Mirehouse Poetry Competition

Music Room at Mirehouse

This Mirehouse Poetry Prize is given in tribute to writers connected to Mirehouse, who include Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Southey, Fitzgerald and Carlyle. This prize is also a celebration of the work of today's talented poets.  It is of great significance to be able to carry on this unique literary tradition to this day. The next Mirehouse Poetry Competition will be held in 2016.

The Mirehouse Poetry Competition for 2014 attracted over 200 entries and was won by Terry Jones with his excellent poem "Stroke".  The theme for the competition is based on the line "...who loves me must have a touch of earth" (Tennyson).  The competition was judged by award winning poet Helen Farish, who said she had great difficulty choosing the final 8 winning poems due to the exceptional quality of the entries.  According to Helen, "Stroke" is a beautiful poem which handled a difficult topic extremely well and which had an inspiring culmination making it the winner. 

The 2014 winning poem, the runner up and seven highly commended poems are set out below, and displayed on the Mirehouse Poetry Walk. 

The organisers of the Cumbrian Literature Festival Words by the Water continue to give valuable support and encouragement to make this competition possible.  At the Words by the Water LIterary Festival in 2015, John Spedding of Mirehouse will be giving a talk on "The Remarkable Literary History of Mirehouse" on 11th of March.  Find out whose bachelor socks full of holes were laid out on his honeymoon bed, who travelled to Windermere station after his stay at Mirehouse and bumped into Hartley Coleridge there - book via The Theatre by the Lake to attend what promises to be a fascinating talk.

WINNER OF THE MIREHOUSE POETRY PRIZE 2014

STROKE

          Forgetful, in a stroke of genius,
you set the dictionary on a shelf in the fridge
where it lay all night in dark wordlessness;
rosetta of crystal, coomb of roots,
the house of language cooling like a hive:
what were you thinking but this new winter?
Participles glinting, nouns to glass, I took it out:
an old terrain under ice, sub-zero of the word
where you traced clawed prints on a page,
found some snugged and dumb in earth,
                    a world reformed in silence.

          White-cheeked, cold-fingered,
tap it now with a tuning fork, put it to your ear
like the sun’s spring choir; say Corby, Eden,
Gelt Wood, place where spinneys raise letters
of boles, the ice shucked as a crow lifts into blue,
and your lost tongue comes to a litany of fields,
landscape of boundary and dyke, the mud lanes
returning in a shine of names and signs,
a familiar river rising on the grammar of rain.
                    What might it be but the start of thaw?

          Sit with me here, word hoard between us;
sense meltings, warmed breath on air, the whisper
of sibillants turned clear and hasped on the branch;
note hedges and furrows in rime: and there –
do you see it?  Watch it go,
                    a fluent rabbit in a field of snow.

by Terry Jones

HIGHLY COMMENDED

AUBADE

My mother leaned against dreams.
                        Listen carefully;
she did not row above the river of thought,
she did not bleed a flower of imagination –
my mother leaned against dreams.
On a morning when her children rose in sunlight
to squeeze the kitchen back to waking,
and the table found its legs like a foal,
the black cooker shook its head,
chairs were branches in wind.
In the renewed silence of being,
white bread breathed in and out
where curtains which had been clouds
fell once more to their tasks;
at this time when one pale child or other
rose like a reflection from a well,
her face grew strange.

                        Listen carefully.

My mother leaned against dreams;
her face grew strange,
rose like a reflection from a well
at this time.  When one pale child or other
fell once more to their tasks
where curtains which had been clouds
and white bread breathed in and out,
in the renewed silence of being,
chairs were branches; in wind,
the black cooker shook its head
and the table found its legs like a foal.
To squeeze the kitchen back to waking,
on a morning when her children rose, in sunlight
my mother leaned against dreams:
she did not bleed; a flower of imagination,
she did not row.  Above the river of thought,

                        listen carefully:

my mother leaned against dreams.

by Terry Jones

HIGHLY COMMENDED

WE CALLED HER JULIE

She was the pink-orange light
on the corrugated factory-roof,
around a vent emitting vapours
from the slipper-works.

Most nights we felt compelled
to stand beneath the chestnut trees
on Windsor Road, above the park,
salute her.

I showed Wendy how:
one arm stretched high,
looking towards the factory,
we chanted, Hail Julie.

It was a ritual to emphasize
our earthliness; hopeful
of what might help us
if we both showed deference.

Occasionally I find her again,
not in trees or bracken
or the river-bed, but in the sheen on wings,
in the unbranded maverick.

by Jacci Garside

HIGHLY COMMENDED

SANCTUARY OF APHRODITE

Almost closing time, the fag-end of a winter's day.
‘The Goddess has left, but her Sanctuary’s still here!’
The young curator smiles. There’s an imprint on his chin,
discus-shaped, as though at birth a god
had placed a thumb to mark him.
Copper pots, stone heads, a great clay urn,
stone baths for ritual washing.
Naked virgins parade unbidden in my head.
We got lost getting here, had a row.
I told him I was leaving. Now, sulking
in the village square, he reads his maps.

The curator’s black 4x4 goes past.
He waves. ‘Don't worry. I won't lock you in!’
I'm alone. Fallen olives lie on stony ground;
Sparrows rustle among dead leaves.
How lonely to be abandoned by your worshippers;
A beautiful goddess one minute, then cast aside
for the next best thing.
Among these fallen columns,
olive trees in a ruined sanctuary,
there are shadows, sky bruised after a storm,
always the sea, undimmed.

Perhaps the Goddess still waits in the grove
for Love, libations from the two-headed cup,
sacrifices; great kings landing in their black ships,
bees to nectar, along the golden sea-path.
From me, sprigs of rosemary, picked this morning
in the amphitheatre of Kourion, laid on this flat stone,
are small gifts for what may be an altar, still.

by Angela Locke

HIGHLY COMMENDED

FISHING THE FLOOD, COCKERMOUTH, 1938 – a wife comments

He knew he was being photographed
and, playing to the camera, carelessly
communicated in a black and white print
the distinction between art and plunder.
As if the act, not the lens, conjured contrast,
he stripped back the distraction colour
stirs in us, reduced what mattered
to texture, tone, shape and shadow light
in the clean white fascia and half-lowered blinds
of the streetside café, the dead-eyed dark
deepening in the windows of dwellings.
And, fleetingly, the waters muddy and mottled
as the bodies of the river trout he pursued
were shot through with a band of light
that mirrored the journey of the line,
illumined the little arc that had risen
in the fulcrum below his casting hand,
the magnification building along the body
flowering in the load at the tip of the rod.

by Alison Carter

HIGHLY COMMENDED

BESIDE THE BLACK FELL

The god of belting up says, ‘I might speak’,
then doesn’t. Behind your mam and dad’s house
the black fell folds in, shushing poetry.
It’s bleak as bones, an unbustable umbra
and a sod for any future bard who goes
from mother’s milk onto obsidian
listening to its low, preposterous ‘om’.

Kid, it’s hard down on your dreams;
no fantasy cloud animals, no bobbing dust angels
for you, no room for any floating figments.
Instead it’s a bust of itself in your head
with eyes that would crush coal into diamond.

And yet you charmed it, made it amenable
somehow (brayed it, befriended it, stripped
bare before it?) whatever it took
to bust its ugly nowtness.
Like the wink at the end of an eclipse
you set flying a skein of words, found
your hoard of proper poetry, broke out
brilliants.

by Jason Lytollis

HIGHLY COMMENDED

WHITE CURRANTS

The colander, tight in your grasp,
is filled with picked currants, black buttoned,
where they tore from the stem.

Snipped from inside a wilting shrub
and tumbled against steel sides,
I set one on your tongue.  You spit

and shake your head, put the colander down
preferring to pick one for yourself,
turn it, until it bursts in curious fingers.

Your birth is a sharp kick in my brain:
its beginning this time three years ago,
the speed of it, my hushed thrill

at your sex.  Today, daughter,
you are stretched with importance:
reaper of bright spawn,

until the colander tips in tired hands
and I lift you, your bare legs closing
at my hip: a harvest of berries and child.

by Rebecca Goss

HIGHLY COMMENDED

EVEN IF YOU NEVER CAME TO LOVE ME

In the skies above the upland mud wastes
where disconsolate pigs patrolling the wire
must come unstuck at each step in the quag,

and spend their days sucking mud off flints,
or else slumped together in a pile of slubber---
in the skies above all this a single crow is flung
somersaulting in the wind.  How should we fare
in this state?  Beside the sunken lane, near a corner
of the wood, a stark oak is filled with crows all facing

into wind, like black ticks of approval at how things
have turned out.  Squadrons of gulls are wheeling
over no man’s land, steering their blades, dividing the wind.

Would we come unstuck?  O but what if you and I
were to don boots and rain suits to cross these miry wastes,
and were caught in a rainstorm, and if you got boot-gripped

in the sludgy slurry pool, and I pulled and we both fell over.
That would be a thing to carry with me on through life,
even if you had never come around to love me.

by Rowland Molony

HIGHLY COMMENDED

 TILTH

 Riddle it till kingdom come
 and still the gravel will run
 rattling from alluvium
 that spills a hoard of seeming dead.
 Pupa crimsons. Beady amber.
 Beetle garnet. Maggot white.
 Scraps of finger bone that turn
 reluctantly to pipe stem. Flaked
 iron shedding into petalled
 rust. Willow pattern shards enough
 to piece back for a wedding gift.
 This glaucous bung through which,
 if glass could clarify,
 you'd see some once and maybe
 future gardener, head thrown back
 in midday heat, swigging from
 a bottle green like ice.

by David Lindley