The 2006 judges were Kate Clanchy and Paul Farley.
The title, Radio Seventeen, was taken from the title of Charlotte Geater's poem.
Enjoy the poems!
A sort of curdled-milk sky
and the council houses
and the iron terraces,
and football shirts
on the way to the shops
the car stereos
and the drum and bass.
The Greengrocers shop
and the boarded night clubs,
and the wind-swept Tesco bags,
on fly-posted lampposts.
A sort of illegal Sky
and the council houses.
The corridors all smelt like hairspray
not her perfume, even as she passed
so he pretended it was her hairspray
(not that she used it)
and he sat next to her in history lessons
clammily holding his lighter under the desk.
Sometimes he wanted to start a fire,
just in case she hadn't noticed
the way he watched her,
but he never flicked it open.
He wanted to hold her hand,
twirl her around the classroom
failing that, he'd be John or Paul
and sing to her, clap everytime she smiled.
At the school disco, he asked her to dance
she didn't like early Beatles songs
but he twirled her anyway, just that once,
almost kissed her cheek, but for
his sweaty fingers stumbling into his pockets
as she finished and slow-danced with another
mouthed along to Blondie in an older boy's ear
and he remembered calling her, getting the wrong number.
we wonder how black-and-white
has come out in polychrome,
and why so many are blank
or blurred. We say to ourselves
in the dark empty evenings,
holding each other to
broken promises, watching
the day's curtain draw itself
early, where in these tableaux
are the unspoken words, the
words which hang for ever. But
all this is so much grey, and
everything fades in the broad
tenacious glow of late May,
the last day in uniform,
and the berets in the air, weightless.
The school, sandstone, soot-darkened,
A maze of striplit corridors and chilly stairwells
Drilled through by bells at nine and four,
Is a site of great importance. It should be protected.
It should be blue-plaqued, revered, respected;
For in these classrooms,
The atom was split for the first time.
Each year it was seen to shatter
In the heads of a new batch of fourth-formers; sometimes a neat
Of one hemisphere from another, sometimes an enormous
Microscopic Hallelujah, shock-headed physicists
Blinking in awe; some girls saw many-petalled
Explosions, protons and neutrons spinning out like beads;
Some saw mercury quivering and scooting away from itself
As it did in the teacher's demonstration; similarly, Newton's apple
Shape-shifted: a russet, a Braeburn, a lunchbox Fuji
Tumbling away in the grass as gravity
Appeared like the Cheshire Cat. Four times a week,
We were biologists; we found soft knots of life
In underground pockets, burrowing, burying
A desert wasp's clutch and guarding it viciously,
Vicariously. Heads down, we followed khakied naturalists
Into a cave in Papua, a whispering cathedral, air dense with bats
And travelled north and west, geographers, noting land use:
Rice paddies, poppies, mangoes, tea; and made our pencilled way
Along the Mekong, learnt Mahayana, Theravada,
Weighed them in our hands, held them like charms. In a
We were enlightened, and rising to the edge of space, bore witness to it all.
We were there at the dawn of the nuclear age. We were those scientists
At Los Alamos whose bitter new light bleached the air, who
Melted the ground, stained the sky black with guilt
Like ink from a broken pen, sent tremors through certainty.
And fought their corners; the house lights went down, writers entered
Stage left and sang through us. We were Juliet, Antigone;
We acted out the arc of tragedy; we conjured metaphors
In Technicolor; fiction was a never-ending garden; we could see everything.
Our school was a house of dreams, for here
Anything that could be thought was possible; God was
Proved, refuted, revealed, denied; technologically
Blessed, we could reach further into deep space
Than our parents knew existed; not only the Hubble Telescope but
A walk on the beach would reveal Eternity
Billions of times over, and we could see Rome burn,
Troy brought to its knees for Helen, and to the tune
Of the assembly hall's off-key upright piano, imagine: above us only sky...
A woman stands and opens her mouth
to screech: "These HORRORS, these EVILS, these CRUDE-"/
While pamphlets are scattered like holy white birds.
He pleads with them. Islam! Jihad: Striving
For Peace!/ "CRUDE and BLASPHEMOUS-" Just
some old woman
in some shopping lane, in the skin-stripping wind.
Words carry. Heaved and tossed by the wind
they shoot like tear gas from the round black mouth.
"-UNHOLY, INHUMAN-"/ The Muslim Woman
is dropped on the pavement. His opinions are crude
but earnest. He talks. He's trying. He's striving
to make them see. But they scatter like birds./
The air is thick with obese birds.
She hollers: "-this SPREADING DISEASE-" and
can't drown out the sound of the people all striving
to ignore him. His truth. Some muttering mouth
will mock his pamphlets and effort but no crude
jokes can stop him./ "WHAT kind of WOMAN
SUBMITS herself to it?" Not this boiling woman,
her bosom heaves, creaking like dying birds.
She has a banner. The drawings are crude
and you laugh at her dress that flaps in the wind
while I stare at the red-black, street-eating mouth.
To be so sure's what we're all striving
for./ And he's still sweating, striving
against her. The Muslim Life, Man & Woman - /
"-these SINS straight from the QUR'AN'S MOUTH-"/
- whip through the air amidst throngs of birds.
He stops strangers, urgent./ She shouts down the wind./
His eyes are so desperate and raw it's crude –
they single me out, as you make your crude
hand gestures, behind his back. You're striving
to make me laugh. But I'm watching the wind
blowing his hair in his eyes./ Now the woman
fights to be heard over pamphlets and birds
and a city's huge noise, its one howling mouth./
Crude free hell. How can we hear one boy or woman
striving against all this street shriek – as fat birds
battle the wind – from the scores of black mouths?
At the top of Palatine Hill, you stand cradling an infant,
a stained glass miniature I have clumsily leaded
with the cracks of a dropped photo frame, its gentle clouds
now a mass of teeth above your jagged body.
A cheap mosaic like graffiti sprayed over a brick wall,
so sorrily childish hands have tiled the glass shards in mock majesty
that vanishes on the smooth reverse of the photographic plate,
vanishing in turn onto an unwritten page.
Yet more often we are not art. How frequently I have looked,
through that glaze of weeping, for you – and in the ruins,
for a moment, have thought that you were only lost
and I was too, still asleep in your arms.
Other people live in fear
of gun massacres, heart attacks,
car smashes, plane crashes,
horrific back-street slaughters.
But me? I can tell you my future:
all two hours and twenty-six minutes of it.
I can tell you how
I will be swaddled in wires
like a new-born in a blanket;
how plastic and metal will nestle
in my flesh like vital organs.
How the firm push
in the small of my back
will feel like a mother
sending her son into the playground
on his first day of school.
I can tell you how
I will step down the path
of the grey terraced house.
How I will walk
along the pavement
clutching my belly, nursing
my newly acquired child.
I can tell you how my sweat
will mingle with dormant electrons;
how I will whisper my instructions
like a mantra as I clutch the slippery surface
of the handrail on the number 47.
I can tell you how I will
disembark deftly despite
my bulk, slip
into the crowd
as an otter
enters the water.
I can tell you how I will
murmur my final prayers,
cradling my phantom foetus;
clinging to the image
of Heaven's open gates
like a daughter to her father's hand.
How my finger will flick
the switch as the clock
Jazz likes to play in the background
As if it has a right to be there.
The clouds outside clog up the sky, and the open window lets them in,
Lets them seep into the furniture and darken the room,
I can't actually see you anymore;
There is a thick blanket of weather between us.
And last night I dreamt of you, and me.
We were standing in the doorway of your house,
Ran pouring down, cold edging in, and we stood there.
Nothing else happened.
I woke up, was all, to clouds and jazz entering the house,
Lounging about my space like they owned it,
Having sneaked in through the window.
Who opened the window, anyway, in this weather?
You invited clouds and jazz music into my life, you did.
Now, I've swept all the clouds out. Some had to be kicked,
Some shoved, and some dragged, but I got them all.
And most of the jazz.
There's just the one left, I think. It hides behind the sofa,
And only comes out when I think of you –
And even then, quietly. Quietly.
"Can you feel the year changing?"
January 1st, and my fingers have gone blue
Holding hands at a street party at 00:02
And we're praying for a thaw, huddled in each other's coats
Waiting for a signal to go out into the world
And make it ours while we still can,
Before our youth has burnt away.
I kissed you in a February dream and
Watched the steam rise from your mouth
As we drew our lips apart.
Now it's mid-March and I'm watching the
Hairs hop up on the back of your neck.
There's a slight chill in the air
(But it doesn't matter when you're there).
And we're shouting 'Bring on the summer!'
At the very tops of our young lungs
As April teases us with sun-drenched rain and rain-drenched
By May we're certain spring has sprung –
It reverberates in the fluffy heads of dandelions
And tickles the new yellow flocks of flowers in the fields.
Then suddenly, before we know a month has passed,
Summer explodes, and I'm laying on my back
On the soft June grass tracing lines around the freckles of your
And the sun is streaming down on me
Absorbing me, absolving me.
I turn to you in the heavy sky of July
And press your body closer into mine
So we can both lie down, and watch the lazy battles of the clouds
Among the golden heads of daisies that now decorate the ground.
August knocked me flat; the Earth was screaming out for rain
While you were screaming out my name
And we were happy once again.
Soon it was September, and the autumn was approaching
Like a fuzzy brown blur on the warm horizon.
The trees danced with colour, then shed their crinkled skin
And soon October came and the wet soil took back its fallen kin.
Winter threatened, frozen-fingered, but I knew
That all I had to do was just keep holding onto you;
And November and December passed us by without a scratch.
We closed the door of the summerhouse, with a blanket and a
All night through the soft music of the season played
And we snuggled under covers; felt that nothing, nobody, could touch us.
Then it was morning, with January sliding back the latch
And I let him in, and had to let you go.
The garden constructed our swings; scaffolding
that once bespectacled the house became a skeletal
tent, spelling out an iron alphabet. A letter
for each of us. We kicked away the earth, tipped
the world on its axis of falling blue skies,
and hurled our heads against clotting clouds.
I flew up to places no adult could reach; mosaics
of leaves, sun drafting emerald light in a great
lace umbrella. The city of blackbirds. Then
fell like a heart so curls scratched grass; blades
and blue spirits in a tea party where every rule
was bone china. Shadows winging the lawn-
and up again. A rag doll of elements; winded
by air and aching sky, I'd see the street below
rearrange itself, and pause to catch my soul.
Late last summer, I wore gingham
and brought you fruit from next door, scrumped.
I wanted to crunch
and let the juice dribbledown
as we kissed,
and mingle the sweetness.
I had painted my fingers and toes and eyelids with colours you liked
And you licked my sticky lips, shiny dappled apple-red
until the apples blushed. You were more lovely
and more temperate, but the summer was Indian
or maybe you didn't like the gingham.
I ran a bath too hot,
too deep and my skin burst into red like the apples.
There once was a man from Kashmir,
Who was Muslim and lived over here,
When he went to the mosque,
Some youths shouted, "Get lost!"
And hurled a bottle of beer.
This rather depressed the Kashmiri,
As he set off home, munching a sarnie
(Halal, of course,
With a sheep as its source)
And he thought about the British army
The government, army and police,
Who, oiled by New Labour's grease,
Had cracked down on Islam,
Just like in Vietnam,
When the Americans cracked down on commies.
After watching a bit of TV,
To bed went our friend the Kashmiri,
But his sleep was cut short,
By a knock at the door,
Very early, at just after three.
The officer said, "Sir, we suspect you,
"Even though we have never met you.
"Of what we suspect you,
"We don't have to tell you,
"And on this suspicion I arrest you."
They bundled him into a car,
The police station wasn't that far,
They then bundled him out,
And, with a shout,
Locked the poor man behind bars
As our friend the Kashmiri sat down,
In his long flowing white Muslim gown,
He pondered and pondered,
And wondered and wondered,
Was all this because of his skin colour: brown?
Racism in Britain, surely not?
Racism in the police force, maybe not?
But if they weren't racist,
Then on what basis
Did they arrest our poor friend on the spot?
They held him for twenty-eight days,
They explored a variety of ways
To keep him locked up,
But then they gave up,
And let him go free in a daze
Let not the authorities strangle
Our right to dispute and to wrangle
Or even to hold
Our beliefs loud and bold,
Let it over the monster's mouth dangle
I've been biting my nails
For as long as I can recall.
For years they were slivers
Of white, on pink,
My friends and parents
Would badger me,
In the nicest possible way,
For them to be long as the Yangtze.
Then one day, a few weeks back,
Everyone stopped noticing.
After fifteen years
My short nails were permissible.
And I stopped biting,
I noticed this afternoon.
I looked down as I wrote,
And the slivers were broadened,
Not the waning but the waxing moon.
When I started this poem,
They were almost to my fingertips.
Now my teeth have been at work,
And once again they are
Chips, slips, strips, a lunar eclipse.
This house is too well-known to me. It creaks
In high winds when the ocean blows them in.
It murmurs to itself. I hear the thin
Soft whispers of its voice pour through the leaks.
I think you hear them too. These old walls seek
To hem us like the mountains, pen us in.
The shore is where the prison-wall begins
And on the land the light is grey and weak.
But water catches sunbeams where they fall,
Reflects them back again all dizzy-bright
With split-gold meanings: 'You could still be free.'
It's true – though, for a little while, let's stall,
And watch the sea-birds circle to gain height
Where cliffs divide the sunlight from the sea.
I went tomato picking in the greenhouse.
I remember it so well –
The hot, sticky smell of the air around us
Contrasting with the cool, strangely calming smell of the fruit,
Shiny, red and speckled,
Wonderfully different from all others,
It was the one for me.
Small and round
But hard at the same time.
My sister always gulped hers down
Quick as a flash.
I remember her face.
I peeled off the skin
Oh, so very gently,
One strip at a time,
Then placed it on my tongue
And shut my mouth.
I heard the buzzing of the bees
In their own world
Working for their queen,
The rustling of leaves, and
My mother laughing at our messy faces.
All the whales wonder
at the new guy
in the sea.
with his one stalk eye.
The new guy's not
he cruises by himself.
And rumor has it,
by little people
from somewhere else.
I pointed at the stars -
dead as diamonds,
with gleaming eyes.
You bent my glance
and said that
the starry sky
is found here:
Near as now.
Adjacent and alive.
You taught me
that all flowers
are stars -
is another heaven.
California skies are blue and taste of sunlight and cold wind. I once submerged a soybean seed for science class. Twin tendrils grew long and cynical. And withered in the late weeks of September.
Here in polluted airways and toxic sunsets I cling to the ghostly strands of your smile.
Phoebe Amis, Sarah Aston, Frances Balmer, Christina Beasley, Henry Bell, Rebecca Broome, Rosamond Brown, James Bunting, Jon Burman, Jacob Burns, James Byrne, Giovanni Calarco, Fred Carter, Theo Carter, Amanda Chong, James Coghill, Lilith Cooper, Rebecca Davey, Rees Arnott Davies, Louisa Dawes, Athene Dilke, Paul Evans, Harriet Hale, Hector Hamilton, Kit Hargreaves, William Harris, Helen Harvey, Zhengxun Hee, Cleo Henry, Ruby Hirsch, Jemima Hodkinson, Jiayi Huang, Hannah Hudson, Shillat Hussein, Anna Isaac, Morwenna James, Ross Johnstone, Ekaterina Karabasheva, Jahanzaib Khwaja, Rowena Knight, Emma Lawrence, George Legg, Tiffany Li, Catherine Lough, Stephen Mack, Bella Massey, Emily Mercer, Jon Melling, Sarah Mooney, Emi Morioka, Jamal Msebele, Tara Mullin, Katy Murr, Beth Nixon, Toby Parker-Rees, Jessica Pattison, Amanda Picardi, Joe Rybicki, H L Salter, Samantha Scammell, Nat Scroggie, Rebecca Senior, Colette Sensier, Mansi Shah, Ellie Slee, George Sully, Elizabeth Francine Tan, Alice Thomas, Rachael Thomas, Nicholas Tolkien, Phoebe Walker, Calum Watt, Michael Wee, Babatunde Williams, Yoke Hin Nicholas Wong, Daisy Wootton, Lizzie Wright, Sophie Yeo, Rosetta Young, Nafeesah Younis.