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
& 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.

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