And our Pick of the Month for December is ‘the cumquats of christmas past’ by Ali Whitelock

 

All you want for December’s Pick of the Month is ‘the cumquats of christmas past’. This strong and beautiful poem by Ali Whitelock had a profound effect on the voters and, for many, left a powerful impression long after reading it. It was, quite simply, an ‘incredibly moving’ picture of grief.

Ali’s poems have been published in several magazines and journals. Her memoir, poking seaweed with a stick…. was published to critical acclaim and her poetry collection, and my heart crumples like a coke can will be released in 2018.

‘the cumquats of christmas past’ has been chosen as one of Ink Sweat & Tears’ entries for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2018

 

the cumquats of christmas past

you hailed your taxi tuesday the eight––
eenth of february 2014 at four twenty seven p.m.
i watched it approach swerve to the kerb
its back doors fly open––if this was death i saw it
crouched behind the wheel & jaded as a night
shift driver full of red bull & no doz & cheap 7/11
coffee ten thousand cigarette butts spewing
from its ashtray’s filthy mouth
the driver bundled you in––no fanfare
no prayers no bach cantata sung in sotto voce
that might accompany you on the fresh black
tarmac of your new road ahead––& nothing
soft for you to lay your head on
just a cracked vinyl seat stale cigarette
smoke a strawberry scented christmas tree jiggling
like a tea bag from the rear view mirror. i lay my
hand on yours leaned in whispered something like
i’m sorry made sure your pyjama sleeves were clear
of the door before pressing it closed as the first
bubbles of fermenting sadness rose in me
and i forced them down like cumquats into a jar
filled with brandy in preparation for christmas
which was still ten months away & for weeks i kept
cramming till the skins of my cumquats tore
their flesh bled out & you could no longer
tell where one cumquat ended & another
began
& when finally christmas came i half
decked my halls whispered infrasonic compliments
of the season too low even for a passing whale hung
empty stockings from the mantle their gaping mouths
speechless by the un-kindled fire & when finally
lunch was served & those of us left were gathered over
turkey & ham i took my jar of preserved cumquats
from the dark of my pantry, made my way around
the table & heaped everyone’s plate with a side of my
compressed orange grief.

 

 

Voters comments included:

The grief is palpable. The writing easy but descriptive and efficient. Almost overwhelmingly sad but controlled,acknowledged and accepted

The cumquats of grief that’s why – how they pack in more around Christmas, preserved, ever jammed.

The concept of Ali’s grief being squished down like cumquats in a jar totally hit the note – and spooning them out at Christmas just about finished me…! Absolutely loved it.

Very evocative language! What a wordsmith!!

Ali’s work really captures the crystal prisms of December

I love Ali’s breathless ramblings that cut closer and closer to the bone with savagely unscrambled line. Great stuff

Very emotional felt the grief of the writer

A quirky, punchy and powerful poem. Works very effectively – love it!

I can see, smell and taste the cumquats.

love the syntax, imagery, emotion

It punches me in the stomach and I love it.

Ali’s voice is so original yet speaks to the heart of what is Universal. She’s a thrilling find!!

it was the perfect portrait of the cab driver. such compassion for him while drawing this ghastly portrait.

The poem dealt with grief in such an original way. Many of the lines stayed with me long after I read it. Very original and moving. Would love to read more of Ali Whitelock’s work.

This poem combines wonderful lyricism with a visceral use of the vernacular. It is an intimate telling which is what poetry should be

Brilliant, brilliant soulful writing!

I adore her quirky poetry, it makes me want to read more (and get to know her!)

I love the way this poem flows, without rules and she captures the approach of death in a sad and unique way

This poem resonates emotion … the grief is palpable but not obvious in the chosen words. Original. Creative. Yet totally relatable.

Simply a wonderful poem that does the very tricky thing of making another person’s loss and grief so tangible and visceral to the reader. The details: eg. making sure pyjama sleeves were clear of the taxi door which is then pressed close like the lid on the jar of cumquats. Breathtakingly good.

Read More

November’s Pick of the Month is ‘Frequency Violet’ by Kate Edwards

As ever it was a close-run contest but ‘Frequency Violet’ charmed the voters and Kate Edwards’ poem is our Pick of the Month for November 2017. With comments such as ‘unique and interesting’, ‘quirky’ and ‘playful’, we think everyone just lost their hearts a little!

Kate lives in the Calder Valley in Yorkshire but hails from the Black Country. She is a graduate of the Warwick University Masters in Writing Programme and Co-Artistic Director of all-female theatre company, Jammy Voo.  Twitter: @k8_in_space

‘Frequency Violet’ was chosen as one of Ink Sweat & Tears’ entries for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2018 and was Highly Commended. It will feature in The Forward Book of Poetry 2019 available from Faber here.

 

Frequency Violet

Some have misgivings about Violet. They believe
she is on the spectrum; somewhere at the very end,
in fact. None can account for it but we’re told
she hums inaudibly in the octave of ozone, and lives
in an airlock, loiters in restricted zones, makes
uncanny utterances, keeps marine snails, crushes
pencils into graphite dust, dances like it’s the seventies,
tattoos the world’s conspiracy theories onto uterine vellum,
stays up all night smoothing polymers under strip lights,
blinking. Rumours insist she has an eye for tactical missile
design and stockpiles blueprints, knows how to execute
the perfect gem heist and leave fingerprints all over it.
Her party trick will make volatile hearts and auras
of loneliness glow in the dark; despondency shine black.
Dreams of Violet often precede a wedding or a gas attack.

 

More voters comments below:

Gorgeous, delicate, efficient and bold. Love this. Stayed with me.

Imagery, rhythm, language, detail, originality

It’s just such an unusual and clever poem, I loved the originality of it.

I love the narrative in Kate’s work and the definitiveness that runs through it. It also has a sense of playfulness that delights the reader.

Violet stuns and surprises. The last line is particularly wonderful!

Because I’m in love with Violet…

I just really like it. Despite being unable to describe why. I guess I just like Violet 🙂

As someone trained in science I love how scientific integrity is maintained without compromising poetic sensibility. It’s beautifully nuanced, each line vibrating at the right frequency.

Wonderfully imaginative writing

The opening mis-direction and then the mixture of science and wonderful absurdity. Brilliant

Kate’s words jump off the page and suck you into an imaginative vortex. Her images sing and I want to read more please.

Tough choice this month! I love the energy and humour of Kate’s poem

I love its surprises, its wit and danger.

There’s just a life to this piece and it seems to be staying alive in my head as I find myself coming back to thinking about it.

 

 

 

Read More

October’s Pick of the Month is ‘The night that takes our shape’ by Phil Powrie

 

Phil Powrie’s ‘The night that takes our shape’, an ‘evocative, melancholy and beautiful’ poem is a much deserved Pick of the Month for October 2017.  This dark and haunting poem struck a chord with many who felt it was one for our times; its reach even went as far as Charlottesville in the US.

Phil writes books on French cinema, and teaches cinema and French at a university in the south of the UK. He has published poetry in South.

 

The night that takes our shape

afraid to abandon behind us the night that takes our shape
holding our candles like flickering flags
here am I a soldier here a priest each with a weapon
you march you pray in a patch of light

your limbs pull away like garlands
offered lightly to the clock’s lazy eyes
your hands clasp around mine
and you sing come dance with me come dance again

and march and pray
to hold the night at bay
to keep abstracted dark forever from the field

more than what we lost we regret what we never had
and dark shapes come to haunt us
marching and praying with their unbearable battalions

 

Voters’ comments included:

It is beautiful, so personal and yet so much about our times.

the candles in the night make me think of protests, Nazis with torches, counter protesters (this vote is from Charlottesville). I feel the darkness.

Elegant, succinct, evokes a clear image…

For its mood, and the melancholic form of dim extinguishing.

A refined and all at once unsettling use of the sonnet form

It’s beautifully compressed and suggestive — a small gem.

A powerfully evocative poem , tight, bare and visual

a moving poem, especially the way it sustains the multiple metaphor of darkness

the way it moves through night-time images, sensations and feelings like the mutable shadows one sees in the dark, like a dream.

powerful shifting imagery that avoids the predictable relationships that often render poems staid and overly familiar in their metaphorical usage.

lovely dark poem that fits our dark times and remind us of the need not to despair

I love the beautiful language and the carefully developed metaphors of the soldier and the priest.

An intriguing, suggestive, atmospheric piece of writing that lingers in the mind and repays close attention and rethinking.

…It spoke to me, especially the verse ‘more than what we lost we regret what we never had’. It evoked a friendship I recently lost, or better said never managed to have. This is very true.

A stirring evocation of the paradoxes of night and darkness–rebirth, certainly, but also mourning and loss.

This is a lovely poem that merges images of faith, war, and love.

Read More

Sue Finch’s ‘The Seventh Car Will Be His’ is Pick of the Month for September

As always, it came down to the last few votes but ‘The Seventh Car Will Be His’ by Sue Finch just edged ahead to be Pick of the Month for September. This ‘dark’ ‘sad’ poem drew voters to it because it was ‘extremely visual’ but at the same time much remained unsaid. Ultimately, it left the reader with a sense of unease and forboding

Sue loves North Wales, the sea and being lost inside a film. She is currently completing her MA with MMU. She has asked that her £10 ‘prize’ be donated to Cancer Research UK.

 

The Seventh Car Will Be His

As the raindrops collected on the glass
the old man opposite strolled down his path.
Kneeling on the chair she watched all movement.
Next door’s tatty tabby sat on the kerb
washing methodically behind his ears.
A crisp packet, encouraged by the wind
that brought the rain, turned a somersault
and she wondered if it felt its freedom.
Time had halted in their house since last night;
She didn’t want to hear her breath, admit
she existed or have to move from there.
Only when her brother came to kneel too
could she exhale the sigh that needed to
escape from the jail of her too-taut lungs
It will be alright, he said, sparing her
a glance. Are you sure? she asked not looking.
The seventh car will be his, just you see!
She knew she did not want to see the truth.
The truth was the rabbit hung in the shed,
The truth was the claret blood dropped from its nose –
congealed yet fresh on the stone floor. The truth
wasn’t quite covered by half a blanket.
Multiples of seven came and went and
the old man returned. Not noticing them
he shut his front door and stayed safe inside.
He lit the front room then darkened it again
with his smoothly drawn pleated curtains,
They both knew he was still there, just hidden.
But so too was the lifeless hanging pet.
They sat watching, waiting, not yet crying.

 

Voters’ comments included:

This poem makes me feel as though I am the girl who is shocked at the sight of a dead rabbit. It is easy to imagine myself in the girls shoes, being a child again, watching out of the window, being comforted by my brother. A vivid picture is painted of what can be seen in the street while they are waiting. I like the fact that the biggest shock comes at the end when you realise it is a pet rabbit rather than one that would be used as food. It is atmospheric and dark.

The sense of tragedy and mystery which shimmers with every word.

Extremely visual.

Evocative, sad and beautifully written

So real it hurt.

Strong imagery (rabbit, crisp packet and tatty tabby). The line – Time had halted in their house since last night – is powerful and foreboding.

I love the authenticity and childlike tone which is captured so well in the poem. It keeps resonating inside me.

There is a build up, tension leading toward something unknown, and even then only implied. Very cleverly done.

I like the subtle way it hints at something dark. Fantastic!

Emotive. Perfect. Clever.

Sublime.

…it’s the one that made me stop at the end and just contemplate the most.

Read More

And the Pick of the Month for August 2017 is ‘Cowardice’ by Freya Jackson.

This was a nicely balanced competition with votes and comments across the board but Freya Jackson’s supporters just tipped the balance at the end and her ‘Cowardice’ is Pick of the Month for August. This ‘raw’, ‘visceral’ poem disturbed and disoriented but you found beauty in it too. A very worthy winner and one for our time.

Freya is a 21 year old writer from Leeds, Yorkshire (UK). She has been published in, amongst others, Arc Magazine, The Literateur, Hapex and the A3 Review. She was a finalist for the 2015 Princemere Poetry Prize and Highly Commended for the Binnacle Ultra Short Competition 2016. See here also: http://www.pothook.co.uk

She will receive a National Book Tokens gift card for £10.

 

Cowardice

& I did not even as she was screaming, 2 policemen between
her holding her like the edge of a dam edging into her
onto her but that’s not my business makes me think too
much all the times I was – the woman on the wall
was either screaming or struggling but not both I can’t remember
and my mother said he was probably her boyfriend it
was probably fine don’t panic don’t cry no-one was hurting
her but he was the replay in my head was old stereo she
was screaming or she was struggling but not both I remember
why can’t I remember – it didn’t happen to me nothing happened
though all the fear in my head made me fizzy-drink shock
stuck I either screamed or I didn’t or I didn’t it happened two
three times nothing though he scared me kept following me
couldn’t shake him shake myself in the mirror I knocked on every
door but only one woman answered and my brother looked
afterwards like something awful had happened though the police
didn’t knew it was a waste of their time like they wanted to shake
me as I slotted the pound coin into the dip-centre of my palm
you’re a good girl, aren’t you I kept thinking about Mary before the
fall all dirty feet I’ll never let a man touch me wash me like that didn’t
let him either and he didn’t force me – nothing happened sixteen
and I’m playing at pain walking around suburban Sunday screaming
no-one around but me didn’t know if I was capable of it took too
long like learning to play the flute can’t get a sound out it the breathing’s
all wrong then all at once scream scream scream but no-one left their
house a wasted effort still I should have stopped at least it was like she
was falling in slow motion I thought they were going to hit her but they
didn’t & even if they did I wouldn’t have

 

Voters comments include:

Freya’s mastery of structure gives the poem a great sense of tension by exploiting the cyclical nature of gendered violence. Thoughtful and dynamic, her poem evokes both deep feeling and deep contemplation that relates to issues we must all face. A work made beautiful by its intent.

This is punchy, raw and very brave.

A careful & interesting use of words

The pace and sense of fear it conjures with the hopeless cowardice.

The panic and fear and disjointed thoughts really speak to me – it twists a knife in my gut. That kind of confused impression of something large and horrible and all too real.

The tone is just right – disturbing stuff, and the disturbance resonates in the language used. Lack of punctuation helps sense of disorientation.

Stunning poem

It’s just a beautiful poem

Awesome poem!

Freya’s poems are so vivid, I feel like I’m living the words she writes

 

Read More

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.

 

 

Read More

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

Read More