Our final Picks for 2016: Elisabeth Sennitt Clough and John Mackie

We take one last lingering look back to 2016 with our final ‘picks’ for the year. Both Christmas poems, they affected us in very different ways. You chose Elisabeth Sennitt Clough’s painfully resonant ‘The Homewrecker and His Pun’ as our December 2016 Pick of the Month and, from a fine shortlist,  it is a very worthy winner and is one of IS&T’s entries for the 2017 Forward Prizes for Poetry Best Single Poem Award.

Elisabeth was born in Ely and now lives in Norfolk with her husband and three children. Her pamphlet Glass was a winner in the Paper Swans inaugural pamphlet competition and her debut collection, Sightings (Pindrop Press) was launched in Brussels on the 15th January. Her poems have appeared in The Rialto, Mslexia, Magma, Stand, I,S&T, and The Cannons’ Mouth. www.elisabethsennittclough.co.uk

She has asked that her £10 ‘prize’ be donated to the NSPCC.

 

The Homewrecker and His Pun

She has high hopes for her white sauce
this Christmas. The roux glistens
from the wash and slap of milk,
as she lightens it a ladle at a time.

Her veins grow taut on her forearm
as she beats the buttery yellow mixture.
Droplets hit her skin and form small crusts
among archipelagos of freckles.

She’s positioned her radio by the stove
and between songs, the cartoon
her daughter’s watching in the living room
competes with the early morning announcer:

on the first Christmas Day, the angels
promised peace and good will on Earth.
She downs another sherry, her hand
less steady on the wooden spoon.

Her husband comes in, flushed from his walk,
a sprig of mistletoe tucked in his cap.
Though his affair happened last Christmas,
her eyes stiffen: you whore of a man.

He blames the drink for shifting her
into the sickness of every woman
he wants to leave behind. She doesn’t make it
to dinner and their child is left to wonder why

when she’s seen the béchamel burnt to flakes
in the pan, her father tells her don’t go
in the bathroom because your mother’s been
at the sauce and hurled it all over the floor.

 

Voters comments included:

Level of detail. And keeping us waiting for the pun, pointing up the desperation.

[her] style is magical and gets me travelling every time I read her poems.

I like [it] for its lyricism and its emotional punch. The poem flows beautifully too…

Deft and painful, beautifully worded.

…a gloriously detailed depiction of domestic emotional turmoil at Christmastime.

oh yes I remember it well typical christmas…

I love its strength – the steady transition from control to loss thereof, and marbled with sexual innuendo. That’s a lot to juggle all the way through.

 

However, in addition to our December Pick we also wanted to have an Honorary one for the whole year. When Scottish poet and musician John Mackie died on 23rd December 2016, his poem ‘The 25th’ had already been chosen for IS&T ‘s ’12 Days Of Christmas’ series and was, appropriately, posted on Christmas Day. His support of the feature was total; his was the first ‘Like’ that our first ’12 Days Of…’ post on the 22nd received on Facebook.

IS&T editor Helen Ivory had already put ‘The 25th’ forward as one of her choices for December’s Pick of the Month shortlist. In light of all this, then, we felt it would be right to honour John separately and have donated £10, the usual ‘prize’ for our monthly Picks, to one of the charities he supported, Erskine: Caring for Veterans.

Our condolences go out to his family and friends and, in his memory, we reprint his poem below:

 

The 25th

How the hell
do they do that
year after year
on the morning of
this Decemberfest purloined
from Mithra;

timed to perfection
best bib and tucker
yellow beaks gleaming
posing for presents
promising nirvana
if I feed them now
tip tapping my conscience
and memory of you?

it’s a bit of a struggle
I am still in Jajouka
seeing off the goat boy
with the screaming of pipes
or lost in the Latin
some other God mumbled
to justify incense
and the rose window at Chartres

but hey here you are
at my feast for one and his cat
even though it’s been years
since I laid you a place,
how do you do that,
turn up
without smelling as bad
as you did
when we burned you
at Buckie on medical advice?

the children are scattered
London, Bonn, Rome
they remember you differently
as careless of them
as though your cancer was wilful –
was it so hun? I know that it forced me
to a series of metaphors
still point, rock, tower of strength
I never wanted, am trying still to melt them
as much as I loved you please go away
and take your Christmas blackbirds
with you

 

John Mackie lived in Aberdeenshire. He had been published in a range of media since the 1960s and you can find his more recent work in Scotia Extremis, Poetry Scotland, The Poets’ Republic, Clear Poetry and Spotify.

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Christian Wethered’s ‘Blade’ is our Pick of the Month for November

 

Maybe it was the sense of speed, the need to leave it all behind and yet remain ‘weirdly still in the centre’, but Christian Wethered’s ‘Blade’ raced home to be Ink Sweat & Tears’ Pick of the Month for November 2016.

‘Blade’ is one of IS&T’s entries for the 2017 Forward Prizes For Poetry Best Single Poem Award.

Christian, 29, works in London as a freelance tutor and musician. He was a finalist in the Aesthetica Creative Works competition and the Decanto Poetry Competition. He has also been published in The Penwood Review and The Caterpillar.

Christian has asked that his £10 prize be donated to The Samaritans and will also, in the spirit of the season, receive a complimentary copy of our Christmas anthology TWELVE: Slanted Poems for Christmas.

 

Blade

Sometimes you can ride it, like in Texas when
you put your foot down and we flew, the screen
and mirrors all enveloping, sucking and flapping
the horizons in its corners, and then just for a few
minutes we were the vanishing point as desert stretched
and bended and we were weirdly still in the centre,
the constant motion and suspense, the sheer possibility
of it all in a perfect cycle, our wheels spinning still

 

 

Voters comments included:

 

Beautiful and escapist. Atmospheric. Reads like a journey away from the cold and the dark.

Liked the idea of becoming a vanishing point and the image of the desert being distorted and wrapped around.

Love the open road! This poem was a welcome thought break during the work day.

Beautiful imagery – a real sense of movement whilst being still, very clever.

Gets my vote because it makes me cry!

Loved its sense of motion and perspective!

Haunting, I feel like it echoes

It makes me yearn for feelings I haven’t experienced yet.

 

 

 

 

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‘Tree Surgery’ by Sally Beets is your Pick of the Month for October 2016

 

It was a tightly fought contest and from a dark and sombre shortlist, Sally Beets’ wonderfully caustic ‘Tree Surgery’ emerged as the overall winner and Pick of the Month for October. Maybe we all just needed to vent!

Sally is a poet and Young Adult fiction writer. She is completing a Masters in Children’s Literature and Creative writing at Goldsmiths University where she has had several pieces published in student publications.  She has worked as a teacher in the past and is involved in various local literacy charities and projects based in London.

 

Tree Surgery

I was growing tired of trees, already,
before the end. Tired of going to nature reserves, forests,
woods, with your tree index book, looking up words in
Latin: Quercuis ilex, rubra, robur,
chasing after your over-excitable stinking dogs,
that muddied and laddered my tights,
or worse, when you produced that battered bat detector.

Everything comes back to trees: breath, literature, doors: the
furniture of life. Your calloused hands
always smelt and felt like bark,
your hair too – that space between your neck and
hairline, it was like that forest in Centre Parcs
where we went together, and then I alone, ‘escaping’,
(my chest tight in the healthy air)
– fresh, smelling faintly of damp sweat from
a freezing wrapped up winter walk.

Your favourite is the Oak. Like you, I thought:
classic, strong, reliable. You, the least complicated of men/
Even trees understand you –
Like the one you climbed in Epping Forest
and shouted from that you were king of the world, while
I refused to join in.
I’ve always liked willows: reflective, flexible, lazy.
Like the one where we had that perfect Indian Summer
picnic and made love next to cows in the stream, there was a
wedding just beyond the hedge.

I retain knowledge against my will, on how to
fell or pollard a tree. I know that they go into shock,
how they heal themselves, how you studied that tree
like an archaeologist, in Grace’s garden in Essex,
twisted like hair, it wormed its way in and
out of the ground, how you found a body
hanged from a tree in Hampstead Heath.

*****

Voters’ comments included:

An extraordinary poem with alarming and poignant imagery.

Painful yet beautiful.

I especially like the way, in this poem, the poet creates very painterly bucolic scenes with an economy of language. I also like the depiction of common everyday activities which are suddenly shot through with darker notes.

Brilliantly combines the allusive with the particular – the poem draws you in as it opens out.

I like trees and this poem takes a surprising way to show us what the title means with respect to a relationships – both literally & figuratively.

 

 

 

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Our Pick of the Month for September 2016 is ‘Leda Meets Helen’ by Angharad Walker

 

A surge in voting in the final hours saw Angharad Walker just pip her nearest rival at the post with her moving ‘Leda Meets Helen’, a superb example of how much can be said in only a few words.

Angharad graduated from the University of Warwick with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing in 2013. She lives and works in London.

She has asked that her £10 prize be donated to the Pembroke Unit Fund of the Salisbury District Hospital Stars Appeal

 

Leda Meets Helen

She is fresh on this globe from my globed belly and I am too scared to look. I dread the moment she opens her eyes. She could have his black beads.

I unwrap her. Not a feather in sight. I turn her over and over with delight, run my fingers over her human down. Her toes are angular, unwebbed. Her neck cannot hold up her head. Her lips are soft, pink, unfed.

I will never teach her to swim.

I will never dress her in white.

 

*****

Voters comments included:

The story behind the brevity is compelling – full of contradictory feelings of fear and attraction. Stunning compression of language.

A whole world, a whole myth, and what it’s like to greet your newborn, in so few words. A beautiful poem!

I like the uncertain direction of the poem.

It really spoke to my heart.

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Eliot North’s ‘My Mother Visits the Dissection Room’ is Pick of the Month for August 2016

August’s Pick of the Month comes with the wonderfully quirky title ‘My Mother Visits the Dissection Room‘ which in itself demands that you read it. And it is clear from our voters’ response to it that the poem does not disappoint!

My Mother Visits the Dissection Room‘ is one of IS&T’s entries for the 2017 Forward Prizes For Poetry Best Single Poem Award.

Eliot North is a doctor, educator and writer who lives and works in the North East. Commended in the National Poetry Competition 2014, she made The Crab Man into a Filmpoem with artist and filmmaker Alastair Cook. She loves to collaborate.

Eliot has asked that her £10 prize be donated to the mental health charity MIND.

 

My Mother Visits the Dissection Room

She said she wanted to go there.
So I pulled some strings,
read her the rules.
“Sensible shoes?” she said.
“Yes Mother. Plus clothes
you don’t mind ruined.
Fixers, they don’t wash out.
The smell will get you,
but not of death. More chemicals
like wax and rubber.”
But my mother, being my mother
didn’t seem to mind.
Walked right up to the
plastic head,
stuck her hand inside.
“You won’t even know
I’m here,” she said.
Pulled on a dark-blue lab coat.
Watched closely
as I unzipped the body bag,
revealed cavities and cages.
Stood on tiptoes to peer inside,
scribbled in her notebook.
So I placed a stool
three feet away;
her territory and mine.
When the students filed in
they looked at her,
the older woman with colourful shoes.
Whilst I quizzed the students,
she daubed her paints.
At the end they crowded round her.
Admired her line and
brave use of colour
whilst I put the organs back.
As the students left
she called out to them.
“Call me Poppy!” she cried.
They waved from the door.
“Weren’t they interesting?
What a wonderful body,
all those nooks and crannies.”
I slung the heart in a plastic bag.
Looked at my watch
before herding her out.
Then as we went to the door
she turned round and said,
“Shall we say the same time next week?”

 

Author’s Note: My mother has never actually visited the Dissection Room.

 

 

Voters comments included:

Original quirky and wonderful blend of mood/tone

…it’s a poem which jiggles my thoughts on what a poem is – quietly insightful, gentle, humourous and kindly observant (with a wry smile) and for the beautifully timed line ‘you won’t even know I’m here’

An intriguing subject and some subtle humour.

funny, poignant

Witty and enjoyable read!

Quirky perky tone. Very visual and full of action.

I can just picture this event!

I liked it’s vivid-ness

The colourful character of the mum is clearly conveyed.

I love the contrasting view from the mum, I love the lyrical flow and I love the meter

 

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And the Pick of the Month for July 2016 is Theophilus Kwek’s ‘Psalm 19 ‘

It was a particularly powerful and emotional shortlist this month out of which Theophilus Kwek’s transcendent ‘Psalm 19’ emerged as the overall winner.

Theo is the author of three collections, They Speak Only Our Mother Tongue (2011), Circle Line (2013), and Giving Ground (2016). He won the Jane Martin Prize in 2015 and the New Poets Prize in 2016, and was president of the Oxford University Poetry Society.

He has asked that his £10 prize be donated to First Story, the charity that changes lives through writing.

 

Psalm 19

To the Fathers at the Paris Seminary
Jean-Marie Beurel, Priest, Church of the Good Shepherd, Singapore

On still days, when this meridian city
becomes an image of itself – masts
hung with cloud on the water, sky

turned to stone above white cornices –
I lock the church, and, skirting the yard, go
past the padang with its whinnying horses,

through orchards’ shade, across the narrow weir
where streets run out beyond the forest’s edge
and find, just a little north of here

cathedral silence, and a leaf-stained light
lifted as prayer into the trees’ transept
to join branches with the flood and flight

of tropical birds, like a jewel intact.
Wonder with me: how faith follows sight
in this small harbour, where the rich and wrecked

gather to be blessed at journey’s end,
sand’s soft language fills the buttress roots
and wears our feet like another land.

Here He is, still. God of the distance
and river’s overflow, stars’ luminescence.
Harvest’s full, fell hour. First snow.

 

*Psalm 19 was first published in Giving Ground (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2016)

*********

Voters’ comments included:

Hard decision, I loved them all…But admire Kwek’s ability to blend natural and supernatural, make us feel intimations of divine in the everyday; and courage to name it.

Original and haunting

Such vivid imagery throughout and the last stanza is simply stunning.

Great poem, very evocative of both source and Singapore then and now. And his way with words….

The imagery and use of language is beautiful and consistent with the Central theme and subject matter. The use of language speaks volumes of the sense of space and place. Contemplative, lovely and hopeful, this is a beautiful poem that is both clever and soul-filling.

The beauty of the language of the psalms is portrayed here in this poet’s song. It gives rise to a myriad of emotions and languages, evoking a swell of admiration as it reflects the creator’s marvelling of his Creator and resonates with his recognition of how small he is in comparison to the One whom he deems praiseworthy of All. A lovely piece; spellbound.

This poem combines words in surprisingly evocative ways, creating images that stay in the mind. “sand’s soft language” and “leaf-stained light” are among my favourites. the flow of the lines is precise, carefully balanced and all the energy is built from the poem’s core and brought to a graceful finish at the end, quite like a meditation and the release of breath.

Beautifully textured! I am deeply moved.

That stunning last line.

Artful and impactful portrait

I just like the imagery. The scenes´description is reflective and perceptive of the transcendent, in a positive way that uplifts.

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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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