Thursday 8 August 2019

G. S. Fraser Prize: Winning Poems

The G. S. Fraser Prize is an annual poetry competition for students at the University of Leicester. This year's winner was Jane Simmons, and Colin Gardiner received an honourable mention. You can read their poems below. 

Jane Simmons is a former teacher/lecturer who has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. She is now a PhD student at the university of Leicester, where her research project is The Poetics and Politics of Motherhood, a practice-led exploration of motherhood through an environmental and political lens, engaging with the theme creatively and as it is treated in contemporary women’s poetry. As a reviewer for The Blue Nib literary magazine, Jane has built a significant publication history of writing about contemporary women’s poetry. A small selection of her own poems appeared in the March 2019 edition of the magazine. Her collection From Darkness into Light – poems inspired by the Book of Kells – was published in 2018. Further poems will appear in two anthologies to be published by Pimento Press, also in 2019: The View from the Steep, and Seasonal Poems from Pimento Poets. Jane regularly reads/performs her work in the Lincoln area. 

Never After

In that hard winter to end all winters,
small birds fell frozen from an Arctic sky.
My mother fitted bolts to all the doors
against the thieves who would come in the night,
stood astride the claw-footed bath, pouring
scalding water down the swollen, ice-bound pipes,
while her bitter tears fell, jittered, skittered
like hailstones across the bathroom lino
to ricochet off the peeling skirting-boards.
I scrabbled after them, strung them on a necklace,
worried at them through the wide-awake nights
when a witch’s wind wailed in the chimney
and the big, bad wolf howled outside our door.

Maternal Line

Emily, daughter of Jane, daughter of Ella,
daughter of Jane, daughter of Eliza-Ann,
daughter of Eliza, daughter of Mary,
but Mary – what of her, before her, before all.?

All daughters of county and countryside,
chalk hills, clay levels, and rolling wolds, 
flat fenlands, of big skies and wide vistas,
and circumscribed lives – following, following,

footsteps of mothers, footsteps of men
farm to farm, field to fold, hawthorn-time 
to harvest, harvest to hiring, hiring 
to hiring, hiring to work to work-house.

Mothers of the living, mothers of the dead,
mothers of sons tried at county assizes,
poor widows bought cloaks from parish funds,
all trudging from hardship to hardship,

through village after village after village,
medieval, Viking, Anglo-Saxon, and back –
through tons and hams, through thorpes and tofts,
through bys, along byways – to bye and beyond.

Colin Gardiner is currently studying an MA in creative writing at the University of Leicester. He is originally from Birmingham and now lives in Coventry.

High Street Blues

My closed-circuit eyes focus on the line
Of butterscotch clouds melting in plum skies.
In this new dawn, ginger tom stretches, yawns.
Indifferent to raspberry school-run horns.

Treacle traffic blocks my arterial streets.
Slap of church-bell heart attack thunders
Through the pale snooze of the cemetery.
A soundtrack to my Monday high-street blues.

Soft-focus on doorway shadows. Cardboard
Bed is shed in a methylated shrug.
Alcoholic Scorpio, water sign.
Sorrows drowned in a foam of Special Brew.

Quick cut to convoy of caffeinated
Parents, herding squabbling sisters and
Brothers through academy doors. Floors
Confected with litter and unicorn glitter.

Lens-flare flash on a green baby-buggy.  
Pushed neatly, discreetly crossing the road.
Narrowly missing the crates of fruit and
Vegetables. Chased by coarse market curses.

Flash cut to wild-haired earth mother, reeking
Of essential oils. With a wide-eyed child
In hand. Running from a Co-op spillage.
Calamity Jane denies any damage.

Lavender dusk falls. I wear my shroud of
Sodium. My myopic yellow lights
Flicker and strobe in the wake of rush hour.
Chip-shop breeze in greasy hair of tired trees.

Late-night edit of leopard skins and white
Shirts, who colonise safe spaces in a
Conga-line stagger. Not like Jagger. A
Smithereen carpet for Uber hangovers.  

Post-club fade on brazen foxes, frozen
Under broken swings. Howling lullabies.
Savouring scraps blown in ghost-town whispers
Of my decline. Camera now off-line.

The Canal Knows

I walked from the car. I was fly-tipping
the contents of my head onto the 
towpath. I followed the incantation 
of traffic from the flyover.
The dissonant notes and drifting motes were 
commas, suspended in the heat-haze.
A languorous puzzle. I joined the dots 
for a while. 

As I walked beside the stillness, I traced 
a liquorice line that trickled through 
the veins of the city. 
I came upon a minor hex, 
a prickling cloud of midges, seething in 
the prism of shattered rear-view mirrors.

The manspread of pylons played snakes 
and ladders with the long grass,
their power-stance loomed over scrapyards. 
I followed a winding ley-line, that led 
me through skeletons of warehouses,
the occult pulse of power stations,
and rows of drunken locks.

A clearing in the bushes revealed an 
aviary of cans and bottles.
Sunken treasure. A meth nest, best left 
Then suddenly a sodden pirate   
staggered into view. With laminated 
eyes, he was screaming at the sky,
‘They're frying up the sea life centre.’

I slipped away through weeds yielding to the 
mid-day breeze. Secret machines were sleeping 
by the disused railway track, deluded 
in their dreams of reactivation.

I paused by the paper-mill. A pair of 
geese eyed me warily. They were guarding
their little pool. They were celebrating
their union in oil-slicked water. 
I held up my camera. Their hissed curses 
chased me through the mire.

I stumbled through the bramble and the shade.
Before me stood a signal box, 
pebbledashed with pigeon shit.
Humming with mysterious potential.
A transmission down a copper wire. 
A broadcast to the wildflowers growing 
in lacunas of corroded coil sprigs. 

I heard the music in the echoes of 
the basin. A phantom wall of noise 
caressing curving concrete. Spaghetti 
intertwined. The tunnel whispered:
‘Have I seen you here before?’

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