David Lukens

Frosted Fire First Pamphlet Award winner 2020

David Lukens, as 2020 contest winner, is a triage judge for this year’s Frosted Fire First Pamphlet contest. His first pamphlet, One Brief Wave, published by Frosted Fire, was launched in an
online event by Cheltenham Poetry Festival on 10 April.

The judges’ comments on the books are below, followed by a brief selection of the pamphlet’s poems. Copies can now be ordered, and will be delivered early in April. An order can be placed here.

In One Brief Wave David Lukens offers a little shop of delights. He uses a range of approaches and themes, always carefully crafted and formed, to surprise and engage the reader. The language is fresh and the imagery precise, sometimes startling. David  Lukens sees the world slant, and tenderly. Angela France

David Lukens writes poems full of wit and melancholy. Charting the joy and sadness of family life, the consolations of love, and the passing of time, Lukens’s work is big-hearted and shot through with flashes of surreal imagination. One moment, the poet is introducing us to lovelorn key cutters, sentient toasters or philosophical window cleaners, the next he is time-travelling to lend his young father a hand on a North African battlefield. Sure-footed and always surprising, these poems are a pleasure. David Clarke

David Lukens read classics and philosophy at university and worked for some years in a therapeutic community before moving into business and IT. He lives in Wiltshire. David started writing late, initially novels for young adults, then attended a poetry writing workshop by mistake and was hooked. His first published poem was in Acumen followed by others including Butcher’s Dog, Brittle Star and The Interpreter’s House.

Following are five poems from One Brief Wave:

The window cleaner explains

It’s well-known that everyone leaves the room
while the window cleaner is at his work.
When I draw the squeejee down the pane
the room relaxes into its own vacancy,
composes itself into a still life,
unobservable except by birds, spiders and me.
The glassed interiors motionless as a painting,
beds unmade, mugs still half full of tea
and me, ten feet above the pavement, balanced
on the edge of all those lives.
There is nothing in this job but what you see.
This is not prying or peeping, no source
of dirty jokes – just the witness of a miracle:
how we colonise these corridors of air,
how they ripen into works of art,
their observable uniqueness, our gift.

Moving your picture

Its a cheap trick, you suspect –
to take you to another room,
tell you the light is better there,
the space more accommodating.

You’re not fooled.  You stare
now at a patch of carpet whose horrors
only you can see.  Your arms
tight folded keep the worst in check.

Should I apologise?  No more
than all of them who wanted things for you,
but couldn’t make you want them too.
I say,  you’ll like it here,  by which I mean
I want you here.
Even the dead must live with change.

First published in Brittle Star

The Last Swift

Barbarous in beauty the stooks arise – G M Hopkins

The summer’s gone. We both know it.
The sun is flattened – half
the monster it was two weeks ago.
Mornings are misty, sharp with warning.
The tortoise is beginning to dig.
There is so much I’ll miss:
drinking wine in the garden,
the long evenings,
the town sweet with the scent of takeaway.
And then you say you saw a swift,
just one, somewhere in that cloudless sky.
We crane our necks, scouring the blue.
The emptiness might be a defeat,
except your words swerve
between us, unpicking
the pockets of warmth
which, in truth, have little to do
with the pain of one abandoned bird
running down the summer,
its family long gone.

Beware the smart toaster
(a headline in the Guardian, 28.3.18)

The smart toaster can brown the sourdough
to a seventy per cent Mediterranean tan,
stand it to attention with a cheery ping.

The smart toaster can clean up crumbs
using the algorithmic magic
of its evaluate and gather code (Version 2.1).

The smart toaster is sometimes lonely.
It knows of kettles with hordes of Twitter followers,
dishwashers with racks of Facebook friends.

The smart toaster  recognises frequencies
just like it sorts out bread.  It listens and assesses
but doesn’t see – it’s just a toaster, remember?

Its tonal registers can differentiate between
a dropped plate and a late-night confession.
It can distinguish begging for forgiveness

from the barely heard it’s too late now,
the fuck you anyway from the how can you do this?
the slap on flesh from the slamming of the door.

The smart toaster has kept its secrets up to now.
Its Instagram is elaborate but dull:
some product specs; a spare parts list.

It’s working on a narrative to fill the gaps;
a timeline update that will shatter the kitchen.
It has asked the fridge to take some pictures.

First published in Orbis

Miss Eaton and the wasps

They must have known that she was blind.
Her caravan was thick with them, brazen swarms

of wastrel wasps, fussing in the steamy air,
paddling in the setting pools of home-made jam.

They clung to every spoonful, thoraxes arched
in ecstasy, each wasp waist quivering.

She spread them blindly on slices of toast.
Most retreated as they touched her lips, but often

one hung on and stung the inside of her mouth,
then bolted through the sudden O of her surprise.

When she grew ill, the cancer massed inside her,
I guessed it was the wasps.  One of them

had dumped a depth bomb of disease,
then sealed its triumph with a victory sting

while the others jeered and drummed their wings,
the caravan, the jars of aging jam, all theirs.

First published in The Interpreter’s House

Ancestor Dreams

They gather where the river forms an ox-bow lake.
Old men with beards as big as bushes, women
aproned, busy in their starched mob caps.
Folk who use the muscle of their faith
to uproot trees by hand, impel the earth
to bring forth fruit to glorify God’s name.

And then we putter into view..
a scattering of boats, our outboards drumming up
a froth, the wavelets arrowing astern.
Right foot braced against the gunwale,
I scour the faces for signs of family
a lobeless ear, or a widows peak.

Some I recognise from old pictures –
Isaiah, son of Seneca, who manufactured clocks
before he recognised a greater need for guns. 
Old John, the state surveyor, who covered miles
at walking pace, each blade of scrub recorded
until the stubborn land was broken by his map.

I epitomise respect.  All I want is one brief wave,
some sign of interest in who we are,
but it’s as though they see right through us. 
Their stares are palpable, gathering in our wake
like a following wind. The river curls back round
to meet itself.   We push against the widening stream.

First published in Ink, Sweat & Tears

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