’s like I’ve been there.

it’s the one that most resonated with me, from nettle soup to blueberry stains, she took me with her to another time and place

 

Selected comments on the rest of the shortlist:

Jo Dingle, ‘Dawn’

Beautifully controlled metaphor running throughout the poem to create a really strong image, and a lovely use of “pink” as a verb.

John Greening, ‘Seven Steps’

Beautifully paced lines. Compelling story telling. Great sensory phrasing.

Geoff Mills, ‘Manners’

Superbly witty flash fiction with some great lines. “Einstein’s eyebrows rose up like a pair of ambushed seagulls.” – perfection

Colin Pink, ‘New Perch’

Simple and exquisite, like an Edmund de Waal vase, both small and as expansive as the universe. A gorgeous poem full of tenderness and vision

Hideko Sueoka, ‘Cherry Blossoms’

The way she describes the beauty of spring and cherry blossoms through the change in the character’s mind caught my heart. I empathized with the feeling the character felt when facing the grace of spring.

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Time to Vote for IS&T’s June 2016 Pick of the Month

From Japan to Peru via the Abellio Greater Anglia train to London Liverpool Street with stops at heaven and the back garden, our shortlist for June’s Pick of the Month – your favourite poem or work of flash fiction – is what you might call diverse.

So have a look at this month’s six finalists below (or see the ‘Vote for your June 2016 Pick of the Month’ in the Categories list to your right on the screen). These have either been chosen by Helen and Kate or received the most attention on social media.

Voting is now closed.

The winner each month will be sent a £10 book giftcard or, if preferred, a donation of the same amount will be made to a chosen charity*. In the event of the winner being from outside the UK mainland, we will make every effort to provide a reasonable alternative.

 

(*Ink Sweat & Tears reserves the right to refuse certain charities if we feel they are too controversial.)

 

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Winner of the UEA FLY Festival Short Story Competition 11-14 yr olds: Scarlett Baxter

We are never disappointed by the 11-14 yrs entries for the Short Story Competition at the UEA FLY Festival and this year was no different. How do you make a decision when the imagination of these kids seems to have no bounds taking them back into history, forward into virtual reality gaming and everywhere in between? Ultimately, the judges (including brilliant YA author Alexander Gordon Smith and author and festival organiser Antoinette Moses) focused in on Scarlett Baxter from Langley School. Her ending is well-written, both atmospheric and exciting and pulls all the elements of the story together in an unusual and moving way.

Second place goes to Broadland High School’s Lorna Hatch, whose ending offers us a nicely alternative slant on Robin Hood and can be found here. And Honourable Mentions must go to the runners-up, Honey Lamdin (Langley School) and Finn Cruise (Smithdon High School)

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FLY Festival 2016 Short Story Competition:
First Place 11-14 year olds: Scarlett Baxter, Langley School

 

It was going to be a great day. One, there were no lessons as we were going to this festival thing at the university in Norwich, two, Mum seemed to be getting better, and three…

I didn’t get as far as three because the bus sort of juddered and made a noise like someone scraping their fingernails across a blackboard. And the driver said the word Mum says I mustn’t ever use. He swung the wheel to the left and, with a couple of bumps and more scraping sounds, it stopped.

‘Sorry, folks, it’s a puncture,’ said the driver. So our teachers got us out of the bus, with lots of sighing and looking at their watches, while he changed the wheel. We’d stopped in a narrow road with a long flint wall running along beside it. I was about to take a photo of the driver, who’d got very red in the face, when I noticed the door in the wall beside me.

‘Look at that,’ I said to Chris.

‘’Why would you make a door that small?’ he asked. ‘It’s weird.’

Then it swung open. Not wide open, just a crack.

‘Shall we..? I asked.

Chris grinned. The door opened almost before I touched it and immediately Chris and I were in this huge green field. Which is when an arrow thwacked past my left ear and landed in the wall. Which wasn’t flint anymore but wood.

‘What on earth?’ yelped Chris. We turned round to get away from whoever was shooting arrows at us, when we saw that the door had gone. Disappeared. It just wasn’t there. And that’s when we heard the shouts and heard the dogs and…

…we heard the twangs of more arrows being pelted at us. I thought I must have fallen, from how low I was in the grass, when I heard Chris cry sharply. I turned and I stared. Before me was a wonderful vermilion fox. I looked down at my hand, but there was no hand there, just a small scarlet paw. The word mum told me never to say slipped from my lips as I realised what was happening. However, adrenaline had taken control over my limbs and I began pounding into the deep thicket of trees, shouting at Chris to follow. He, too, bounded into the forest narrowly missing an arrow, which thudded into the ground where he stood a second earlier.

We kept scampering through the trees even though we could hear the hunting horns die out and shouts fade. A smooth voice shouted from the root of a tree, instructing us to follow it down a deep hole. We skidded to a halt at the edge of the hole. I was reluctant to follow an unknown voice down a mysterious hole, but what choice did we have? We clambered into the damp tunnel, Chris leading this time, and scarpered along it with careful glances back in case the huntsmen came. The tunnel suddenly turned to a great chamber, which was surprisingly well-lit. There were about twenty foxes and vixens sat, some talking raptly with each other, some staring attentively at Chris and I. It was a very odd sight.

‘Welcome,’ said the furthest fox from the door.

She was clearly the leader. She had a demanding presence of power in all her body. Except her eyes. Familiar eyes?

‘My name is Twyla,’ she said softly ‘We’re the Vulpes. We, just like you, are humans, trapped. And we, like you, are confused.’

The room had stilled in silence.

‘However, we do know something,’ she continued ‘this is not real. It’s an alter reality in which our minds live. Our bodies live on in the other world, but as soulless beings. And as you may have guessed, we need to get out of here.’

Just as the words had escaped her, another fox appeared.

‘Twyla!’ he panted ‘we’ve found it!’

The room exploded. Every single fox scrambled for the tunnel and its opening. Chris and I followed. The other fox lead the way through the trees until he found an opening. There, at the base of the biggest tree, was a small door.

‘Shall we..?’ I asked and we went through together.

Everything blacked out. I felt something like butterflies in my chest, followed by a thump as I felt my back hit the ground. I opened my eyes to see the bus and everything how it was before. I sat up dazed and saw Chris next to me. We both had knowing looks in our eyes. Did that really just happen?

When I returned home, mother hugged me tight. She was completely better. No pale face or watery eyes. But those eyes… She nodded. So mum was never ill after all…

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UEA FLY Festival Short Story Competition 2016: 2nd Place 11-14 yrs Lorna Hatch

 

The Truth of Robin Hood

 

It was going to be a great day. One, there were no lessons as we were going to this festival thing at the university in Norwich, two, Mum seemed to be getting better, and three…

I didn’t get as far as three because the bus sort of juddered and made a noise like someone scraping their fingernails across a blackboard. And the driver said the word Mum says I mustn’t ever use. He swung the wheel to the left and, with a couple of bumps and more scraping sounds, it stopped.

‘Sorry, folks, it’s a puncture,’ said the driver. So our teachers got us out of the bus, with lots of sighing and looking at their watches, while he changed the wheel. We’d stopped in a narrow road with a long flint wall running along beside it. I was about to take a photo of the driver, who’d got very red in the face, when I noticed the door in the wall beside me.

‘Look at that,’ I said to Chris.

‘’Why would you make a door that small?’ he asked. ‘It’s weird.’

Then it swung open. Not wide open, just a crack.

‘Shall we..? I asked.

Chris grinned. The door opened almost before I touched it and immediately Chris and I were in this huge green field. Which is when an arrow thwacked past my left ear and landed in the wall. Which wasn’t flint anymore but wood.

‘What on earth?’ yelped Chris. We turned round to get away from whoever was shooting arrows at us, when we saw that the door had gone. Disappeared. It just wasn’t there. And that’s when we heard the shouts and heard the dogs and…

…’Run’, a voice whispered. The owner of the voice grabbed our hands, pulling us through the thick grass. I stared at the hand in surprise, lifting my gaze along to the muscles in his forearm and up to the chiselled features of the boy’s face where a pointed feathered hat perched, and then down his tunicked torso where a bow and arrow was slung across his shoulders, to his forest-green tights. Wait, what? Tights? I stopped short, putting together the puzzle pieces. The arrows, the hat, the tunic, the tights… Chris gawped, reading my mind as usual.

‘Robin Hood?!’ we gasped in unison.

‘My name is Jack Forest! If it is Robin Hood you are looking for, I can be of no help to you. I may work for him but that doesn’t mean I like him.’ The boy took an offensive manner, as if we had just insulted him. I frowned at Chris, puzzled – who wouldn’t like Robin Hood, the kindhearted soul who takes from the rich and gives to the poor?

‘Speak of the devil, here he comes now with his bunch of thugs! Run!’

I glanced behind me and saw a large, round, grotesque man galloping towards us. Just visible behind his great bulk a platoon of burly soldiers charged towards us. We sprinted across the remainder of the field and disappeared into the surrounding woodland. As we stopped for breath, the confusion of the last fifteen minutes dawned on me.

Sensing my forthcoming meltdown Chris stepped to my aid. He has always been there for me, especially in the last year when Mum had been diagnosed with cancer. I doubt I would have survived without him.

We arrived at a tumbled-down cottage. Jack welcomed us into his home, and I cautiously edged in. Jack motioned at two rickety wooden chairs, then sighed and perched on a third.

‘I don’t choose to live like this. I was banished from the nearest village by Robin Hood – the large man on the horse chasing us, my Landlord – because I could not pay his ridiculous taxes. Consequently, I have to work as a labourer on his estate to repay my debt. But I don’t mind, it gives me a chance to take back what is rightfully the villagers’. He has so much gold he doesn’t even notice.’ His eyes suddenly lit up. ‘Will you help me divide this bag of gold between the villagers?’

‘Why was he chasing you in the first place?’ I quizzed, ignoring his question.

‘I beat him at his own archery competition.’ Jack admitted guiltily. ‘But will you help?’ We agreed, and Jack held the door for us as we stepped out on to the …

…Pavement? We were back! I glanced around. The door had gone but an AA man had arrived. He looked familiar, like, well, Jack Forest. I laughed in a slightly deranged way, as Chris whispered in my ear: ‘At least now we know the truth of Robin Hood.’

 

 

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Winner of the UEA FLY Festival Short Story Competition 15-18 yr olds: Edward Darrall

Last week, we were once more privileged to be part of the UEA FLY Festival (Festival of Literature for Young people) and again supported the final event, a cracking POETRY SLAM with host Adisa and exceptional mentors in Tim Clare, Mark Gristo, Molly Naylor and Ross Sutherland. Thanks, too, to the kids from Stalham High School, Open Academy, King’s Lynn Academy and East Point Academy for reminding us that poetry is not a dead art to the young.

As in previous years, we co-judged the Short Story Competition with the inimitable Alexander Gordon Smith and festival organiser and author Antoinette Moses, who also wrote the story’s opening. It is featured in italics below followed by a very evocative and moving ending from the winner of the 15-18 age group, Edward Darrall (Diss High School). It speaks of a real talent

Praise, too, for Second Place winner William Johnson, also from Diss High School, whose multi-viewpoint story ending can be found here. Finally, a Honourable Mention must go to the runner up, Alexander Poulson.

The winners of the 11-14 year old age group will be featured on IS&T tomorrow.

 

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FLY Festival 2016 Short Story Competition:
First Place 15+ year olds: Edward Darrall, Diss High School

 

It was going to be a great day. One, there were no lessons as we were going to this festival thing at the university in Norwich, two, Mum seemed to be getting better, and three…

I didn’t get as far as three because the bus sort of juddered and made a noise like someone scraping their fingernails across a blackboard. And the driver said the word Mum says I mustn’t ever use. He swung the wheel to the left and, with a couple of bumps and more scraping sounds, it stopped.

‘Sorry, folks, it’s a puncture,’ said the driver. So our teachers got us out of the bus, with lots of sighing and looking at their watches, while he changed the wheel. We’d stopped in a narrow road with a long flint wall running along beside it. I was about to take a photo of the driver, who’d got very red in the face, when I noticed the door in the wall beside me.

‘Look at that,’ I said to Chris.

‘’Why would you make a door that small?’ he asked. ‘It’s weird.’

Then it swung open. Not wide open, just a crack.

‘Shall we..? I asked.

Chris grinned. The door opened almost before I touched it and immediately Chris and I were in this huge green field. Which is when an arrow thwacked past my left ear and landed in the wall. Which wasn’t flint anymore but wood.

‘What on earth?’ yelped Chris. We turned round to get away from whoever was shooting arrows at us, when we saw that the door had gone. Disappeared. It just wasn’t there. And that’s when we heard the shouts and heard the dogs and

…knew we were in trouble. Chris seemed to have frozen, his eyes open wide in horror. My eyes skimmed across the field, but I couldn’t see anything – just long grass. With a thud, another arrow embedded itself firmly in the ground at Chris’ feet. Whoever the attackers were, they seemed to be invisible.

I grabbed Chris’ arm and started running along the wall. He soon caught on and was sprinting, full pelt, beside me. In the distance, lining the edge of the field was a tangled mass of trees and thorny bushes. We were heading towards a small, black opening in the malicious looking barrier; our only means of escape from our attackers. I was less than ten metres from the forest when a third arrow struck Chris in the back. He made a small whimper as he fell. My hands were shaking as I bent down beside him. The back of his shirt was already soaked in bright red blood. I gently touched his face; his skin was pale and cold and his eyes were glazed. Mum had told me that I had to be strong, so I left him and crawled my way through the narrow opening and deep into enclosed woodland. I crawled until all the sounds of the dogs and the people had faded away and I was alone in the sickening silence, the pulsating darkness swelling around me. Then I curled into a ball and waited.

My heart was racing, beads of sweat stuck to my forehead. Daylight was unable to penetrate the knotted thorns and the gnarled tree trunks of the foreboding thicket. Talon-like brambles clawed at my back and scary faces glared at me from the blackness all around. I screwed my face up and forced my eyes tightly shut, but a small tear still found its way down my cheek and onto my chin, only to drip and land on my trousers. I wanted my mum. I remember her telling me that I was so very brave and that she loved me very much, but I was scared now. Really scared. I wanted her to be here with me. I wanted to be able to talk to her again. I wanted this all to be a dream, just a story, but it wasn’t. It was real.

I am back on the bus, tears glistening in my eyes. Chris is sitting next to me with his headphones on. The driver in front of me, eyes focussed on the road ahead. The bus moving happily forwards. In my lap is a notepad; basic ideas of stories scribbled down all over the paper. I’ve got to the bit where an arrow hits the wooden wall. But I can’t get mum out of my head. All my stories just quickly deteriorate and I start crying. I want to pretend that she’s well, but she’s not. The doctor says that she won’t get better. I shakily put the pen to the paper and start again.

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UEA FLY Festival Short Story Competition 2016: 2nd Place 15-18 yrs William Johnson

Perspective *

 

Thomas (the pupil)

It was going to be a great day. One, there were no lessons as we were going to this festival thing at the university in Norwich, two, Mum seemed to be getting better, and three…

I didn’t get as far as three because the bus sort of juddered and made a noise like someone scraping their fingernails across a blackboard. And the driver said the word Mum says I mustn’t ever use. He swung the wheel to the left and, with a couple of bumps and more scraping sounds, it stopped.

‘Sorry, folks, it’s a puncture,’ said the driver. So our teachers got us out of the bus, with lots of sighing and looking at their watches, while he changed the wheel. We’d stopped in a narrow road with a long flint wall running along beside it. I was about to take a photo of the driver, who’d got very red in the face, when I noticed the door in the wall beside me.

‘Look at that,’ I said to Chris.

‘’Why would you make a door that small?’ he asked. ‘It’s weird.’

Then it swung open. Not wide open, just a crack.

‘Shall we..? I asked.

Chris grinned. The door opened almost before I touched it and immediately Chris and I were in this huge green field. Which is when an arrow thwacked past my left ear and landed in the wall. Which wasn’t flint anymore but wood.

‘What on earth?’ yelped Chris. We turned round to get away from whoever was shooting arrows at us, when we saw that the door had gone. Disappeared. It just wasn’t there. And that’s when we heard the shouts and heard the dogs and I froze. Terror engulfed my muscles, brain, heart. Then the pain. I looked at the arrow lodged in my stomach. The barking slowed, Chris’ desperate screams became whispers. This must be what Mum felt like. I was afraid. So afraid.

 

Gavin (the driver)

Those bloody kids. Every day they screamed at each other, threw insults and disgusted me with their habitual ignorance. I always felt deeply sorry for their teachers, dealing with juvenile delinquents whose idea of joy is the latest console game. Their eyes flickering across the screen constantly as their undeveloped minds seek to interpret the pixels. As I say, kids angered me, and teachers earned my fullest regret and heartache. But as I stared inquisitively on the terrified face of Miss Sharpe, I myself feared the consequences for her and the missing boys.

The sun beat down maliciously on my shoulders, intense rays ricocheted off the flint wall and struck me. I decided to retreat into my bus.

“Can everyone line up, please?”

“Sarah, when did you last see them?”

“Will more of us be taken?”

“Nobody was taken!”

“Taken?”

Their exclamations were no longer audible as the bus doors shuddered shut and the air con kicked in. This was my private sanctuary. As I flicked my hoola-girl, and my mind wandered down the street, our original destination brought my fist slamming into the steering wheel. The university. My degree. My life had cascaded from its potential glory to this. This measly salary and ghastly hours. ‘Have a nice day’ remained the extend of my vocalisation while my impressive vocabulary lay suppressed in the reaches of my mind. Or maybe this was an excuse for my anger, and my pride sought to cover my inner terror for the missing children.

 

Narthorn (the bowman)

The outlanders have persisted in their sordid negligence of our designated boundaries for too long. I could not suppress my aggression any longer, discarding our passive nature, I did what was right, what would keep our village safe from their wrath. What I could not suppress was my inner fear; it consumed me like a virus. My bowstring quivered as my hand pulsated under the pressure of what might happen. The outlanders would never forget, the outlanders would never give in, the outlanders would want war. Their slain youngsters were only the beginning.

Beord could not keep his eyes from the gnarled corpses of the young ones; fibres of cloth swam on the gleaming scarlet that seeped from their wounds. Glancing at Beord again, I realised that he was tracing back the shaving of wood that was embedded in one of their finger-nails to the scratching on the wall. But their suffering, no matter how severe, could not detract from the significance of this event. War would find us, the outlanders would arrive in their masses and it would be our young who begged for salvation. I felt my arrows and ran my fingers down their acute tips. Let them come.
 

* The first part of this story, in italics, was written by festival organiser, author and competition co-judge Antoinette Moses. The title and decision to write it from three perspectives is, however, the brainwave of William and we salute his originality.

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And the Pick of the Month for May 2016 is… ‘Ghosted’ by Vicky Morris!

Vicky Morris’ ‘Ghosted’ clearly resonated with many voters to emerge as Ink Sweat & Tears’ Pick of the Month for May 2016.

Vicky writes poetry and short stories. She runs groups and projects for young writers. In 2013 she made the documentary – Dyslexic & Loving Words and in 2014 she won the Northern Writers Arvon Award.

She has asked that her prize of £10 be donated to a local Sheffield charity Cavendish Cancer Care.

 

Ghosted

It’s not like he’d planned to wake up
after 23 years of marriage,
to find the taps turned off,
everything dried out on the draining board,
no one checking the mains,
bulb gone in the hall,
the garden too barbered for its own good.

He laced up his quietest loafers,
grabbed some socks from the top drawer,
slid his passport from a copy of Punch,
loaded his toolboxes into the car.
While she stared at the TV she’d never watched before.
It’s plug without a fuse,
remote control in the drawer.

 

Voters’ comments included:

I love the simplicity of imagery – the quietness in the husband and wife after a long marriage. The feeling of isolation, separation and bleakness is palpable.

A sense of loss I’ve seen that really struck a chord with me

The imagery, words, and sense of raw emotion

Such a beautiful poem with very powerful words, I was moved after reading this!

accurately sums up a feeling which is almost impossible to explain. Very sensitive and clever

Beautiful, almost prose style, captures that peculiar feeling of grief that comes with middle age

It makes you curious about the bigger picture but with no need for further details.

poetic lucid view of domestic life and relationships at the end

It reminds me of a life I choose not to have

 

Comments on the rest of the shortlist:

Helen Calcutt, ‘Bird’

Such unusual images – so authentic and strong – a total commitment to language and an utter (and refreshing) absence of cliche. One of a very few poems I’ve read online in recent moths that would genuinely encourage me to seek out the author’s works.

Carrie Etter, ‘The Find’

Love the strange surrealness, feels almost like a mini-movie.

Brian Johnstone, ‘Pledge’

I felt like I knew what it was like to make that pledge.

Susie Wild. ‘In case…’

I liked the social commentary behind this poem, its dryness, and also the way it exposes the dislocation behind our ‘so-called’ connectivity.

Phil Wood, ‘Cardigan Bay’

Simple presentation of a strong image as well as the father/son interaction.

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