The 2003 judges were Philip Gross and Fiona Sampson. Below each poem you'll find comments by the judges.
The title for the anthology was taken from Helen Mort's winning poem of the same title.
Scroll down to read the winning poems and commended poets.
Travel west of the A4 past London
feel Whiteness burning eyes fixated
Layers of fields stretching pylon cables slack
And the next, alight
burns with vegetable oil
the tree trunks are cracking
running through linear tubes
swallowing my eyes
splitting liquids in hollow sockets
but driving, Grandma sits in solitude, unperturbed, with the neck brace she
wearing for people's stares
flaking walls of flats-
and my eyes are no more white anger
the best thing about being on road
is the playing of these thoughts
again that humming wind
the driver - dee - deeing
reaching Bedford, we drive past a bus depot
where stands a body, energy bent out
tanned girls like ruffians, stutter past
I smile into them
a futile desire to touch them- different lives
even if I screamed back the silence
past the glass and
then my family, mum her reflex reaction- would be to get cross
the cracks reaching their faces
... (literally) driving rhythms move us through a journey where contemporary landscapes and street scenes flicker past outside, family thoughts and memories inside the car, all captured in a voice that can be as relaxed as conversation and as intense as poetry can be...
A virtuoso enactment of travel, this poem is reflective, reflexive and yet immediate. Layers of perception are lightly built into a careful rhythm of movement and of arrival.
When the heat comes, it falls
Just like a heavy tablecloth
Folding into little rivulets and sloppy waves.
But instead of landing on glossy wood
And billowing slightly under the chink of glass and china
Instead of rustling to the hum of pleasant conversation
The heat sinks into the rough, scarred road
Into the rough, scarred c
Into the rough, scarred people.
The heat pours into their throats and ears.
It fills their lungs with a smothering staleness.
The heat blots out the conscientiousness
That made billy pick up the litter
That kept tracy from slamming the door.
Under heat, the lightness is lethargy
The buckled-up discontent bursts
And the delicate brain-curves unravel.
... an oppressive sensation captured subtly, using rhythms, images and nagging repetitions in a single verse paragraph to build up not just the heat but the shifts in feelings that it brings about - a poem about people, not just weather...
A rich, coloured-in evocation, this is narrative writing at its best, capturing those fractures of perception which accompany experience.
hot blooded. my my my.
boy are the youngsters out tonight
I'm waiting for my eyelids
to sink in themselves
and my goosebumped skin
to even out
with my butter knife, like frosting.
I'm so ravenous my hands
turn into claws,
sharp and padded shadow casts.
I'm an empty cup waiting for tea,
sugar cubes to be poured in.
I cut a slip in the screen door
to let the flies in
and paw down the night.
Is it not filled with bodies?
Innumerable stars, you are
my only companion,
cold and asking to be slapped.
Do me a favor
and smother me
if not with something like love,
then with a sweet wet towel
or a cute little pillow.
... a curious, unpindownable intensity runs behind the almost casual slipping from one image to the next - there's a dangerous feel to it, as if the voice won't be restricted to a conventionally poetic tone, but can speak with unsettling directness, without warning...
Brave, intense writing, whose prosody hides behind no tricks, but which exhibits a poet in absolute control of her material. So much in control, in fact, that the poem almost appears to "express itself" in images of startling clarity.
Needles prick my fingers. I distinctly
remember tattooed muscles; numbers
and Semitic features. I remember the
piano teacher. His smile and his wife's
biscuits, brought once a month for my
sisters. Of course, he always stunk of
varnish. Yes, yes, I remember all
this now. The brown shirts and the
pounding boots like hearses. The
wardrobe, in the house where we spent
our summers. The smell of coats. The
high stone wall around the garden. My
father, no, my father wasn't there and
my cousins and I picked flowers;
snowdrops, chrysanthemums later.
Maybe even I remember further back;
the stag-beetle-phoenix of Berlin. Yes,
the black, industrial fog. The taste of
stale bread; and the kite my brothers
made from wads of notes. I remember
that first, bright dawn of spring, after
the sting of glass between your
toes. The smiling faces, the
flags, the ordered rows.
... a remarkably subtle step into a sense of Nazi Germany, that has the fragmentary shifting feel of real memory and never feels like textbook research - the deliberate downbeat voice and the refusal of the verse form to play for big effects add to, rather than lessening, its capacity to haunt our imaginations...
Stunningly mature, this poem takes the risk of play and obliquity (as in the title) in dangerous, difficult territory, and in doing so achieves the profundity of understatement.
The way the hand's small arabesque
curls into the dark straits between bodies,
caught up short
by skin's warm shore, the smell,
elusive, of a dreaming formed
some days ago, found just round the corner
in the bark of white young trees
like the flicker of a flap that you forgot
of an old bed blanket breathing
quick, dust, dust
your dead self out.
... moves the reader into the immediate, lyrical world of one small moment. This poem evokes a feeling of familiarity and ease at the same time as it suggests unease and the uses of enchantment...
With extraordinary delicacy, the poem unpacks a Chinese box of images in order to lead the reader, particularly through the unusual senses of touch and smell, through memory, the present and to a difficult idea of the future.
She has taken my eyes.
All I have left are pink fingerbowls, dark shadowy orbits.
I grow goldfish here, suspended signals of love
In brimming waterholes rimmed with blood.
Fantails flail out like fingers pressing into thick orange lashes.
In this illuminated glass tank, I sense the people staring at me.
The fish writhe in their socket-seas.
I remember so clearly the first time I saw you; the pale blue walls of the
The way the tetras were so transparent, their thin, nervous bodies,
Their bony waistcoats tipped with aquamarine.
You were there visiting a friend, your opaque visitor's badge so flimsy
Next to your green peace badge, permanent,
Like a limpet.
Then your smile, unassuming, unpatronizing, as though you knew,
And didn't care.
The second place: the sign developing on the window like a cataract,
The too-small tank where the fish dangled as though fastened by their fins
They removed me to another ward where fish struck the glass again and again,
Striving to smash the place they couldn't reach
Like tiny metal bells.
It made me sad, just watching them, knowing they were there.
Tossing in bed, I damaged my back; my spine extended, a vertebral paper chain.
The third place was eyeful, cameras glinting on crested walls.
Bones like foam, I walked on crutches slowly.
There were no fish tanks here, but outside the sea chewed on the
You visited me then, persuaded them I was trustworthy.
We walked seaward; you made me laugh, then pointed out the gulls in moulds of oil-black.
That's how the psychotherapists are, no mistake.
You showed me the boathouse, the skeletal ships crystallised in salt,
The spar-white planks rising up from the ground- so many ribs.
We sat on the open shore, listened to the sand exhale, watched cold white stars emerge like scales, protracting needle-point patterns
We sat there together until the place was bare and empty,
Until boats silhouetted on to the skyline.
You gazed forward to the lighthouse, its undulations of light and shadow;
I watched your irises, the waves of silent feeling.
When I want to ignore them now, I remember our first date,
You feeding me white sushi with black chopsticks,
The silver skin still gripping to the flesh, like our inhibitions waiting to be peeled away.
I remember you staring at me, the giant tank between us
Your eyes bending behind the blurred glass like seamless ripples of koi.
That was when you took my eyes.
They won't let you visit any more; apparently you've touched the inlet of my mind.
Last night, he offered me new eyes,
clear socially acceptable perspectives,
Tiny celluloid discs, tough like the shell of a mitten crab- plentiful, the same as all others.
He told me that my problems are as transparent as my skin, he can see right through me.
This is unlikely; how can he seize the corners of a moving shore?
I do not grudge you my blindness.
I hope that you will wear my eyes around your neck, for my love for you was no fluid love
that rises and dips like Braille.
Believe me, it was not in cold blood that I removed them.
Since I cannot love you in safety, I let you keep my eyes.
They will float with you like lights on water,
Tiny portals, my life in yours.
... the seven sections, and the unspoken places between them, evoke a relationship with the richness of a small novel, spelling nothing out crudely, but letting their vividly-observed moments do the work - a case of looking outwards to imply what is within...
A Big Poem in every way, these reflections daringly fuse what's inner and what's outer, subvert the pressures of narrative and build a language all their own.
This day's delirious declaration
of the never-never blue; the expense of
jubilation, and the most
irrepressibly You - This must be
heaven's exclamation, to-
day's the Day I'm pro-
Creation; if you carpe
I'd be diem - all my fortunes
I'd lay open! This much beauty's
Exhortation - the final
damning of all rhyme and reason;
Behold: the day is Mort.
... a small delicious morsel of a poem vibrant with wordplay and the unsettling rhythms produced by setting the form on the page at odds with the sounds of the words - bursting with energy and yet wholly in control...
Playful and yet daring, this is a quiet triumph. Lyric poetry presents a particular set of challenges this poem meets head-on, and beautifully.
1. The Grass Path
More tiring than the snaking sidewalk ascent built for two is the
return with the ghost of a kiss but sans company over mud
ants bruised leaves by the concrete downhill
through the humid girl-breathed air
on the grass path home.
2. I am walking outside where it is
raining and the half-lit sky makes everything blue
- the houses and trees and people and
yes, even the light pink flowers which
you commented on, decaying
pleasingly on the wet path-and
clad in cold and a too-thin shirt, the world
seems nothing like and full of you.
3. Boat Quay
Why do you ask me
if I remember that evening spent
at Boat Quay? Sitting
on the cool stone bench
as the sun set
hands clasped, lungs filled
with the breath of the city:
of course I remember.
[later we stood on the light-lined bridge
bodies against the bannister against
each other as we overlooked the water dark
as the sky with white reflections laughing
with more than our mouths we leaned out
over the black-coffee bay into the wall
of electroluminescence (i remember thinking
that the lights-so many lights-looked like bowls
of glowing porridge, food
from a post-apocalyptic fairy tale)
and dazzled by the light we shut our eyes
You know as well as I do
that the only thing about you that I could possibly forget
is the shape of your face.
... writing about love is famously beset with pitfalls, but this delicate and exact sequence avoids sentimentality, cliché and simple nostalgia, keeping its eyes on the precise sensations and observations, noticing the paradoxes, with surprising touches of accuracy in line after line...
Writing of great subtlety and melody which takes the risk of idiosyncrasy without missing a beat. Manages to make this old territory new and difficult once again.
I walked into industrialized cafés throughout
asia minor and I kept thinking of the prehistoric
starbucks back in America as a kind kind of
mother church and of each mohammedan
swinging on Vienna's gate to an' fro at
the order of Kara Mustafa Pasha. Turks
handled the pelts of an American newspaper
as they would a Western bible - envious - and
licking their moustaches. They have no fez and
pray make Atatürk smile in his grave.
POPE BEATIFIES D'AVIANO
My cap, its white N and Y mating atop each other
catches their focuses in between blinks.
Sir, here your cappuccino Sir? Sir?
O O Ok. Thank you.
the waitress bustles back, suspicious, and trying to
pass this off as an awkward cuteness.
The rest regard, and loudly shuffle on to the next
section. Capuchins. Only if, further than the
Poor Clare order, one cowl forming part
Of a monk's habit might have anticipated this.
D'Aviano must have recited battle salmos
in preparation to slay mohammedans
and cautiously, then, inspected and re-inspected
outside the gates before gutting the coffee sacks
that the Turks forgot. Thanking the Poles over some
coffee fashioned in sallets they must have
wondered about beans and colombia.
POPE: EU UNITY WILL BE MORE STABLE/ IF IT IS BASED ON ITS COMMON CHRISTIAN
What possibly could a frappuccino be?
Wiping several tables on the way, she makes way
toward me and in accented english whispers.
"Sir, sir - we apologize for thinking you are
American terrorist We know no terrorist could
come from the new york. They come from
texas and c-c-cali-califor-nia."
For even the Pope everything is timing.
... for anyone who thinks that poetry should limit itself to small-scale personal emotions, take a look at this - one of the edgiest conflicts in the modern world and the history that fuels it all touched in with a striking lightness of touch, with sound research, with knowing wit, with style and no easy moralising at the end...
Urban, sophisticated, contemporary diction brings history and the street today together to make a new "war music" which is never self-pitying but always sharp, intelligent.
That summer words came broken to their lips,
falling in pieces, their mouths unheard, sly -
or else choked by the sprouting freckles, shy
colour in the down of their forearms. Eclipsed
by the glance of a hand on the sheet, the
moths and the white noise hum of heat in the air,
aching and battering the light: bare,
beaten, drumming down the sun. Persistently,
the air hung closer, insidious, sweet,
pinning arms to sides, clothes clinging, sheened.
Drowsy wasps murmured, jolted, gleaned
from the air, falling sacrificial at their feet.
From the air, falling, sacrificial at their feet
drowsy wasps, murmured, jolted, gleaned.
Pinning arms to sides, clothes clinging, sheened -
the air hung closer, insidious, sweet, bare,
beaten, drumming down the sun. Persistently
aching and battering the light: bare
moths and the white noise hum of heat in the air.
By the glance of a hand on the sheet, the
colour in the down of their forearms eclipsed,
or else choked by the sprouting freckles, shy.
Falling in pieces, their mouths unheard, sly -
that summer, words came broken to their lips.
... a technical trick that takes real control and nerve: running the twelve lines of the first half back in reverse order for the second... and somehow producing a real poem from this formal feat - a fine reminder of the way that using form can release, as well as constrain, imagination...
No mere technical exercise, this is true virtuosity: the mirror-form of the stanzas displaying just that evocative, disturbing character which is the poem's "point".
We lie, empty, on the grass,
the thoughts of the world
to pollinate our sleepy brains,
and all that I know is how
I want them to capture us now;
not bleached with effort
in a broken booth, but here -
our hands stamped with memories,
your steam-breath seducing mine,
twining round in lazy courtship.
I want to see this time
immortalised, want them to find us,
ripe with frozen pleasures and stories,
to be picked and savoured.
They all fall at once. I am struck
by the salt we drank in Havana,
the beggar man who
grabbed you with his yellow palms.
I turn too late;
bruised by Tibetan snow
and history, I look away
from the snake of children
climbing the mountain
and the thunderstorm
we flew through.
Sense it, planted deep
inside your head.
If I look hard enough,
I see your face
as your cheating laughter
ripples across Australia
and you stand in the wedding shop
lying through your teeth.
Deeper still, I find
a boat in Spain, the greed
of the waves and the
burn of the sun
on your red shoulders.
I turn away now.
Birds on the horizon
snap their wings like shutters
and all of it is gone
in the flicker of a phrase.
... a poem that creeps up on the reader unexpectedly, as a not-unusual emotional moment opens suddenly back and back into imagination (maybe memory, maybe fantasy) like a whistlestop trip through possible lives, coming back to find the everyday transformed...
This unexpected idea for a poem bites and keeps biting, remaining suggestively in the memory. There's a real ease and fluency in the diction too.
The base sliiiding through my v-v-veins, who cares when you're riding high
c-c-ceeeee me, I've got chicken fever growing like shiny crystal in my eyes
Bite the dust, bite the dot that's the essence of the big fat white shot
Fantasy in flaaaash vision sparkling gold dust onto my curling lashes
Green gravel makes my eyes weep- hawk, sharp eyes and sharper needles
Icccce hissing through my blooooodstream. Piercing. Gold studs so p-p-pretty
It's a krank caller I hear. A lady killer so they say
Liquid-acid-gold, baby, let's take some liberties with life
Release the love doves though we know it's only lust
Just a lightning flash in the proverbial p-p-pan
Facing the northern lights, and me without my make-up on
Liquidising my insides to a sickly sour paste
Rainbow coloured rocks discoing in my g-g-guuuut
A short back and sides please
And a shag for the skunk
Dancing wildly in a drift of snow
Pass the soap, I'm getting clean
Manic laughter, tranquillise me
Tripping through the tulips
and snagging on the weeds
Zero state of mind
a glorious challenge to the reader who wants a comfortable ride, this one makes pulsing music out of street-talk and startling imagery, twisting, stuttering and stretching the words to create an effect that speaks aloud off the page...
Strong, committed writing, whose passionate feeling is communicated to the reader, this is what Trevor Pateman means by "the full word".
This is what's beautiful. This.
Me on the bed by the
My pink toenails reflecting the music, the
Gaze of my dog, the
Gingerbread man on the white rose plate, the
Music of language hanging in the air, the
Sky cool and gaping blue,
Moaning night outside my window.
The skin against the sun.
The past that lives in tonight.
The lamplight in the colours.
The water rolling from the tap like diamonds.
... a courageously spare and subtle slim poem, with just the right sprinkling of precise observations and space around them - delicately hesitant rhythms, and the nerve to stake everything on the simplest of words like (sometimes in a single line, a one-word sentence) 'this'...
Rhythmically and imagistically perfectly-judged, with a fine eye for idiosyncratic detail and a fine ear for assonantal and alliterative music.
Summer has flown in (at last) with clouds
unseasonable, weighty. The day's grey and the night
is even darker. All the while
droughts of laughter, of that 'one'
we all can think of, can't we: one who never
lit a sky, maybe, but smiled
with pearly teeth, with giggling squeals
and lit something up in us. Now it feels
like Summer's brought us clouds (at last) to stifle smiles
and let squeals pass.
To clarify: a sunny stream (bear with this, now)
skipping, tipping musically down-wind,
winding in meadows, through balmy valleys, straight
out of a Lake District post-card. Lush and warm.
Feel this post-card glossy in your fingers, see the stream
in green, in glorious green, so clear (chocolate, incense, ice-cold beer -
all the same idea).
Just take a flowing stream for now, embraced by lilting, whistled breeze
and watch it freeze.
Or - turn this post-card over on its back
to really get the message. Read out loud each longing sound, juicy but void:
the stoneless plums of love. The 'need you now...'. The 'don't know how
life sounds without you' - well... I'd overlooked the tune.
No matter. Quietly, now, find the final word
(not my name, the word just before - the penultimate word) and now
you see what this is all about;
pick up your pen, unsheathe a sword, watch the word freeze
and scratch it out.
... all the twists and turns and wry asides of a real voice talking to you, one you could listen to all day, and hardly notice the real emotion, heartfelt, complex and exactly registered, that it sneaks up on you and suddenly clicks into focus at the end...
Poet as enfant terrible? Much more, this mature, fluent poem moves beyond mere characterisation of the authorial voice to a sober and achieved insight into the pains and responsibilities of unrequited love.
the frost creeps
over our windows again
the summer dew
enlivens drooping grasses
we are beginning
cold railings parting
before us the dim
halls closing up
rooms ringing with echoes
dust left long intact
the phoenix children
only the dry
paper pale ghosts of
books and broken rulers
light as helium balloons
we wake to their
no no no we are not ready
not ready to leave
this thin light and
of our multitude
beyond the gates
i think it is calling
calling to us to come forward
to the horizon's glow
like an advert winding down
a balloon droops
the air gone somewhere
to be counted
in three years even our names
will have passed i think
there will be other girls
transitory as us
long live these children
the light of striplights on black hair
of us flaming
(the sibilance the hiss
like angels or soldiers
into the dark (Orphée return)
or light as we see fit
we are the
aftermath of fire and ruin
we are the rien we
do not have regrets (but I do)
we are the flowers
we had a reflection in the playground-
personally it was on what Siegfried Sassoon
would have made of those towers
and whether or not we should sing
and how grey the tarmac was
how blue the sky
sometimes i feel that this poem
must be completely original
or else that everyone is writing
it inside their own heads
or has written it
or will do
when the new season comes
is it now really?
the time to shake off
our dark shells
and the acne and exercise books
like a chrysalis
on the changing room floor
and in response we are light fresh
and strong as spiders web
free in the gold air
or will nothing change
only the same anger
with no centre
spiralling outwards like dark blood
or oil paints spilt and spreading
we might breathe
in the air like anthrax
or bullets to silence
laughter of a voice
i had thought most
wise is the most startling
when all seems twisted
confusion is like
the fractured black branches
in the wobbly
intense charcoal sketches
can you open windows?
so many did
we devoured the bright air
the courtyard flowers suddenly
i want i hunger
to hold it all within me
cradle each moment like a new child
to kiss each aspect
imprint the lost seconds
each with my self's shadow
... like its undemonstrative title this sequence moves with exactness and restraint (without capital letters or full stops) through one of life's rites of passage - leaving school - opening out specific moments to look beyond them, and back at the poet's own reactions, subtly and honestly...
This ambitious sequence takes the risk - and pulls it off - of that most challenging of poetic tasks: to bring the complex abstract idea into the concrete world of image and metaphor.
Paul Abbott, Felicity Ann Alma, Ruth Baker, Jennifer Ball, Iain Bisset, Peter Michael Bray, Sara Brown, Peter Cashmore, Gemma Cassells, Alison Chantler, Bryony Chapman-Allen, Victoria Chase, Samuel Cheeseman, Wing Ying Chow, Maggie Coburn, Nadia Connor, Lyndsay Coo, Lyndy Davies, Kye Dorricott, Naomi Elliott, Sarah Flavel, Fong Xinyi Clarisse, Mischa Foster-Poole, Laura Friis, Sarah Fuller, Roxanna Garai, Claire Harrisson, Chris Hemmings, Naomi Herbert, Rosa Hisch, Ming Wai Ho, Tim Hodgson, Philip Holdaway, Frances James, Kirsty Jansen, Matt Jenkins, Choo Shu Jian, Naomi Lever, Anna Masliakov, Gareth Mayer, Isabel McCann, Simone Milani, Christina Milton, Edlene A Mogul, Nadia Mohammed, Stuart Muress, Aruna Nair, Tammi Noble, Anne Norton, Lucinda Peters, Jeremy Pike, Zoe Pilger, James Potts, Rosalind Powell, Sarah Ramsey, Sravana Reddy, Sophie Reynolds, Eleanor Richens, Jo Rossiter, Damien M. Shirley, Martha Sprackland, Alexandra Strand, Adrianna Tan, Alex Taylor, Sharlene Teo, Nicola Thomas, Hannah Rose Tristram, Alison Wallace, Annabel Wigoder, Rachel Wilkie, Josie Williams, Catriona Wright, Ruth Yates, Felicity Yeoh, Katherine Young, Fang Yuan.