And your Pick of the Month for December 2018 is Catherine Ayres and ‘Christmas Eve tea’

*The word ‘beautiful’ was repeated over and over in the comments and, although it is a word sometimes overused when describing poetry, in this instance it felt just right and voters made ‘Christmas Eve tea’ by Catherine Ayres the IS&T Pick of the Month for December 2018.

Catherine is a teacher from Northumberland. Her debut collection, Amazon, was published in 2016 by Indigo Dreams.

She has asked that her £10 ‘prize’ be donated to Cancer Research UK.


Christmas Eve tea

5 o’clock.
Light silvers the sill.
This is the season of curious moons,
when we’re lost in the velvet of ourselves,
undreaming the deep nights
 between tomorrow and the past.

Rooms flower slowly, like stars.

Here are steep steps,
a hexagon of doors,
two china dogs guarding
the gas fire’s slapped cheeks.

I find the Smarties tube of tuppences.
I shake the Virgin so the Holy Water swirls.
I am allowed to sink my face
into the Sunday furs.

In the kitchen,
a clutch of pinnied women
makes the china clink.

Cold meats,
salad from a tin.

This is not a photograph –
it’s the warm edge of the past
where the women I love
are still alive.

I thought life would slot
into a snug line
by the sink.

My kitchen is neat and cold.
Light silvers the sill.
At the window, stars.


Voters comments included:

The imagery of such a common place event comes through in an extraordinary manner in a beautiful aesthetic flow.

Strong images and I love the shape and mood of this poem

Best evocation of the past I have ever read – love the warmth and softness of it and remembered especially the 3 lines after ‘this is not a photograph’

Her use of description is incredible.

So effectively describes that slip through time where memory is the only way to get to people and things that are no longer actually here. I love the contrast between the warmth and coldness.

It’s a lovely light touch with a deeper sentiment

‘The warm edge of the past’ is so evocative of a world we have lost – the sense of a community that no longer exists, a momentary glimpse. This so delicately expresses those times when history briefly superimposes itself upon the present like a ghost. Beautiful.

The spare quality of her vocabulary underpins the universal ache of nostalgia without descending into bathos.

a lovely neat, crisp poem with lots to say in few lines

It is the essence of nostalgia without a shred of sentimentality, the smarties tube, China dogs and pinkies . Women I feel I knew.

I love the simplicity and yet the layered complexity of Catherine’s poem. She is able to convey emotion in the most creative ways for example ‘lost in the velvet of ourselves’. You can’t quite describe what that means whilst at the same time I know exactly what she means. Her words hit a sense that needs no other explanation – I immediately know what she means – like some long lost melody that we suddenly remember in our hearts.

This poem has a nostalgic feel to it but is written in a modern form. It is satisfying to read but leaves me thinking about the themes for a long time.

Like many of the best poems, this one is rooted in precise detail but at the same time leaves space for the reader to bring their own memories. I loved reading this on Christmas Eve.

Right from the first line, this poem is full of Christmas imagery – spare use of words with no shortage of story. A back-story that is nostalgic and a present that is cold and yearning – repeating the first line as the penultimate line, launches the final line full of hope.

It was the magic she found in the every day, the lightness of touch with the nostalgia across generations that also felt universal, inclusive and comforting to me as a reader. It was hard to choose between this and ‘Narrowing’, but this one just had the edge in terms of seeming positive and enchanting.

It’s such a beautiful, economical evocation of a woman’s life – and her connection with a previous generation of women.

This poem took me to a place that was at once full of something beautiful and consumed by sorrow.

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