Foyle Young Poets of the Year 2002:
the floor would tremble

if your feet could touch it

 

The judges for 2002 were Jean Sprackland and Matthew Sweeney.

The title for the anthology is taken from Anbara Khalidi's poem, 'Gigging'.

Scroll down to read the winning poems and the commended poets.

 


 

Oil in the Gutter
Peter Cashmore

 

He knows more than they think,

As the rust tricycle harries

The grey-evening puddles.

 

Slut. Bitch. Whore.

 

Why always in the kitchen,

Where the fierce strip light

Shies drawn out spectres?

 

She by the sink,

Pretending to wash up;

He by the stove, probing

Until she turns.

 

Why always

Yell, murmur, yell,

 

Despite the pitter-patter rain?

While a TV set hums next door,

Its light a brilliant blue.

 

And always, if you strain,

The swish of a car up on the road -

The promise of something else but this. 

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A Sea-Change
Lyndsay Coo

 

I know what it is to drown.

 

Not emotionally, the aching sweet, lyrical deaths

writers and lovers will have you believe in.

 

I talk of water, and salt

piercing you

like memories.

And cold like marble slabs

on which the dead are laid

 

filling your nose and tongue

and every dark crevice

until you freeze from within

and your skin splits as you expand.

 

I talk of waves, and foam

so unbelievably strong,

so many million million millions of atoms

pouring down on you like rock.

 

We were not born with gills

and the purity of water chokes us:

it is lighter than air, and more bright,

of more quality and substance than oxygen.

 

More gentle and more powerful.

More clear and more dark.

It is where we came from.

 

I know what it is like to drown

and my desire is to return to the ocean's womb

the soft heartbeat of the deep.

This time there will be no saviour,

no hand to pluck me out of my foetal dream.

 

I will cut my gills with this razor

 

and I will swim.

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Counting the Moons
Ming Wai Ho

 

We shall learn

how the footsteps should be

printed together, so that

the light of the Moons

does not hurt when we

count them and stars

will keep their distance

We shall learn

through the rhythm of

a raised eyebrow and

quivering lips, the same

truth only an ant in a

puddle of honey can reach

Bitterness surfaces in the middle

of a spring fountain

nursing a garden of roses

and thorns

under the second Moon tonight

A tear of wonder

born in the movement of

your lips, up against

your cheek, but

sacrificed to the

blink of your eye

By now the Eclipse should have informed me

You will not be there

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Gigging
Anbara Khalidi

 

Check the pockets for the tickets,

Reds, Lighter, Travelcard,

tied shoes, keys and cash. No rush, no hurry -

 

No matter how late you try to turn up

there's always a support band to sit through,

a guy with a beard, a banjo and a bad hairdo.

 

And after an hour of standing still, pressed into the perfect space,

your legs have gone numb, your pockets are pinned,

you check the people next door,

 

not spinning about giddily, wearing an anorak,

trying to enfold you in Jesus' love,

likely to vomit all over your shoes, or try anything funny.

 

Once reassured, and the lights go out,

there's a stampede of huge, drunken elephant-men,

wearing oversized England shirts over thick necks

 

or the tallest chick ever - wielding an afro

who decides to push right in front of you.

So after an hour of keeping your place, bang goes the view.

 

During the slow songs, the elephant men

form an 'ironic' circle pit,

and you're forced to elbow one in the face

 

when they come careering off the merry-go-round

and grope you, though the fifty year old

trying out some solo dance routine doesn't deserve much less.

 

And the bad moshers, who can't pogo-stick

up and down to the simplest bass,

must be a part of some huge conspiracy

 

to force you to catch snatches of the band through one squinted eye.

So you tuck in your elbows and bounce through

the people-thicket to the even thicker pit, now seething

 

and frothing - where you don't even have to move your legs,

the surge will bring you to the top for air,

like a shoal of fish, craning for the sunlight.

 

On the down, it's hot and damp,

Without DMs your feet get trampled

on and with one sway, or mis-stepped

 

step, you're on the floor, butts embedded in your skin,

and a sandwich pile-up of bodies will crush your bones for bread.

So, you must stay alert to each seismic shift

 

fracturing your shins to and fro like a packed ship

in a heavy sweat-spray storm.

At least everyone's way too busy

 

staying alive to sing along with Strongbow-soaked

vocal cords and drown out the sweetest song

With their blend of lager sponging discord.

 

The hot bodies bruise you, spill beer down your top,

Flail about with their Camel Lights and stab you,

Ram you with their mohicans and jab you,

 

Pepper spray and rob you,

rub you, and dive on top of your head.

But, just maybe tonight, give you a wicked gig -

 

as the music drills through all the bones

in your jaw through to your heart,

the floor would tremble if your feet could touch it.

 

And once the band make their encore exit,

the light comes on, and people blankly

stare at their sweat-stuck companions

 

peel their hair from their foreheads and

fumble for the cloakroom ticket.

And we begin to follow the lines out, like cattle

 

into the night; thankfully, cold and dark.

A culture of men with limp fags drooping

out of their mouths harass you

 

with poorly sewn rip-off t-shirts

and petitions for similarly shoddy looking

'minicabs?' - no thank you.

 

Worn and aching, mashed and bruised

from godknows what, the tubes

pump full of people analysing the playlist

 

or merely dazed from drugs or a good time

staring straight ahead,

smiles stuck skin-tight across their pasty faces.

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Potatoes
Caleb Klaces

 

I used to keep

potatoes in my cellar

in brown bags. But

they grew green shoots

and wanted to be planted.

 

When it rained my friend

came and looked at them. They were coal painted

and their green roots were neon bulbs.

He said I should give them some ground,

a little bit of light,

 

and time. In time, he said

their luminous tentacles would spread

and I would have a maze of potato

under my little garden,

under the apple tree

and the rosemary bush

and the daffodils,

 

it would be a green yellow flood, he said

giving the worms

and the moles

their eyes, a rest, if they have eyes,

he wasn't sure

 

but I liked the idea,

I could walk my

small wild

and know the ground could see.

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Into the Distance
Anna Lewis

 

I used to bring my boys here, I tell him,

back when the sea was further from the village

than it is now, and they used to run into the

garden of the b&b early each morning to scramble

down the bramble-clogged bank at the back

onto the narrow beach. Even in the rain,

pearls of water flying from the thorns they

never slowed, but dashed to meet the moon-cooled

new tide each day, carrying their footprints

to the grey waves.

 

Thanks, I say, as he places another pint

on the table. I suppose their footprints may

still be there, beneath the water - one morning

the tide must have climbed the beach and

never fallen, never taken the imprints of

my boys back to the ocean - it's a slower

process than that, he says as though he were

a geologist, not merely a hoar-bearded man

growing stout drinking out his last years in

a dark damp inn by the sea.

 

Maybe, I consider, I in fact quite like the

thought of the current dragging their footsteps

backwards to float beneath the waves -

the old echoes of my boys' feet drifting in the

sea, stamping from here to Cape Horn - maybe,

watching on the southern shore, I'll see them walking

past someday -

 

- maybe, he says. His seaman's eyes, flat and

grey, stare beyond me as though already

tired. Who wants a woman who can only

talk of motherhood's slow erosion, I suppose,

when one lives here? When the cold

ocean creeps to your threshold each night,

beckoning you from your worn-down years into

the waves chill path, their slow territorial

yawnings swallowing churches and

graveyards, silencing bells and sowing ice along

the streets? Perhaps he sees footprints in the

pock-marks down my cheeks. It hardly

matters - already he turns from me, as though

I drag him too fast into the distance, faster

than the subtle ebb that pulls him

closer to the low sky each year.


'Into the Distance' was also the overall winner of the Christopher Tower Prize for 2002, and is reproduced by permission of the Christopher Tower Poetry Prizes, Christ Church, Oxford.

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Four Vomits
Omar Majeed

 

I peel open the door and everything becomes real.

My heavy footsteps embarrass me,

Though only the grass notices.

I sit upright on a damp log bench

And feel the wind running through me,

Humming and uncoiling and draining away

With the waves of traffic and treelimbs

Filtering together. Every sound gone

Before it reaches me. The blue night

Holding every orange-haloed streetlight.

 

Feeling slightly seasick I

Drop my head between my knees,

My stomach turning forwards over itself

Bubbling in my throat but still nothing comes.

I sit up refreshed and stand slowly turning,

Pulled in every direction, so aware

Of the bristled conifer playground smells

And the weight of my own skull,

I look at the grass glistening dully

And feel like tasting it, tasting the soil underneath,

Though it's probably not a good idea.

 

The holly bush draws me sharply over -

How sharp it feels on my palms I think,

I lean my whole body into it, the tiny spikes

All over my arms and chest, and feel not it

But those little points of myself.

I step away happy and guilty, thinking

Of the people behind curtained windows

All laughing along with the canned laughter,

All weeping along to synthesized violin music.

 

The shadows grow denser and wider -

They seem to bulge out between branches

And the rocks in the wall, infinite empty volumes

That would swallow you up without a trace.

I close the door behind me quietly.

 

Inside again the hum of boilers

The ticking of clocks

Lightbulbs burn my eyes,

The overdue sickness welling up

As I climb the stairs to the

Dark landing and step step step

Across the bathroom pulling

On the light automatically, lean over

The sink and feel the oily acid combining inside

 

And scratching over my teeth then I am

Turning the tap and the water flows through by magic

Washing it all down the drain, and

I swill the lukewarm water in my mouth

And feel it rattling against the cheek walls,

Before letting it fall over my bottom lip and into the sink.

The taste is still in my mouth and I am sick three more times

and I still don't know if that's the last of it,

but I'm bored of it anyway, and lie face down on the bed

with my eyes sweating into the pillow and the curtains rattling.

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Butter Child
Bryan Methods

 

Hold my hand - you're not safe.

Your skin can't take the heat

Of the lights or the burn of

Humiliation. Don't look at

The people we meet.

 

Our skins are like wings

Flown too close to the sun -

A blush would kill us,

A loss of face would

Be a loss of life.

Ready to run?

 

Does my hand chafe

Your skin? I'm sorry. Start

Moving now. Head down. The spurn of

This society is no shame. Remember that:

You cannot melt into nothing. Your heart

 

Is strong enough to withstand the things

They shout. What you did was a sin,

Against their natures. The fuss

They kicked up was because of the knife

You had. And... her life had just begun...

 

The child unchilder and his mother

Fled from the court. Each mechanical shutter

And blistering flash gave yet another

Headline photograph. The camera-stutter

Recorded their flight, but they had no angel-wings to flutter.

The boy, as he cried, wished to melt like butter.

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The Wooden Man
Helen Mort

 

It seems I complained too hard

about the rain shrivelling my skin

or feet burning on hot sand,

making me dance madly

like a chained bear.

Perhaps I sighed too loudly

about the rough tugging

of a snagged nail

or the way my raw feet

would bud blisters.

 

For, when I opened my eyes

this morning, I found

I had been sedated in my sleep;

numbed and dulled into heaviness

so that all the world was bubbled

and I could not touch it

without bursting my swelled armour.

Every toe was stubbed,

every finger frozen.

My head was a heavy thing

that would not crack from

hammer blows, unprotected falls.

 

Better to be blind, forsake

the bright pleasures of the eyes

or deaf and miss the sweet throb

of music. Better to be anything

than so deadened,

never again to feel

the agonising tingles of cold snow,

the subtle fingers of a shy breeze

or flesh; warm,

reassuringly like your own,

shuddering into goosebumps.

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Mascara Wand
Jane Richardson

 

It slides up the smooth, damp tube

Then waits.

Rough friction as bristles squeeze through.

Quick slurpy toad-kiss

And it's out. Deep channel of mud

Left behind.

 

Crust of old dried-out mud

Clings to the top of the long

Thin wand, reluctant

To join the rest. Blackness pushes

Though the gaps. So strong!

Stronger than the wilting head

 

Like a mushy screw, messing things

Up. Hairy caterpillar soaked

In sewage

Coils smugly around the tip.

Gunky ammunition trapped in the gaps.

Scratching and pointing. It's ready.

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The Road Under Repair
Wong Chen Seong

 

It's night

And Bukit Timah Road is glowing orange

With the visitations of

Halogen angels

 

I am alone on the bus

That groans and mumbles as if

I have company

But this is a solitary din

I dissolve into the evening on my own

 

Cars pass

Full of expatriates in transit

With Cold Storage* strawberries and

Unseasoned children

I see open lorries

Foreign construction workers precariously perched

Faces bristly as they dream sleeplessly

About dreaming by sleeping hometown rivers

At skeletal bus-stops

I see a beeautiful boy and a beautiful girl

Standing and watching the falling of silence

And I hunger for and loathe them

For they are beautiful

And they are still and quiet

 

All the while

The stars spin on as if the magic

Of our grandmothers works still

In our nameless midnights

On these widening roads.

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See-saws and the rest
Zach Simons

 

Doors are opening like nails

pricking tiny points into limbs, she thinks

but nothing says. Oh, this is the time

of the coming, the future, the eyes strained ahead

to the one perfect rhyme and the rest

of the dead.

 

She says nothing of memories of parks

and her dad on the see-saw. For lollypopped years

weight gave him the firm upper-hand, but one time

a overdue growth-spurt left things in the balance.

Bit by bit she started to climb. There was silence.

 

All the sad sentiment, all the rusty old fears

she'd end up with a poet or (better) in tears

hurt the more. He slowly eyed up from below

what the babe had become. How she'd grown. And right there

sprouted that instant a newborn grey hair.

 

Now the landscape was changed. Now the light

that may once have been left on all night

won't keep her safe.

The door's opening, girl. It's raining and dark

and the wind is blowing out the door, slowly,

disjointedly . . . you wonder

what it's opening for.

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Horse Chestnut
Luke Yates

 

I have considered picking

these cow eyes from the ground

stowing them in woody-smelling bags

to moulder as I forget amongst

multi-coloured stickly bricks

(encumbered by cylindrical heads).

It would feel good again

to stash these off-spherical shapes

of marbled browns and creamy stain patches -

to roughly select the plummier specimens

fantasise about their potential

their spectacular performances

the effortless force, the explosion,

the sound and the pain of triumph

as an opponent's pieces hit your velcroed shoe

still smoking.

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Flea-Catcher
Ruth Yates

 

I bought a rechargeable torch

with winding mechanism

from my first salary.

By the sides of roads, under

bushes and plants,

geranium and box,

I find the choicest hedgehogs.

Then I light a safety match,

put the jars down,

and smoke the fleas out from the spikes.

 

If the hedgehog chokes on the smoke

it doesn't matter too much.

Wise men never grieve the dead,

they say, but you have to listen carefully

because hedgehogs talk quietly

and often get overwhelmed by leaves.

 

I keep my fleas under the bed,

in a shoebox. Once there was a riot,

a mutiny, and I had to escape through a window.

They jumped down the street in packs.

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For My Father
Ben Ziman-Bright

 

Dad was yellow, behind his greying beard.

" It's his liver," the doctor said, "It's failing."

He took it well, the news, because he'd feared

For a while: Dad could feel his body ailing.

 

It was the drugs that did it, we all reckoned.

The pink and white pills that were fixing him:

Saved from one death and served up to a second.

Now sweat clings to his face, deathly and grim,

 

As he drifts wordlessly about, almost

Lost, contemplating his end. I can't seem

To talk to him, this slouching, pale half-ghost;

He doesn't look like Dad, just some sad dream -

 

Ghostless machine, a form without a face -

Or something hollow left there in his place.

 

"It's good," he barely rasped, "When a man knows

His time is up, and makes sense of what's there,

So he can set things right before he goes."

But that still doesn't make it fair.

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Commended Poets

 Liz Adams, Rosemary Adkins, Mehraj Safi Ahmed, Victoria Alebon, Ann Ang, Huw Angle, Harriet Archer, Laura Attridge, Rachel Bold, Hannah Bolt, Olivia Brown, Gavin Browne, Fiona Carr, Mary Chen, Clare Coatman, Justine S. Cohen, Catrin Cox, Harriet Crompton, Dominic Davies, Arti Dawar, Michael Donkor, Kye Dorricott, Naomi Elliot, Tom Fletcher, Georgina Fozard, Emma Gaen, Kezia Gaitskell, Julie Elsie Gaunt, Ian Gibson, Heather Golding, Rachel Grandey, Jacky Hall, Edmund Halliwell, Holly Hardacre, Laura Harris, Claire Harrisson, Rebecca Hawkes, Shirin Hirsch, Michael Hodgson, Ben Holroyd, Caoilinn Hughes, Rosa Jackson, Sarah Keynes, Sabastian Koehorst, Hazel Lancefield, Amanda Laycock, James Lees, Christine Leonard, Gary Lockley, Ben Marriott, Emer Martin, Isabel McArdle, Cara McVean, Emily Mercer, Christina Milton, Laura Molloy, Olivia Morrisson, Ruth Newrick, Peter Nicholson, Nathalia Norman, Kathryn Parmenter, Hazel Perryman, Elena Polydorou, Susannah Powell, Rosalind Powell, Genevieve Raghu, Sophie Reynolds, Emily Riall, Rachel Roberts, Alexandra Sarll, Jion Sheibani, Priya Shukla, Robyn Smith, Hazel Streeter, Carrie Swann, Sharlene Teo, Nicole Thyer, Abbie Todd, Frances Wainwright, Jen Wainwright, Ahren Warner, Leah Watt, Catriona Wright, Felicity Yeoh, Fang Yuan.

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The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is Britain's most prestigious poetry prize for young writers between the ages of 11-17. Each year we look for a hundred of the best young poets in the UK and beyond, as well as some of the most active poetry schools with special prizes for both 11-14 and 15-17 year olds. The closing date each year is 31st July.

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