And the Pick of the Month for July 2017 is ‘Birds’ by Rizwan Akhtar

This one came right down to the wire and at one point we thought it might be a draw but Rizwan Akhtar’s ‘Birds’ just edged ahead to be Pick of the Month for July 2017.* What caught voters’ attention was the imagery, the allusions and the wonderful use of language. And, as one said, ‘Nature breathes in this poem.’

Rizwan works as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan. He completed his PhD in postcolonial literature from the University of Essex, UK in 2013. He has published poems in well-established poetry magazines in the UK, Wales, US, India, Canada, and New Zealand. He has also done a 5 weeks workshop on poetry with Derek Walcott at the University of Essex in 2010.

 

Birds
for you

They scrape and bill for answers
I peck evenings for small words
finches and robins temper tones

They don’t flutter against my desires
Or rise from foggy halos
like sentences blurring intentions

only stare my doubts with little eyes
over ponds of petaled flowers
carrying conviction under feathers

a stripped choir of town’s winter
land on raven craggy earth
sank in scrimped necks

a milky whiteness of nude bodies—
clamp beaks against an urgent silence
of blue, red, and magenta quills

These birds I see cloister you
huddle like expressions
muted by long flights

They drop our histories
tied to footnotes, on vague wings.

 

********

Voters comments included:-

[It] awakens the romantic and philosophic eye of any literalist who has so far been looking at birds as only biological beings. It’s a ‘love at first sight’ experience reading this poem.

Imagery is from day to day examples, easy to understand yet impregnate with deeper contexts.

Fascinating fabrication of words

Because the words are so powerful they strike with intensity and the imagery is also very provocative!

Good control of the language and line length. Surprising imagery.

Fascinating and marvellous piece of writing

Language and style impressed me

The marvelous use of language to communicate the subject

Loved the theme, the message. Wonderful

The poem resounds [with] an intimacy with nature, creatural…

 

*It was such a close thing (one vote!), however, that special mention must go to Andrew Turner and his fine poem ‘The wolves were not invited’; its fairytale quality and unnerving ending appealed to many.

 

 

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Vote for your Pick of the Month for July 2017

That time again and, holidays looming, we’re getting it in early. We’ve a shortlist based around flora – the lotus – and fauna – birds, foxes, wolves – with a nod or two to philosophy on the side. Do take the time then to look at the poems below (or see the ‘Vote for your Pick of the Month for July 2017′ in the Categories list to your right on the screen.)

The shortlisted works have either been chosen by Helen and Kate or received the most attention on social media.

Voting has 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. All winning poetry Picks, provided they the meet the eligibility criteria, will be considered as IS&T submissions for the annual Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.

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A poem sequence and an interview with Molly Pearson, the 2016/2017 recipient of the Ink Sweat & Tears Poetry Writing Scholarship at the University of East Anglia.

 

The following three poems are part of a sequence that explores the connection between natural phenomena and bodily affect.

 

specimens

 

#1

i will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, i saw two rare beetles & seized one in each hand; then i saw a third & new kind, which i could not bear to lose, so that i popped the one which i held in my right hand into my mouth. alas it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that i was forced to spit the beetle out…
— charles dickens

knowing what will happen never stops me

when i took you in my mouth
divine complexity

a six-legged query      poised
on the tip of my tongue

rooting in the damp
soil of each other’s forms       until

your body sprang its sudden leak
those virulent colours       seeping

in the morning        i am swollen
entirely different
opened

my mouth becomes bank

vast atrocious trees       birds breathing

 

 

#2

i fulfil my functions like an unripe fruit
mulchy seed-skinned flotsam of potential
tulip machinery clanking
under the dirt

& yes       i have been fragile

have spoken in concentric circles
photodegredation        the light widening
damp wind torquing untold familiar words
bounce of water       gyre

fragile

knows its own extremity       is generous
jewelled piñata heart treating us all to itself
bruiseful rape-yellow pulp
uncensored streaming

 

 

#3

& as we were settling this final fathom, i saw a wonderful thing. lying on the bottom just beneath us was some type of flatfish. even as I saw him, his two round eyes on top of his head spied us — a monster of steel — invading his silent realm. here, in an instant, was the answer that biologists had asked for the decades. could life exist in the greatest depths of the ocean? it could!
— jacques piccard

a new old thing
slimy & exquisite

breathless       clenched by water
i feel        girl

call it awareness:

the body’s gunky sentience       each cavity
my middle ear       my pink & reaching lungs
gap where a womb should be
noisy air in blood

the outer window cracked        beginning to trickle
all that expectation

i let you into my skin
your flexing bones       your eyes

the dark inside me
tightens

 

********

Seven Questions with an Eighth

1. Where do you write? (do you have a place that you find yourself and your writing?)
Different poems suit the vibes of different places. I’ll write in coffee shops, libraries or at my desk at home beside my trusty angle-poise, whatever the current work calls for.

2. How do you write? (into a notebook or straight onto a computer?)
Computer, always. As a poet it makes experimenting with form and structure so much easier.

3. Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities? (writing, editing, correspondence & submissions)
I tend to write in short, intense bursts — by the time I open my laptop, most of the poem has already been written in my head and it’s just a matter of getting the words down — so the amount of time spent actually writing is small for me. The rest — editing, corresponding and submitting — takes forever! It evens out to a couple of hours a day.

4. What time of day do you usually write?
As soon as I wake up, regardless of when that is. I need fully charged batteries!

5. What does it feel like to write?
My best writing is done when I’m unaware of myself. If at any point I start thinking about who I am, what I’m doing, or (God forbid) why I’m doing it, block sets in. I’m in a very high state of awareness; it’s almost trancelike. I’m aware of the words happening, but not much else.

6. Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?
The stimulus that triggers non-writing is definitely routine! Emotional, physical and even geographical shake-ups all get my creative juices flowing, so if I’m struggling, the best thing I can do is to go somewhere I’ve never been and write there. Failing that, a flat white generally does the trick.

7. What are you working on now?
For the past month and a half I’ve been working on HYDRA, a collection of poetry that explores our relationship with water. So much of the planet and so much of our bodies are liquid. Each human spends the first nine months of its life as a marine creature, and until around 400 million years ago all life was aquatic. It’s been fascinating to consider what that represents to us and the role that water plays in our twenty-first century lives.

8. How has the scholarship affected your writing?
It’s given me the opportunity of spending time with some fantastic writers, and I think that affects writing more than most people realise. The poets I’ve studied with for the past year on the MA are really talented, and watching them develop poetically in the same way I’ve been developing has been a privilege. In January I was lucky enough to be invited to read at Café Writers alongside Esther Morgan, whose work I really admire, and it was an amazing experience. Being around poets always makes me want to write poetry.

 

For details of UEA’s Ink Sweat & Tears Poetry Writing Scholarship established by IS&T’s Kate Birch please go here.

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And the Pick of the Month for June 2017 is Angelica Krikler’s ‘Nature’

Out of the mouths of babes. Angelica Krikler, who wrote and submitted her poem ‘Nature’ when she was 16, streaked ahead of her fellows on the shortlist and is IS&T’s Pick of the Month for June 2017. Voters responded to the beauty of the poem and were engaged by its exceptional use of language.

Angelica lives in Essex and writes fiction and poetry outside of school. Her poem ‘Bacteria’ was published on the online Y-Magazine and another poem ‘Cleopatra’ is published in the latest issue of morphrog.com

 

Nature

Plants grow out of her eyes
Because all she sees in him is the beauty of nature
The chants she stops in her day to listen to
The air she exhales
And the mud she wipes from her feet
But nature is a vicious cycle
Two seas mix, the water never settles
Endlessly floating from the plaits in her hair and the sandy pebbles on the shore
Like the granules in a coffee pot
Weight on shoulders
Hands on the small of her back
Magnetic air between mouths
One day she’ll know what to spend her money on
One day she’ll know how to reply
She will lift up the old carpet
Dragging a tree away from its roots
Realising soon that sometimes nature must be cut away
In order to see the daylight

 

 

Voters comments included:

Angelica’s poem is beautiful, written with soul, sensitivity and maturity. Well deserving of the prize.

Unique & engaging poem

I think it’s a very powerful piece of poetry and it speaks to me on a deeper level than the others

Angelica is a phenomenal artist and writer. Her work evokes the beauty of the natural world and the wonders of our environment.

The most incredible young talent I have ever known X

Exceptional wording.

I like the use of enjambment.

…a stand out

This poem uses language cleverly and beautifully to express deep feelings and strong ideas

Beautifully written with a powerful and unexpected ending

Because I’m not a poem kind of guy but it made me think about the woman

Touched me on a personal level. Beautiful.

Amazing poem, very well written

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Pick of the Month time! Vote for your favourite piece from June 2017.

National Flash Fiction Day takes place in June, so it is befitting that one of our shortlisted pieces for that month’s Pick is a micro-story. Do, then, take some time to read it and the poems below (or see the ‘Vote for your Pick of the Month for June 2017′ in the Categories list to your right on the screen.)

The shortlisted works have either been chosen by Helen and Kate or received the most attention on social media.

Voting has 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. All winning poetry Picks, provided they the meet the eligibility criteria, will be considered as IS&T submissions for the annual Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.

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We’ve got ‘Your location’ by Jane McCarthy Wilkinson as our Pick of the Month for May 2017

 

A definitive vote (unlike another significant, recent election) saw Jane McCarthy Wilkinson’s ‘Your location’ chosen as Pick of the Month for May 2017. Some of you fell a little in love with the poem, describing it as beautiful and evocative, enjoying its rhythm and form yet there was unease and mystery there too.

Jane was shortlisted for Lo and Behold!, the Poetry School’s 2014 Micro-Commission, and has a response poem to a Shakespeare sonnet in Live Canon’s 154 anthology (2016). She lives in London with her family and is a Landscape Architect.

 

Your location

Round the corner I hear you
coming I hear you coming
round the corner of the barn
I arrange my arms and legs
I hear around the corner
of the barn the gravel’s tough
back teeth working doggedly
on splintering a bone
I spin up a cloud
of smoke to be within
position myself beneath the salty buttered light
farm manure bellows cold pools like clouds of sound rising slowly as the milky way
we gather like water
and ripple open

 

 

Voters comments included:-

So many undercurrents indicated with such economy – powerfully visual, palpable – so much expressed, compressed.

Mysterious and rhythmic. Intriguing and seeped in longing(or fear). Loved the music. Every time I read it I find something else.

Enchanted by the rustic tug of the writing and the dreamlike agrarian imagery.

Fantastic sense of place, while creating uncertainty of subject

… this gets my vote for its strangeness and complex concision!

I love how the simple repetition of the first lines moves towards the beautiful language of the ending.

This poem speaks straight to me. I like the straightforward/no nonsense way it has been written.

…I like the form, repetition and flow of the poem plus the wonderful imagery of ‘the gravel’s tough back teeth’ and ‘salty buttered light’.

I love the free-yet-structured feel of it; so much thought in that opening stanza, the recreation of the excitement/game fear through repetition spot-on, and the beautiful ending, ‘we gather like water / and ripple open’. A really evocative recreation of childhood play, where the ‘I’ is at one with its environment.

Lovely broken lines

strong simple words building to a powerful image –

feelings of fear and expectation, finely wrought

I like the way way the poem is composed to reveal the situation in a simplistic way, each of your senses is engaged enabling you to paint a picture of the scene described with your imagination..

I felt that the line about the gravel’s tough back teeth splintering a bone was the best line from all of the poems – it captures something of what only poetry can do – put the sounds of the world into words that give you both a simple delight (at the joy of the words,) and a deeper empathy for the atmosphere and feelings of the poet herself.

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Vote for your Pick of the Month for May 2017

It’s time to get the May vote out (no, not that May!) so take a few moments to read the poems on our shortlist below or see the ‘Vote for your Pick of the Month for May 2017′ in the Categories list to your right on the screen.  There are no bad choices and no one is going to wake up in abject misery the morning after these results.

The shortlisted poems have either been chosen by Helen and Kate or received the most attention on social media.

Voting has now closed. May’s Pick of the Month will be announced on Monday 12th June.

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. All winning Picks, provided they the meet the eligibility criteria, will be considered as IS&T submissions for The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem for the relevant year.

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