Atelier East

Fenland Poet Laureate Awards - Shortlisted Poems

This year’s Fenland Poet Laureate Awards produced a particularly strong shortlist of poems. Here are six of the final ten:

First Place - Mary Livingstone
From Maramureş to the Fens

There the strips of land are narrower
than a palmă, a hand’s span, a heart’s span,
fortified by buried stones.

There, mountains from the sea, the earth
is hard to farm. Growing seasons stretch
a hundred days, lives are land-locked, pointed.

Memories go back a hundred years,
to dark lines on maps set by serfdom,
wrested in war, erased by the new men.

Cherry blossom falls on the chickens
pecking at the ground, as a man picks up
his hedge knife, reaches over the boundary,

a breath’s breadth, and stabs his neighbour in the back.
Stones are moved, blood lines rewrite old divides

Here our garden is a râf, an arm’s breadth.
We argue over wooden fences, held by nails,
falling at night in the east wind.

Here violence is buried
deep as bog oak. Emerging in the papers,
blowing like leaves before a storm.

Divisions run straight across the country
in drainage channels, blocks of houses,
private estates, huge flat squares of farm.

Trenches are dug in minds, settled in.
Wild places are washed out around us.
We write a letter of complaint.

Maramureş is an area in the Carpathian mountains in Romania, where land ownership is contested and old methods of farming and land measurement are still used.


Second Place - Matt Deacon
Little Treasures

We saddled a horse-chestnut with worn ropes and a tyre
Tattered threads to bind a borrowed god of the shire
Swinging from his shoulders ‘til our laughter dried
Leaving memories to fray on the bough.

Ledger lines plopped and plummeted to tug
Mercurial eels from the gloaming Hundred Foot.
Mostly we caught reeking weeds, and once the left boot
Of a murdered man.

When sundown surrendered to squinted salutes
Pipistrelles stitched the sky in unspoken rote
And moonlight loomed through blackening clouds
Aching with the floods to come.

Wanting waters rose over reeds and bulrushes
Drowning banks of dredged loam, rolling into the washes
Where stony teeth of ancient beasts lay buried, forgotten;
With blue-glass bottles that still whispered of laudanum.

Our grown mouths remember biting stolen young apples
When trespassing in orchards, where pathways met nettles.

Downpours spurred us from deep-furrowed fields
Weighed heavy with harvests to come.


Third Place - Marina Yedigaroff

I think that I will return as a jackdaw
In a cathedral city
The gaping gargoyles maw will be my home
And I will strut the buttresses
While the swifts and swallows
Bomb and scythe the sky
No entrance fee for me
And evensong will seep through the
stained glass
And quiver over Palace Green
And the ancient plane tree
Where we will gather to flap and scrap
With voices like creaking gates storm doors
I will have an eye to the ground
Bluer than a deacons
A monk grey hood and a cloak black with secrets
My prayers will be to late Spring
To the wasps nest in the gargoyles mouth
Fizzing near the bishops garden
reeling with roses
And in winter from my lofty outpost
I will watch the heron glide over the town
At the fens edge
low lying mist
A rustling in the sedge
I will be a gleaner of glints and glimmers
Teller of tales
Translator of whispers in walls a thousand years old.

Marina Yedigaroff performing

Marina Yedigaroff performing

Commended - Kathryn Aybak
A Bird Creaked By

Beside the flat open sky
A bird creaked by
Sauntering high
It rattled like our goodbye
Hovered like our friendship
Uncertain of itself
Its’ wings were singed
By electric vaults
That fed our thirst
For the blue flicker at night
The incessant hum
Keeping us from ourselves
Pylons cluttered the view
Leading away and above
The drone of our love
Quelling sparks in the fields
That did not
Hold us anymore
There is sometimes a soul
To be found
Sometimes above
This time there was nothing
Except these words


Commended - Pen Avey
The Joy of Mindfulness

A crisp October early evening,
Hurrying home as a nectarine sun
Casts the last few pinkish rays
Over endless flat and marshy ground.

Scurrying home, thinking — ‘What shall I cook for tea?’
When I’m stopped dead in my tracks,
Stunned by the majestic sight
That nature has spun before me.

A barn owl, ghostly wings fanned out
Soars silently, mere feet away.
Intelligent eyes scanning a dyke
Oblivious to my presence.

I bate my breath; heart hammering in my chest
As she spies her prey
And swoops with pinpoint skill
Down, and out of sight.

A tiny, high-pitched peep of surprise
Tells me her talons have struck,
And she emerges, triumphant,
Her furry passenger experiencing flight for the first — and last — time.

As I watch her flap up into the dusk
I breathe again, honoured to bear witness to
A fellow Fenlander preparing her evening meal
As I shall now stroll home to do.


Commended - Rosemary Westwell
Journey across the Fens to Ely

Straight-laced rails stretch to earth’s end
carrying the ambling train across the flat Fen,
laughing at its inmates who sit jammed
like too many birds crammed in a third world land.

Uni. students hug knackered knapsacks,
suited computers calculate cutbacks,
prim miss and her pristine files plots to remove
loud mouthed youths, caps askew.

A mother and three babies caterwaul
above the ear-cracking sounds of all
the giggling shopping girls and fog-horned boys.

Young Charlie, a lad of five sits silent,
nose pressed against the window, in his own island
longing for home and his toys.

A black-peat, ribbon-river stretches - an elastic loch,
Mimicking moorhen dykes, while wood-armed windmills mock
white plastic imitations – gull-killing guys
near solar panelled fields - the bait of grey-smeared skies.
There’s no sun today the boy’s Mum sighs.

An elderly woman dreams, soothed by frisky foals,
her memories easing her age-clocked soul.
Clickety clack, clickety clack, soft hand of her beau
touches her brow, kisses the tiny edge
of her smile; lovers entwine with swaying sedge
beneath a worldly hemisphere of upturned sky
rosy clouds blush as murmurations of starlings fly,
weaving sweeps of a painter’s good-bye.

At Peterborough, weeping willows mourn
the loneliness of black-shadowed water.
Flat fields, even tempered, even tendered,
coloured coal and powdered with soft snowy splendour,
wait for cold-winded winter to surrender
to the green-tipped spring nearby.

At last the Cleric, his dog collar shiny
spies with a beagle-pointed eye
the Ship of the Fens, Ely’s prize,
resplendent on the only mound,
boasting its lantern, its holy ground.
He sees his office, his dominion, his friend.
The clattering train comes to its journey’s end.

Also shortlisted: William Alderson, Gudrun Filipska, Pascale Palmer, and Leah Spencer.

Matt Deacon performing his poem

Matt Deacon performing his poem

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