Prole Laureate competition
Prole Laureate Competition, 2020
Many thanks to everyone who entered the Prole Laureate Competition, 2020. Many thanks to Jonathan Edwards, our judge, and many congratulations to the winner, runners up and highly commended. The judges comments appear below the poems. The winner and two runners up will be published in Issue 30 of Prole due in late May or Early June.
Winner, £200 and publication.
Baritone of toenail, breeze block mansion.
You insinuate knee, your foot is salvaged,
like the Mary Rose dredged up with cranes
by an international rescue team from the
shallows of The Solent. How you frisbee
sand waterfalls and possess the patent for
lefthandedness. Your ears are smudged as
fat fingerprints on freshly puttied windows,
your babies - geriatric marshmallows!
Each step is Hiroshima, your gait an empty
waiting room of blasé nonchalance that
aspires to be indifference. If you happen
to see me, you do a SWOT analysis on
the worthwhileness of turning. Some shed
on rollers, padlocked, your ribs are metal-
fatigued cast iron implements for digging.
You're a big bigamist doing bigamistic things
bigamistically in the mist. Yeah, whatever.
Runner up, £50 and publication.
An Alternative to Heart-break
Rackety-rackety, hand over fist, lickety-split, fit to bust—
oh bloody heart, all night you’ve thumped these clichés
through my thrashing body. Can’t you do something
else to help? Burst through my ribcage, whizz through space
and time, from Frome to Leeds, to three weeks past,
where my only brother lies, phone fallen, mouth wide,
immobile on the floorboards of his flat. Work, heart—
pump his blood-blocked body, annoy him into life!
Startle his eyes open so he’ll clamber to his feet,
bend to retrieve the phone, and call. I’ll hear that voice
again: Hey Sis, would you like your heart back? It’s had
a heart-to-heart with mine and fixed a re-draft of this story:
I promise I will recognise the signs—iron bands clenching
round my chest—I’ll shout for help, aloud, in time.
Runner up, £50 and publication.
Eleven hundred feet,
perspex flap an ersatz door
rattles the engine’s drone.
Pinned to the plane's skin
you tilt. Earth leaks brown-green
through wisps of white.
Panel ripped aside, pocket fields,
fat water snakes, qwerty roofs
lurch stomach to your throat.
Step outside. You do, drop-dangle
instructor pinioned to your back
inside the plane in his unhurried time.
Rehearse within your head:
cross arms, palms press clavicle
against the fetal instinct of a fall,
streamline that amphibian
you knew at four when you had flown
frills on your shoulders instructing you
to sail unscratched upstairs to down.
He jumps. The plunge. Sky-cloud spin.
Nothing to show you’re plummeting.
Frog legs arch back, sandpaper mouth,
ears needle the wind’s rush
you freefall through ice cold,
light-dazzled now by shawl of sun.
The signal shoulder-tap, arms legs out-splay;
wing-heeled, wing-limbed, flying
mapping a target far below.
You pull the rip-cord, up-sky-yanked,
a fairground twirl-ride blue-white-green,
billowing above, a thousand
balloons stitched thistledown.
Guide twin ropes
steer what seems still air.
Joyous slow content unscrolls
a labyrinth of sleeping fields,
hedge tacking grid-path road,
tarpaulin skin on pillowed straw,
black polo-mint car tyres, neatly piled.
You hear the call to drag,
embryo knees to chest,
tug straps hard down.
Soundless unbroken lull,
your heart's eye pulls
at fifty. Flying.
A four foot square
draws to you
every living thing.
The long grass
Prole Laureate Competition 2020, Judge’s Report
It’s been a great pleasure to read the poems entered for this competition. I’ve been reading about boxers-turned-desk jockeys and disturbing cousins, poets behind zoo bars and the folks at the car wash, a callous drowning described with the most beautiful musicality, ‘Elmer Fudd in a garter belt’ and Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘desiccated earlobe.’ I have read and re-read the poems while sitting and standing, in chairs and railway carriages, in living rooms where clocks struck and in a forest as the wind swirled round me, seeing what it had to whisper about them. I have leant out of a first floor window, holding the poems at arm’s length, out there in the world, to see how the poems might look from that angle. The poems have looked good. I have applauded and laughed, punched the air and swore, I have done the closest thing I do to a dance. Still the poems were all too damn great to tell me that any were any better than any of the others. These poems! They made me miserable with their equality of greatness. The shortlist was phenomenally strong, and the three poems which ultimately rose above the others did so because of their extraordinary way with language, their emotive power and their sense of joy. These are the poems which called back to me most when I wasn’t reading them, when I was off somewhere over there away from poetry, pushing a trolley round Tesco or strolling down a street, thinking that I was thinking of anything in the world but poems. They are poems for us to read and the poets to be hugely proud of, and I am so glad to have the opportunity of showcasing them here.
1st prize, ‘Elephant’ by Paul Stephenson.
From its very first clause, this poem is extraordinary at the level of language. It coins throughout a series of unforgettable, Martian images for an elephant. The language is constantly playing on the edge of sense, meaning that the phrases are wonderfully original but that we can also see some sense in them. Like all the best images, those in this poem allow us to see the subject in a way we never have before, yet they are so apt that we can’t believe we have never seen the subject in that way before. ‘You insinuate knee, your foot is salvaged…How you frisbee/sand waterfalls…Each step is Hiroshima, your gait an empty/waiting room…If you happen/to see me, you do a SWOT analysis on/the worthwhileness of turning.’ The penultimate sentence makes me laugh out loud, while the throwaway final sentence, clashing up against those extraordinarily ornate images, is a joy. I simply adore this writer’s language, and I’ll never look at an elephant in the same way again. Bravo!
2nd prize, ‘An Alternative to Heart-break’ by Jinny Fisher.
This is a wonderfully moving poem, in part because the energy of the language offers a very interesting contrast to the sombre material. The language of the first line means that we are excited to read the poem, and the direct and dramatic address to the heart in the first few sentences shows us the stakes are high. The specifics of the brother emerging as the first stanza develops shifts us into very emotive territory, and I love tiny touches such as the choice of ‘floorboards’ rather than ‘floor.’ Phrases like ‘annoy him into life’ contrast with the subject matter and somehow make this grief more startling and authentic. All of these features are retained in the sestet and the italicised dialogue is wonderfully moving. The form here is distinctively and effectively managed, the personality and emotion bursting from the page. Writing well about grief does humanity a service, and I applaud this writer’s achievement here.
3rd prize, ‘Skydive’ by Angela Platt
This is a poem which I again love because of its distinctive approach to language. I have never done a parachute jump and doubt I ever will, but because of the language here I feel I am able to share this experience with the writer. I really like the way that the point of view is managed, the way that the perspective defamiliarizes the terrestrial world we know: images like ‘polo-mint car tyres’ and the quite brilliant ‘qwerty roofs’ do great work here. There’s a great rush in the language, created by the dropped articles and the wonderful compound words: ‘Pinned to the plane’s skin/you tilt. Earth leaks brown-green/through wisps of white./Panel ripped aside, pocket fields…You do, drop-dangle/tandem-clipped, deadweight/string-bag fish-hooked…’ I feel really that this poem represents the closest we might ever come to seeing what Gerard Manley Hopkins may have written about a skydive if he’d ever done one. How wonderful would that be?! How wonderful is this poem?! The last two sentences, with their sense of re-arrival in the world, are really moving, and this whole poem fills me with joy.
‘The Boxer’ by Georgie Woodhead
‘The Cousins’ by Wendy Klein
‘The Poets’ Habitat’ by Graham Burchell
‘Brad from Joe Soap’s Hand Car Wash’ by Roger Elkin
‘If’ by Ted Greensmith
‘Narcissi’ by Annie Filmer-Bennett
‘Wild Flowers’ by Susie Wild
‘Only Wings’ by Catherine Baker
‘Bojo’ by John Woodall
‘Pianoforte’ by Glen Wilson
Jonathan Edwards's first collection, My Family and Other Superheroes (Seren, 2014), received the Costa Poetry Award and the Wales Book of the Year People's Choice Award (https://www.serenbooks.com/author/jonathan-edwards) It was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. His second collection, Gen (Seren, 2018), is also a winner of the Wales Book of the Year People's Choice Award, and he is a Gladstone's Library Writer-in-Residence for 2020. His poem about Newport Bridge is shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2019 (http://www.forwardartsfoundation.org/poet/jonathan-edwards/). He has read his poems on BBC radio (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0005g4x) and television (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/entertainment-arts-30882362/meet-the-author-jonathan-edwards) and at festivals around the world, recorded them for the Poetry Archive (https://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/jonathan-edwards) and led workshops in schools, universities and prisons. He lives in Crosskeys, South Wales.
Copyright Prolebooks 2020
Reading in Manchester in 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQjDQIwPixA
Canal Song - a poetry film made for The Poetry Society: https://vimeo.com/316565826
Meet the author, BBC: