The poems below were Commended in the longlist of outstanding poetry in the Transformation Single-Poem competition 2021 compiled by Triage Judges Anna Saunders and Zoe Brooks. The shortlisted and winning poems, were selected from the longlist by Lead Judge Fiona Sampson, and can be read here
This anthology is in alphabetical order of first names.
Ankh Spice is a sea-obsessed poet from Aotearoa (New Zealand). His work is widely published, with six nominations for the Pushcart Prize / Best of the Net. He was joint winner of Poetry Archive’s WorldView2020 competition. His first poetry collection is scheduled for publication in late 2021
They’re skeletons, you said, but on the outside. Metal bucket
half-filled with bodies, dull bell sounding each harvest. Theirs. Ours. Hey miracle
knot of muscle, content in the casket, the dark, I’d ask you how the hell to live
like that, but you’re already eaten. To my shame, drowned
in butter and salt, pretty scraps sucked clean. I, too, have been building a cage
of bone, shrugging it scary obvious. Trowelling hard from soft – the less heart
we take in, the more pulse, frantic at the joint. This broken desire, to crack the hinges
of the chest, empty it of treasure, un-mussel, snap hollow, castanet
the boy down to nothing but brittle music – the way cartoon crabs brandish a bivalve
for rhythm. Who will hold me aloft and listen. What is emerging
to dance could grow claws of its own, if you did. Listen now, I could blame them
for acting without me – they’d hook morsel
after desperate morsel, scrape hard at the bucket, find themselves completely
unable to let go.
Ben Verinder lives in rural Hertfordshire. In recent years his poems have been shortlisted or commended in a variety of competitions, including the Winchester, Wolverhampton, Bedford and Cheltenham Festival prizes. He is an amateur mycologist and a wild food forager and the biographer of the adventurer and writer Mary Burkett. He runs a reputation research agency and is one of fifty founding chartered public relations practitioners. Ben’s work has been published in a wide range of magazines. He also won the Frosted Fire First Pamphlet Award in 2021.
Ben is married to a world-class Dolly Parton impersonator.
She had aquamarine eyes, gentle until
the day she came home from the temple soaked
and shivering, ordered the carpenter
to board up the women’s quarters facing the harbour.
That night, she showed me the bruises
where he came at her like a breaker on fine sand.
She spat out tears, hot taste of the sea.
Change was slow, an incubation.
Scales worked their way out from the welts on her spine.
Her bottom lip was pierced and swelled on either side.
One morning I could not close my eyes or move my jaw
and we found a snake unravelling from her braids.
I beheaded it on the pillow with a bronze scalpel.
Pain cockled her lovely face. She wrapped the hatchling
in a linen cloth scented with chrysanthemum
and said: Now I know the nature of punishment and blame.
For weeks we kept her hidden.
Then I came upon the statue of her sister
and heard a rattle from the vines, a voice like white water
begging me to run.
Brenda Henderson delights in making creative connexions. She self-published Jewels and More Jewels’ in the 1990s and became part of Bristol’s Slam Poetry scene, where she started the first poets’ e-zine The Snowball Tree. Now living in France, she is a successful screenwriter with her film Pas de deux due out next year. Meanwhile, she is organizing a writing competition for poets. essayists and an ‘Amuse Bouche’ section and working on a novel, Frisco Bound.
And did you eat birds’ eggs? As you clawed your way,
like a black crow, your young frame aged, hardened.
Did the whites of your eyes widen as you sought
to break the shell, swallow the life-giving yolk,
carbon-smeared? (No burnt toast for you.)
And did the birds attack? Asking what right had you,
a child, in their domain? Their feathers fogging wraiths
of dusty ashes, pecking blood-red your wizened form.
And did you dream, as Kingsley dreamt, of cooling streams?
Eyes and ears, mouth and skin, blue-black cicatrices
washed clear to long-forgotten pinkish hue?
Of play and laughter bubbling?
And did you ask, not for your rights,
but for your life?
Cheryl Pearson is the author of ‘Oysterlight’ (Pindrop Press) and ‘Menagerie’ (The Emma Press), which was the PBS’s Autumn Pamphlet Choice. Her poems have featured or are forthcoming in journals such as Magma, Mslexia, and The Moth Magazine, and she lives and writes in the Peak District National Park.
Portrait of Lot as Widower
He’d have you think he has never looked back.
Not once. Not like his wife, who fluffed
an instruction from God Himself. A man
should be able to stiffen his lip. Move on. But salt,
like love, can keep a thing beyond its life. And so
each time he swims, or seasons lunch, or rims
a margarita glass, she’s summoned back, he sees her
frowning down at clotted pancake mix, or Scrabble
tiles – all vowels! Or watering her potted palms
and crooning mangled lyrics to the leaves – Hold me closeand tie me down, Sir; here we are now,
in containers. Once a swell of cleavage moved him.
Lips pressed to his neck. Now he’s transported by nicked fingers. The mineral glitter on the baking sheet
more beautiful than any star. His wounds, ecstatic,
sing with praise. Her name. Each dazzled oven chip.
Jane Spray Poet and potter, tree planter and artist living in the Forest of Dean. Member of Gloucestershire Poetry Society, the Red thread haiku sangha in Wales and Poets in Progress (PIPs) in the Forest. Poems in anthologies, online, and small magazines e.g. Fourteen and Blithe Spirit.
Ash Ladder up Yggdrasil
First the Elm, now the Ash.
Someone below, in the human realm,
is shouting, again, always, ‘Timber!’
While his moon eye glows pale
in Mimir’s well, sun-eye’d Odin hangs
nine days, nine nights, self-speared,
in the great Ash Yggdrasil, feeling
the asemic markings of rough bark,
to gain the subtle power of runes.
These Norse gods, long ago, created man and woman
out of Ash and Elm, breathing life and will
into primordial timber. Now this same
will and appetite is burgeoning
as trees are felled, all felled.
Odin’s next power grab: the eloquence of poetry and song.
How he snakes through the augered hole, shifts
to play the lover, gulps down the sanguine mead,
then wings it, with an eagle’s strength, back to Valhalla.
They save a few drops, only, for humans.
In our valley, the Ash, taken in slumber.
Before the black buds open.
Before the rooks alight for nesting.
Before the sun warming of their sap-leaping fountains.
With great crashes they are down, and the gaps
fill seamlessly with sky.
Spring comes. We heft-haul
branches up the stony track, and cut
straight sections in the yard.
Rungs for a rope ladder
to reach up
to where the gods throw down wolf bones
and worry still over Ragnarök.
K. S. Moore’s poetry has recently appeared in Broken Sleep’s ‘Crossing Lines’, The Stony Thursday Book, New Welsh Review and Atlanta Review.
In 2020, K. S. Moore placed third in The Waterford Poetry Prize and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Samples of poetry can be found at ksmoore.com and on the K. S. Moore YouTube Channel.
A Welsh Thought
A Welsh thought is songbird,
warbles mutations —
sound beads strung mellifluous.
I once wrote a poem in Welsh —
Ceridwen hustled the clouds
to voice, they pattered a rainbow
to rival her potions
from coch to fioled,
bardd to cerdd,
the colours were written in slopes
while in her cauldron
the bubbles rose, reflected
the spectrum, reduced to three drops
absorbed by Gwion, carried
through forms —
hare to fish to bird to grain.
each limb a line of new verse.
coch – red, fioled – violet
bardd – poet, cerdd – poem
Kathy Miles (three poems in the longlist!)
Kathy is a poet from West Wales. Her fourth collection, Bone House, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2020. Her work has appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, and she is a previous winner of the Welsh Poetry and Wells Literature Festival Poetry Competitions and the Bridport Prize.
Accident of Owl
sky hooked on a fork of trunk
stars flickering blue
in the wood
wreckage of celandine
beak and claw tangle with fur
small skirmish among trees
yellow eyes blinking
the owl in me hunkers
to a branch
watches scurry and bustle
green wink of leaves
forest heart beating
out of rhythm
later we wait
doze fitfully in shifts
heads tucked beneath wings
unfeathered by silence
owl takes to the air
his voice a ghost
measuring the distance
between earth and heaven
wondering how long
it takes to fly
just out of cubhood
and taken before her maidenhead
had been breached
I find her
slipped from herself
as if she’d fly-tipped her body
into the lane
eyes blown into dark glass
fur starched by rain
my grandmother’s parlour
sleeping beneath its weight of dust
the polished bell jars
of small dolls
in lace-trimmed frocks
china eyes half closed
and there a fox
stuffed into life inside his cloche
standing in a landscape
of felted rocks
dried grasses at his feet
lips drawn back to show
a glimpse of pointed teeth
is bright as bonefire in the hedge
as though flesh
had woken from a dream of death
planted itself here among knapweed
and thistle to burn
its candle inside a votive jar
It was the curve of him at night,
the sound of his castanets in my ear.
How he’d slither across the duvet,
sweet-talk me with a flick of his tongue;
the quiff of his tail in my hair.
I got used to the way he’d hiss at me,
his cool demeanour. To the growing piles
of rodents at the door. I turned
a blind eye when he slid back late,
blood-slicked, furred around the jaws.
I was wooed by his sibilants, that smooth
familiar rustle on the floor. Ignored
the taste of venom on his breath,
a careless love-bite in my flesh,
and the rattle that clicked like a warning.
One morning he had gone; a fading
warmth, the ghost of something lost,
his skin laid neatly on the bedroom chair.
I folded it into the chest of drawers
on top of all the others.
Oliver Comins lives and works in West London. After a pamphlet from The Mandeville Press and several with Templar Poetry, a first full collection, Oak Fish Island was published by Templar in 2018.
Picnic in the Woods
Land hereabouts is not so difficult, has been
compliant for the most part, submitting itself
to our careful ministrations. Standards change.
Predecessors named this a troubled terrain.
Sheep grazing on a hillside appear to fight
against the wind. Another group assembles
in conference, sheltered by a dry-stone wall.
We can infer debate as their plans solidify.
Approaching, we see nostrils have flattened
into leathery snouts and teeth sharpened,
become savage bites no ruminant needs.
They hold their ground, do not back off.
How we choose to track their movements
is another matter. We utilise technology,
believe what we see, not muted rumours.
At sundown, they disperse among the trees.
Some climb trunks, bear-like, as they search
for an hors d’oeuvres of honey. Where we sit,
as families on red-checked throws in clearings,
they eat together too – a whole flock gathered.
Rams will wander home in a while, horns down,
and leave the keening mothers to themselves.
They will depart soon after, hunting remnants
of that wolf pack, intending further torment.
PR Walker started writing poetry again in 2018 after a gap of over 30 years. Over the past two years, he has had several poems shortlisted/commended in competitions or published in magazines and anthologies, including The New European, Honest Ulsterman and Black Lives Matter: Poems for a New World. His recent poem “The Grammar of the World is losing its Syntax” was runner up in the 2021 Desmond O’Grady International Poetry Competition.
The Retired Colonel
The retired colonel on our road
digs Jerusalem artichokes on his allotment
where once he ordered dissidents to be shot
in their beds, protesters to be mown down
like grass left to seed. These days
he does the dirty work himself.
He’s a gardener, likes to bury his hands
in the rich soil of his plot, a specialist
in tending root crops until it’s time
to dig them out for his pescatarian supper.
He has his moments bringing tubers out
of the ground, seeing an empty eye socket
in a carrot’s blemish, a broken cheek bone
in a potato sprouting unsightly growths.
His wife prefers the indoor life, steeped in
Christian Orthodoxy, bent double at her easel.
Her eyesight’s poor but she still paints
frame after frame of the flagellated Christ
leaning against the wall of the living room.
Rachel Goodman is a poet and painter based in Norfolk. She has been published in Aesthetica, Magma, Ink Sweat & Tears, Tears in the Fence, Fenland Poetry Journal and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize 2017. She has an MA in Poetry from UEA.
suddenly here – a black lash ending
my sentence with a squeal and a kamikaze
dash to the roof – I know you won’t crash
but speedslip under the tiles
like a wish – go silent for a while
then zoom out for happy hour and a nip
at the insects – I salute your chuff and flare
pleased to be danced over – hoping you’ll dip
and take me with you on a screaming wheel
right up to the top of blue –
there used to be more of you – crowding
the red roof with flicker and hoosh –
unwithered dreams grew in the dark
fat and fluffy and wing-knowing –
the whole of what you are is in my sky
Susan Szekely lives in Bradford, West Yorkshire. She has been a runner-up or commended in competitions including BBC Wildlife Magazine, Borderlines Festival, Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival, Wolverhampton Literature Festival, Ilkley Literature Festival, Welsh International Poetry Competition and The Plough Prize. She has been published in Iota, Other Poetry and Strix.”
The clock’s second hand,
a black wand,
points at sixty black dots
in turn, each a clot
of time: the time it takes
to take a breath, break
a bone; a second’s shift of light
turns day to night.
I’m not there to close
your eyes, and no one knows
but me the shame of relief.
For months after, grief
on a loop plays this scene: I hum
a prelude, your favourite, mum,
humming while I hold
your hand, until it is cold.
Thomas Moody Thomas Moody lives in Northumberland and has an MA in creative writing from Newcastle University. Published work includes: articles, short stories and a script for local radio. His poetry has appeared in magazines and on line. He also plays saxophone, walks his dog, tries to learn French and occasionally cooks.
Everything points to the past.
I launch from Derwent’s slip,
one of my childhood haunts,
last landfall of Harry Clasper.
Like a state funeral, he came
laid on a crepe-draped barge.
A hearse, black-plumed horses,
mutes slow-march to his grave.
Multitudes lined river and roads,
bowed heads, their voices hushed.
A dignity unknown in our era of
thrown flowers, howls, applause.
Decades later a final silence fell.
Abandoned keelboats rotted,
timbers protruding from mud
like ribs of long-dead leviathan.
I bend my back, rowlocks creak.
pulling past Dolphins, greenheart
towers hung with bladder wrack,
slowly decaying in brackish tides.
Black-head gulls wheel and drop,
scavenge on rafts of plastic waste.
Curlews probe mud that conceals
industry’s heavy-metal legacy.
The river ebbs. I feel the pressure
as my oars bend against the flow.
Currents my grandfather felt as he
sculled at the stern of his Foy boat.
Weathered like teak, hard hands,
quick fists and a drunkard’s rage;
beating his weeping wife or kids,
murder lying deep in his heart.
Harry Clasper – champion rower, inventor of the modern rowing shell.
Dolphins – wooden pylons used for mooring ships.
Foy boat – small boats used to moor and manoeuvre larger ships.
William Erickson’s poetry is fascinated with the minute, allowing the seemingly inconsequential to speak through his poems. His sensitive observations of self and space lead through unexpected turns both surreal and familiar. William’s work appears in several journals and his debut chapbook comes out early 2022 with Finishing Line Press.
At the edge of a wood a fox
sat with the vibration near him,
interested in the deciduous trees
whose molted disguises burned along
the forest floor. Curious, the vibration
is to be something of a basis upon
which animals, like foxes, hunt or are
hunted, which raises a question as to
the fox’s intentions and the
minimal degree of consideration he
affords to the now incontrovertible
tremor climbing up the tree trunks,
causing their naked fingers to dance
against a milk of sky as if playing
keys of an empty piano. One
asks to be seen and the vibration
looks in proportion to the weight
of a body falling to the underbrush,
tinder in the fir and autumn leaves
whose change was meant to hide
the fox. Someday the hunger turns,
and there is a fox whose image
trembles, whose attention to
the vibration suggests he hadn’t
thought much further past the leaves
who in the fall have left the forest
floor as warm as his fur.