Monthly Archives: January 2020

In Which Poetry Restores My Sense of Self

I feel more like my real self this week: it’s been a week full of poetry, a week that began with a walk alongside a frozen canal with Amie and the Cockerpoos. I’ll be doing this again later today.

a walk alongside the canal, Uppermill to Diggle

As for poetry, the Poets & Players competition closed at midnight on Tuesday. I had a steady stream of entries to my inbox all day. By midnight I had about 250 new entries to process; and an unreliable internet. I did what I could in the short windows it gave me, so I’m now down to the last 50 or so. By the end of this week, they will all be winging their way through time and space to Sinead Morrisey, our judge. Then the wait for the results: watch this space. It seems to have been a record entry this year, so a big P&P thank you all who entered; and good luck.

I’ve been reading the book of essays Hilary Robinson gave me for Christmas: Rishi Dastidar’s The Craft (Nine Arches Press, 2019). It’s a good read. Favourite essays so far have been ‘I Will Put Chaos into Fourteen Lines and Keep Him There: On the Sonnet’ by Jacqueline Saphra and ‘Writing Poems Can Be Real Cool: On the Golden Shovel’ by Peter Kahn. There’s an interesting exercise at the back by Saphra to go with her chapter: she suggests fourteen rhyming words to use at the end of each line of a sonnet, to be written in iambic pentameter, with the traditional abba cddc efgefg rhyme scheme of the Petratchan sonnet. No prompt at the back from Kahn, but his chapter asks us to always be alert to lines of poetry—or prose—that will provide Golden Shovel, so my notebook is at the ready

Yesterday, Saturday was the best poetry day of all: it was the Poets&Players event at the Whitworth Art Gallery on Oxford Road, Manchester. The day began with a workshop run by Jo Shapcott. There were only two exercises in the workshop, but they were engaging. First, as a warm up, we were asked to write down a favourite word and a type of weather that says something about us. I wrote down ‘longing’: the first word that popped into my head; and ‘sunshine’ because it’s been a grey, grey week for weather and I’m a summer person. Then we had to write a ‘very short poem’, a haiku for instance, including those two words and a catastrophic event to finish it with. All this in fourteen syllables? I’ll write my attempt at the end of the blog. The second activity was more involved. We read ‘Kintsugi’ by Rebecca Perry (from Beauty/Beauty, Bloodaxe 2015). Kintsugi is a Japanese word, it describes that Japanese craft of mending broken pottery with gold, to make the mend—and the piece of pottery—more beautiful as a result of the break. The poem is about a broken relationship, and the mending of self by the narrator. It’s a beautiful poem. Next we lucky-dipped two ‘fortune cookies’ with foreign words and their meanings. I dipped ‘Eomchina’—which I read as ‘ee-om-chee-nah’, a Korean word meaning ‘Mum’s friend’s son’ in the negative sense of mothers being competitive and comparing their own sons to their friends’ sons, usually in a derogarory way to encourage them to do better. The second word was the Swedish word ‘Gökotta’ meaning to wake up early in order to go outdoors and listen to the first birdsong of the day. We had to put these words into a poem; or at least the sentiment behind them becasue we couldn’t use the word itself. I’ll maybe include a stanza of my effort at the end too.

The afternoon event was wonderful. Chris Davies, musician and fellow founder of Poets&Players, provided the ‘Player’ element yesterday. His first contribution was a flute piece evocative of the natural world, haunting and exotic, sounding of rainforests and birdsong. There were words too, spiritual spoken words. A second, supporting performer, Bisakha Sarker, interpreted the words and music in Indian dance. It was beautiful, graceful movement, as you’d expect from Indian dancing, Bisakha’s whole body to the tips of her fingers expressing the dance. What a wonderful start to the afternoon.

Bisakha Sarker dancing to the music of Chris Davies

Our poets were Jennifer Lee Tsai, Kim Moore and Jo Shapcott. Jennifer read from her pamphlet Kismet (Ignition Press), poems that address the conflict between her Chinese and English heritages. ‘River Mersey’ is ‘a geography of otherness’, a dedication to her grandfather who arrived as an immigrant into Liverpool. ‘Self Portrait at Four Years Old’ describes her sense of that same ‘otherness’ growing up as the only Chinese child in her primary school, where her uniform was ‘grey like an English sky’. It’s a sad poem of loneliness and difference: ‘I am learning how to be silent,’ she read. She explained how her father was concerned about her love of books because ‘the Cantonese word for book sounds like the word for to lose’. That seems wholly appropriate to me, as a book is a thing to get lost in.

Next reader was Kim Moore. Kim is a superwoman, juggling the disparate roles of poet, poetry teacher, PhD research student and new mother. There’s a photo that illustrates her super-human power on her website: Baby Ally came to the reading and not a peep; perhaps she’s a poet in the growing? Kim read from her collection The Art of Falling (Seren 2015), and from her PhD portfolio, which will become her second collection All the Men I Never Married. Personal favourites are ‘The Trumpet Teacher’s Curse’: ‘a curse on the boy who threw up in his baritone/as if it was his own personal bucket.’ Every cursed thing in the poem actually happened in her years as a peripatetic music teacher in Cumbria. She read from a section of the book which addresses domestic violence, poems it’s difficult to hear: ‘And in that year I gave up on all the things/I was promised and left myself to sadness.’ The new work is different, still retaining Kim’s sense of humour, but addressing casual sexism and female desire. So far she has written about forty of the men she never married. Her PhD is coming to an end early this year, so will there be more? I look forward to buying the book.

After a short comfort break we had a second input of music from Chris Davies, this time incorporating a poem, ‘Frisco’, by the late Linda Chase, co-founder of Poets&Players. It was good to hear Linda’s lovely voice again; she’s still sadly missed by everyone who knew her. Poets&Players wouldn’t even be a thing without Linda’s creative genius. There’s a recording of ‘Frisco’ on our website:
Chris used an instrument called a hangpan, a kind of steel drum, but held on the knee and played with the hands. It’s sound was sometimes like a harp, sounding plucked, sometimes a harder sound more reminiscent of a steel drum. He told me hangpans are made in Switzerland and you have to go to the factory/workshop to buy one, to find the one that best suits you.

The afternoon ended with a wonderful reading by Jo Shapcott, our headline poet: She read about Emily Wilding Davison. She’s most famous for being the suffragette who threw herself under the King’s horse; but Jo reminded us that Davison was a fearless campaigner for women’s suffrage, and her poem describes Davison hiding in a cupboard in the Houses of Parliament on the night of the 1911 census, so she could record her home address as the Houses of Parliament. No matter how frustrating the political situation gets, we should never waste our vote, because it was hard-won.  Jo also read a couple of poems about having to visit Guy’s hospital in London, the hospital where John Keats had been a surgeon. Her poems are imaginings of Keats being her surgeon there: ‘…let me feel your pulse for axioms’. Well, that line went into my notebook straightaway: what a good line for one of Kahn’s ‘golden shovels’! I’ll definitely be trying that on for size.

I love weeks like this, when my life fills to the brim with poems. Our next event at the Whitworth is on February 22nd: with the poets J O Morgan and Maria Stepanova, with Sasha Dugdale as translator, music from Phil France. It promises to be another good event. Will I see you there?

Here are the pieces—very early drafts, draft 0—I produced in Jo Shapcott’s workshop yesterday morning.

This veiled sunshine is
longing for eggs frying on
pavements, melting wings.

And next is one stanza of the poem from the second activity: I think it was inspired by the news this week that a long-lost painting of Lowry’s has sold for in excess of £2,000,000. How noble is that for a ‘hobby’? I recently watched the film ‘Mrs Lowry and Son’, and she spent her life ruing the day her husband scuppered her middle-class aspirations through his mounting debt, forcing their move to a shabby mill district of Salford. She reminded me of Bill’s mum. Bill was an architect in his working life, an unlikely profession for a man from working class Manchester. His mum couldn’t appreciate what it took to achieve this and she used to say ‘He should have been a car mechanic, he was always good with his hands.’

L S Lowry’s mother said
he should stop wasting his time
on useless hobbies,
leave his easel, get a proper job.
Knocking doors for rent arrears
is more noble than painting
teeming millworkers,
common as warehouse rats.

Rachel Davies
January 2020 

…say nothing

For the first time since I started my blogspot in 2015, I am lost for words. Now the PhD is done, I have noting to say; and my old Aunt Mary used to say, ‘if you have nothing to say, say nothing.’ I’m in a wonderful and unusual state of having nothing extraordinary to write about. I’ve had a most boring week of not much happening; although I’ve responded to several poetry opportunities, so I know it’s just a short dearth. I did go walking with Amie and the Cockerpoos a couple of times along the canal from Uppermill to Diggle for coffee and doggy sausages at Grandpa Greene’s: we managed to avoid the worst excesses of Storm Brendan, although the towpath was very muddy after all the recent rain. 

And then on Friday I went into Manchester with my poetry twin, Hilary Robinson. It was Hilary’s birthday on Tuesday so we took one of our legendary CCP days–cider, cake and Paperchase–to celebrate; although we had wine instead of cider, and churros instead of cake. We had a long, leisurely lunch in Wahaca in Exchange Square. We did do the Paperchase bit though, where I bought some new notebooks in the sale (as if I haven’t got a cupboard full already) and started my Christmas shopping for next Christmas. In the Doc Marten shop I resisted the urge to buy some new DMs, but it was a fight. They were gorgeous but a bit tight over the instep. I’ll keep looking.

The rest of the week has been mostly about processing online entries to the Poets&Players competition, which closes at midnight on Tuesday so you still have time to get your entries in: On past experience, it’ll be about all I’ll be doing this week, because entries come in thick and fast in the last couple of days; and I have to have them off to our judge, Sinead Morrisey by the beginning of February. It’s an exciting time, but not as exciting as waiting to discover our winners. I’ll keep you posted. While I’m on the subject of P&P I’ll throw in a reminder about our upcoming events. We heard recently that our Arts Council bid has been successful, so we can keep organising our wonderful, free-to-our-audinece events for at least another twelve months. We’ve got some terrific events planned, so check them out here: and come along to the Whitworth Gallery on Oxford Road for as many as you can. Where else do you get this quality for no outlay? Our 2020 kicks off next Saturday with a Jo Shapcott workshop in the morning, followed by readings in the afternoon by Jo Shapcott, Kim Moore and Jennifer Lee Tsai, with music by Chris Davies.  I’ll be introducing Kim Moore, the easiest job I’ll have all year. I’m really looking forward to it; and hopefully to writing something worthwhile in the morning workshop; and to having something to write about next week!

Because that’s it for this week. I’m off for another walk to Grandpa Greene’s this morning, then I’ll be processing more entries. Keep ’em coming and have a good week.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Australia these last few weeks, with the awful fires raging around the south east of the country. Bill and I followed the cricket there in 2007 and again in 2011. So my Facebook ‘memories’ are mostly about Australia at the moment–we were there in January into February both times. My poem this week is a reminder of our first visit and why we went there in the first place. We were lucky enough to be in the Sydney Cricket Ground when Glenn McGrath bowled his last ball for Australia, an amazing and memorable moment. This poem recalls that moment; and was shortlisted in the Ilkley Poetry Festival competition a few years ago.


McGrath’s Last Ball for Australia
Sydney Cricket Ground 02.02.07

In these dying moments of the match
as you bend to a setsquare buffing the ball,
does your brain replay your international career:

the thousand or so leg befores,
catches behind, in the slips, in the deep,
all those middle pegs somersaulting to Gilchrist,
the dogged run chases wagging the tail?

Or do sixty thousand feet tracing your paces
on grandstand floors, hands drumming your beat
on chair-backs, voices rising in a tsunami of sound,
flush all thought before it?
A deafening noise, a roar of Thor

covers the ground, darkens the sky, places
a thunderbolt in your hand, lightning in your stride so,
as if in glorious slo-mo, you run up, plant your feet,
deliver the ball—it is, after all, just a ball.
It bounces short of a length.

Nixon thinks he’ll steal your thunder,
lofts it high over extra cover
where it seems to hover.
English voices join the noise

but on the boundary, buoyed by the tide,
Hodge stretches, hand open
and Nixon c Hodge b McGrath.

Rachel Davies
(more years ago than I care to recall!)


On Post-PhD reading

To be honest, I’m stuck for content for the blog now the PhD is done. What do you put in a blog whose banner headline reads ‘PhD and Poetry’ when the PhD is finished, all bar the dancing, and the poetry has been slack? When I was coming to the end of the creative section of the PhD, Jean Sprackland asked me what I was going to do now, and I said I was going to spend the rest of my life reading shite! Seriously, I didn’t want to read anything again, for ever, that required me to think and analyse.

I tried it in the summer. I didn’t like it much. I read a couple of Tudor murder mysteries in which the author seemed more about impressing her readers with her knowledge of the period than with losing them in the story. I decided there was only so much shite the human brain can take and I pulled back on the pledge.

I stepped up a gear. I decided to re-read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I read it years ago, and the recent television series had tickled the reading tastebuds: I wanted to see if the TV adaptation had stayed true to the book. It had, pretty much. What a mind Atwood has; and how prophetic is that book, written in the eighties? In 21st century UK, I felt as if I was living through the foothills of the tale, with regime change in the USA and the far right on the rise across the western world. I read it on my Kindle, enjoyed it in a kind of masochistic way, so much that I wanted a copy. I ordered a hard backed version online, a book to pick up, touch, admire. When The Testaments was published in September 2019, I had to have a copy of that and read it too. How could Atwood follow up on The Handmaid’s Tale, which had left an ending that was open to a sequel? But that was thirty years ago. How would it work now? And was it just cashing in on the TV adaptation? It wasn’t, it was wonderful and surprising reading. And if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend it. Highly. And if you haven’t read the original Tale, you’ll need to read that first to really get the sequel. Hilary and I went to see Atwood ‘in conversation’ at the Lowry theatre in October. I had dreams of getting my two lovely books signed, but that was a pipedream: she wasn’t doing a signing. But I have them on my shelves to re-read whenever I feel it coming on.

I read a William Boyd novel, Waiting for Sunrise; I’ve never been disappointed by a William Boyd novel. This one came close. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t lose myself in it, it wasn’t as gripping as some of his books. Perhaps I just didn’t believe in his hero, Lysander Rief. The first few pages are an imagining of the reader watching this man walking through Vienna. Towards the end of these introductory pages Boyd has the line ‘Ah, he’s English—how uninteresting—your curiosity is waning.’ And my curiosity never really waxed again. I stuck with it to the end though, and it was, I suppose, a good story; but I wasn’t gripped.

I re-read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  I read it at the night class where I studied for A-level English, and remembered really enjoying it. I enjoyed it again, probably on a different level, or a series of different levels. Having lived through the scientific and technological revolution of the intervening forty years, it, like Handmaid’s Tale, seems all too possible—probable even. Is it serendipity that these dystopian novels become reality; or is it inevitable? I went on to read a collection of essays Huxley wrote in the eighties, Brave New World Revisited, in which he analyses the actual world in the light of both his dystopian vision, and George Orwell’s in 1984. His essays are spot on too, and distinctly disturbing.

I read Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls Trilogy. The first in the series, The Country Girls, O’Brien claimed ‘wrote itself in three weeks.’ Lucky her; it rocked the Irish establishment, and it isn’t hard to see why. Read it with the unsophisticated eyes of the early sixties, when Lady Chatterley was on trial as pornography, and understand why a sexually and religiously conservative society like the Republic of Ireland would be shocked. I loved it.

I read Katie Hale’s debut novel, My Name is Monster. Its plot is that one woman is left on Earth after an apocalyptic event—we’re never told exactly what the event was, although it involved war and disease. (Why do I seem drawn to dystopia since completing my PhD? There must be a thing here?) When I read the first few pages I thought ‘How is Hale going to make a novel out of one woman and a shattered world?’ She does, in surprising ways. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it.

I’ve read other stuff too: I am a prolific reader. I could read before I went to school. And because I could read already, the infant teacher put me out in a cold corridor with a book while she taught the ‘normal’ pre-literate children how to do it. I was miserable, cold, lonely—all emotions I came to relate to reading. I didn’t pick up another book for enjoyment until I was a young adult. Oh my, what had I missed? I haven’t stopped since. On Thursday I met up with Hilary for coffee—our first catch up since the carousel week in December. We swapped Christmas presents. She gave me The Craft, edited by Rishi Dastidar (Nine Arches Press; 2019)—‘a guide to making poetry happen in the 21st Century’. It contains essays by some of my favourite poets: Liz Berry, Carrie Etter, Karen McCarthy Woolf to name just a few. There’s a section of writing prompts at the end, which I’m looking forward to trying out. I can’t wait to read it. It’s on top of my ‘to-read’ list.

To bring us full-circle, Hilary also gave me a second book, from a mutual friend, Jo. When we all went to see Simon Armitage in Conversation with Guy Garvey in November, Jo asked me what I’m going to do now the PhD is over—this is a common conversational ice-breaker. I repeated my pledge about reading shite, but explained that I’d tried it and didn’t like it much, but I needed to read stuff that wasn’t too taxing, give my poor old brain a rest. She said she had just the book. Hilary brought that book with her on Thursday. M. C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (Constable and Robinson:1992). Jo put an inscription on the title page: ‘To Rachel. Read it and weep (a lot!)’ I’m a part-time insomniac and I woke at 3.00 on Saturday morning this week, so I decided to read it to stop the brain racing. Thanks Jo, it hits the spot perfectly: frothy, inconsequential, insubstantial ‘shite’. I love it.

Before I go, a reminder about the Poets&Players competition, judged by Sinead Morrisey. The closing date is midnight on Tuesday 21st January; which gives you just under ten days to get your poems to me via the online route or to Viv in the post. Details and rules are on our website:

I’ll leave you with another poem that did well in a competition. It was placed third in the Manchester Cathedral Competition in 2015. The competition asks for entries ‘of a spiritual nature’; being an atheist this is easy: everything under the sun is spiritual, so I entered this, written after a visit to Tate Liverpool and being gripped by a huge and totally wonderful painting by Leonora Carrington.


Ix Chel and the Madonna
The Magical World of the Mayas Leonora Carrington
Tate Liverpool May 2015

One eye a telescope the other a microscope
you see it all, how the land is a woman
reclining—sleeping or dying—her breasts pert

her belly taut while Mayan temples
and Catholic symbols spring like Cain and Abel
from between her knees and each tries to win

her best breast. You see it all, how the earth
blurs the binaries of night and day, truth and lie,
old and new, gods and God until they all seem

the same somehow, indistinct, not to be trusted.
You see it all, how a thousand crucifixes can pierce
her left breast, pierce her heart and still Ix Chel

breathes through her death throes, how the wood
of Calvary grows on her abdominal plain even
as the Ceiba tree withers, its branches bleached,

leafless, its roots in the realm of the dead atrophied
to stumps that can no longer suck the waters
of faith. You see it all, how Madonna and Child

process across her skin and her skin rends open
exposing the powerless jaguar god of the underworld
where the Monkey Twins hide themselves behind human

death masks, learn to live out eternity in the dark.
You see it all, how Kukulkan still slithers across
an angry sky crying I’m here, I’m here and none hears

but the dying few, how Chaak the thunder god
weeps tears plump as pears at Ix Chel’s passing
and the Popl Vuh hands down its myths to anyone
who will listen and you listen and you see it all.

Rachel Davies

(First published in Manchester Cathedral Competition Winners Pamphlet 2015)


On Entering Poetry Competitions

I’ve been administering the online entries for the Poets&Players competition for five years this year. The first year I did it, Paul Muldoon was our judge and I well remember having to spend almost £100 posting a ream and a half of poems to his apartment in New York where he was teaching at a University at the time. In these five years I’ve met some wonderful poets who have acted as our judges: Pascale Petit, Jackie Kay, Kei Miller, Michael Symmons Roberts. And I’ve met some wonderful poets who put their work out there to scrutiny and were rewarded with a win. I feel in a very privileged position in this role, and it is a wonderful thing to be able to introduce our judges, and our winners, to our P&P audience at the celebration event in the South Gallery of the Whitworth Art Gallery in the early summer when, out in the park, the trees are growing leaves and young children are chasing amorous pigeons.

Some poets feel that poetry shouldn’t be a competitive sport; others feel that a poetry competition is a route to that rare commodity for poets, a small income. I’m not going to judge one way or another. It’s a personal choice, no-one will force you to enter your poems into the competitive market of the poetry prize; equally no-one will judge you for wanting to do that—except the competition judge, obviously. I’ve entered competitions myself; I’ve even won a couple. But in five years of administering P&P’s ‘fabulously organised competition’—as Paul Muldoon described it—I’ve learned something of entering poetry competitions. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned. I make no apology for teaching granny to suck lemons: if you know these things already, put your computer away and do the ironing. Remember, these are things I’ve learned on the administration job. So here are some observations I offer about upping your chances in competition with other poets:

1: Read contemporary poetry
Read contemporary poetry. Read more contemporary poetry. Then read even more  contemporary poetry. Subscribe to quality poetry journals, buy collections and pamphlets of poetry. Better still, join a library and borrow these books for free; or browse charity shops and buy them for pennies. Also read ‘traditional’ poetry, get to know a variety of forms; but don’t try to emulate Keats or Wordsworth. Adding thee and thou to your poems, and using archaic forms and inversions to force end rhymes won’t necessarily make them noticeable in a good way; unless you’re using them ironically, as Wendy Cope does in parodying the traditional sonnet, for instance (find Cope’s ‘Strugnell’s Sonnets’: Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis [London: Faber and Faber, 1986] and read them—you won’t regret it). If you use a traditional form, make it new; make it now, surprise the judges. Better yet, invent a new form of your own. Use accessible language, metaphor, imagery; use the natural rhythms and music of everyday speech to build your poems; make words extend themselves with internal rhyme and surprising juxtapositions. Find new ways to say it and avoid cliché like the plague—see what I did there? Stand on the shoulders of giants to see further what’s possible in this wonderful world of poetry.

2: Join a community of poets
Attend writing groups and workshops. Get to know other poets and writers. Build poetry friendships. Offer your poetry to the scrutiny of other poets in a safe space: get feedback on your work and listen to that feedback. Really listen; act on it only if it feels right for your poem. If face-to-face feedback is daunting for you, join online poetry groups; but in my experience, the community of poets is a considerate and supportive community and a wonderful thing. Poets love poetry: why wouldn’t they want to help you make your poems be the best poems they can be?

3: Trust your poems
Surprise the judges; but do this with your use of language. If your poem is worth the reading, you won’t need upper case letters or large fonts. Don’t make the judge feel s/he is being shouted at from the page. Don’t use fonts that are difficult to read because you feel they ‘look nice’; they probably won’t add to the poem and some fonts are quite tricky to read. Consider the judge, whose job is to read around a thousand poems before making their decision. Make it easier for her/him by choosing a plain font like Times New Roman or Calibri, size 12, black ink.  Most competitions ask for single spacing: check your computer settings to make sure your poems are single-spaced. Illustrations? A big fat no-no! Don’t give your poems flowery borders or coloured fonts; don’t add a photo of the Trevi Fountain to your poem about Rome. Trust your poem to build that picture for itself.

4: Read the guidance and the competition rules
Rules vary from competition to competition. Make sure you’re observing the rules for the competition you’re entering now. Read the rules; read them again. Prepare your entry according to the rules then read them again to check. Before you press send on your email, make sure you’ve attached your poems and a completed application form if this is what’s required by the rules (it isn’t always). Don’t include an author biography—unless the rules require it, in which case include an author biography. Check; double check. Then check again. The people who administer the competition genuinely want you to win. Make it easy for them by following the rules. 40 lines maximum means that; not 41 or 42; not 60 or 100. A line of poetry is a line of writing on the page; it isn’t necessarily a sentence, although it might be. If it takes up the entire line of the page, that is your line. If your sentence takes up three lines on the page, that is three lines. I make this point only because I’ve had entries in the past that are three pages long, because the poet hoped I might not notice that his/her ‘lines of poetry’ actually extended across three lines on the page. I noticed. If your poem exceeds, by a line or two, the 40-line limit, reconsider your line breaks to make it fit the rules. Poems longer than the specified maximum will be disqualified. A simple email from the administrator can rectify the unattached application form (although the administrator is not duty bound to offer you this lifeline) but alterations to your actual poems won’t be allowed, so make sure your poem doesn’t need altering by getting it right, by fitting it to the rules, the first time.

5: Get to know your judge
I refer you to point 1 above. Read the poet who is judging the competition to get a feel for their own work. Check out other competitions they may have judged and read the winning entries they chose to see what grabbed them. Of course, there may be no discernible themes to any of this; judges, like all poets, love variety; we love surprise; we love poetry made new and exciting. But at least you’ll be reading contemporary poetry; and that’s the main thing.

I’m really enjoying administering the online entries to our competition again this year. I don’t have time to read all the entries; but just sometimes a word or phrase catches my eye, surprises me, makes me want to read on. That’s what the judge wants of your poem. Surprise her/him; make the judge notice your poem among the thousand or so poems s/he’ll be reading. Make your poems fill their lungs with air, make them rise to the top like bubbles in champagne; make them a gnat that irritates but refuses to be ignored.

Send me your online entries; send Viv your postal entries: details—and a link to the rules—are on our website But please, do enter. Give us lots of work to do; give our judge, Sinead Morrisey, a difficult job to do, make her earn her fee.

Lastly good luck—but who was it who said ‘the harder I work, the luckier I become’?

I’m going to leave you this week with the poem that I entered into the Wells Competition two or three years ago. It’s reproduced in my shared DragonSpawn pamphlet Some Mothers Do… (Beautiful Dragons Press, 2018). The judge for the Wells competition was Andrew Motion. The poem fulfils a lot of what I’ve written about in this blog: I wrote it as a response to a Kim Moore Poetry School online workshop. The prompt was from a poem by David Constantine: ‘Bad Dream’ in Elder (Bloodaxe, 2014). The italicised line in my poem is actually a line from Constantine’s poem. I appreciate the community of poets who offered feedback on the initial drafts of this poem. I understand the angst of entering competitions. I know the importance of having your work read by a poet of national/international renown. I have experienced the unbridled joy of winning: this poem won first prize.

San Martino di Griante

 Imagine seeing that chapel from the Lake, clinging to the edge
of the mountain like a goat, how precarious it looks but it’s held
its nerve for centuries, since the Virgin ordained that this would be
the site of Her chapel; how the ancients were confident in the soul-kiss
of faith to take on that job; how all those centuries ago builders sang
as they hauled stones up that track on the backs of mules, laid them
one by one to build the chapel, how they made the mule-track into
a Via Crucis lined with shrines to the life of Christ; how one August day
I’ll decide to walk that track, visit San Martino of the Dizzying Heights;
how I’ll climb the steep path through olive grove and deer sanctuary,
past chapels, sun-bleached icons, the drying hay of wreaths until I reach
the last hundred yards; how the chapel will beckon me across a ledge
as narrow as a woman, a sheer fall right, a sheer wall left; how I’ll sit
trying to nail my courage, in the end turning my cowardice back
down the Via Crucis, where each of its shrines is an admonition;
how I’ll hear the derision of builders echoing down the centuries;
how your voice will be in their laughter; how I’ll come back tomorrow
determined to do it; how I’ll buy a peach as big as Venus as a reward
for touching the stones of San Martino of the Derisive Sneer; how I’ll sit
for aeons at the start of that ledge, talking myself into taking those steps,
how the chapel will tell me I can do it, how I’ll want to believe it; how
that peach will call out to me but I won’t break my promise not to taste
until I reach San Martino of the Forbidden Fruit; how relieved I’ll be
when two strangers will climb that mule-track, see me there dejected,
how they won’t mock but they’ll help me cross the ledge, take my hand,
stand one in front, one behind, walk me one step at a time till I reach
San Martino of the Blessed Achievement; how elated I’ll feel as I touch
its walls, admire its frescos, gaze at the lake below; how I’ll pick out
the trattoria in Bellagio where last night I dined at a table for one;
how Bellagio will shimmer in the midday heat; how at last I’ll answer
that peach, its juice sweeter than the fruit of Paradise; how one day
you’ll just be a sentence in my story, a peach stone I’ll throw away.

Rachel Davies