Saturday 15 September 2018

Given Poems for National Poetry Day 2018

MANY THANKS TO ALL who have sent in their poems with the five words taken from the Spanish poet Antonio Machado’s poem The Hospice. We received a record 122 poems and have made a selection from these to publish here on Given Words.

Our judge Charles Olsen comments: “I identified with the sharp, humorous Week’s end as I evaluated all the poems, although luckily my Monday was a little further away. I hope I haven’t thrown out too many potentially fruitful poems during my pruning. The idea of the hospice (from Machado’s poem of the same name) inspired a number of the poems reflecting on the twilight of life such as The Magnolia Tree, with its tender: ‘my daughter … nests beside her’. I was drawn by the charming simplicity of poems like The first snow, with the snow knitting ‘a fluffy beret/for the empty birds nest’, and The Hedgehog, where the snow is ‘emboldened by a decrepit sun’. In stark contrast is the dense language conjuring up so many images in Single-use downfall, which rewards reading aloud, ‘…sand-skate/Till salty as foam flotsam, a jellyfish cheat/Cheap bait…’ Some poems gave a nod to the Spanish connection, such as Crossing the Rio Grande with its two-line verses slowing the reading like the great river that meanders through ‘el despoblado’, or the word ‘cielo’ in The Stars Aligned, which here means darling or dearest but also means sky and heaven. I also love its images of ‘a nest of stars’ and the tide ‘looking/for something’. Deteriorating was one of the most succinct poems with each of the five words carefully crafted into place rewarding a meditative reading. In the end I was drawn most to the peculiar poem Processional with it’s otherworldly use of the five words beginning with ‘the baying of nests’ and the sensations it leaves hanging in the air like the ‘decrepit forms’ in the wake of this quasi-religious funerary procession.

“It was great to see so many younger writers taking part, both individually and in class, along with their teachers. Even mum, dad and kids all joined in together. Sorry we haven’t published all of your poems, but don’t let that deter you! A number of the poems dwelt on the shadowy areas of human nature such as Flakes of Snow with its ‘…a ghost of a human/Darkness nesting inside’, and its feeling towards a metaphor of flakes of snow for the human condition. Likewise The Thinning Twine is very visual in its depiction of five melancholic people… or perhaps they are only two (girl/woman, boy/man) with the ‘you’ inviting us to identify with one of them? The untitled poem beginning This happened on a day, Rain rain in the month of May… is an empathetic and topical response to the recent flooding in Kerala in the south of India; I always find it interesting how the same five words can spark off such different journeys! Finally I have chosen Seasons Poem which deftly sets the scene with all five words, opening with snow as a cast ‘keeping the broken bones of earth/while they heal’. Although, as in many of the poems, a nest is a nest, a window is a window and snow is snow, each element has its own particular place in the story as it gently unfolds with the change of the season.”

We are delighted to announce the winning poems. The winner of Best Poem who receives a copy of the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook 2018, courtesy of Massey University Press is Craig McGeady for his poem Processional and the winner of the Under-16 category who receives a copy of Slice of Heaven by Des O’Leary courtesy of Mākaro Press is Jemma Prileszky for her poem Seasons Poem. Congratulations from Given Words. The winning poems have also been translated into Spanish for Palabras Prestadas.

Below are the winning poems. We also invite you to read our selection of the rest of the poems from adults here and from under-16s here. All the entries had to contain the words: decrepit, snow, nest, window and cast.

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Matching coveralls and wide brimmed hats
three marching in funerary procession
heads bowed beneath the baying of nests
as if that for which they mourn
is yearning from the other side of silence.

The first balances a weed-eater on his shoulder
the second pushes a mower, the third
carries a broom of brambles, as they follow
a stoic path between turning trees
ignorant of the leaves that catch upon their brims.

They wade through waves of decrepit forms
whose flesh once echoed sunlight
while brethren maddeningly cling to bitter boughs
shaken by unceasing winds, announcing
winter on the verge of snow.

Their steps slow, time is a window to the past
the heady cast of sweat and stench
of nests before abandonment took hold
heavily, those final steps are taken
to darkened doors and the silence of home.

Craig McGeady

Read the poem in Spanish.

Craig McGeady is from Greymouth and lives with his wife and two daughters in Xuzhou, China. He is a teacher at the China University of Mining and Technology. His writing runs the gamut of length and form thanks to a homeroom teacher with a penchant for Michael Moorcock. Poetry first came to him in study classes in the small prefab classrooms on the fringes of Fraser High School in Hamilton. Website:

‘This poem came about through the convergence of three things. One: Over the past few months I have made a series of simple observational poems no longer than four verses. Two: I started an online course that included exploring the work of Emily Dickinson and marvelled at her precision of language. Three: Looking out of the window one day, at the space between apartment buildings, I saw three workmen coming back from a long day and with each step I saw the seasons change around them. Thus the poem was born. Having five words as scaffold on which to build the poem seemed to lend strength to the poem's construction.’

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Seasons Poem

winter is here
the snow today is like a big cast
keeping the broken bones of earth
while they heal
a decrepit bird’s nest sits in frost
at the base of a black tree
from the window, a boy sees three eggs
pale blue as a frozen sea
slowly freezing while the unknown bird
is away
he doesn’t want to watch
turns away
asks the air if mother will return
to save her children
spring is here
the cold shell of winter broken
life bursts from newly healed wounds
a black tree is no longer black
instead shimmers pink as its flowers
ruffle in the breeze
the boy wades through ankle-deep grass
boots shuffle
cicada hum
something cracks underfoot
carefully hidden by snow long-forgotten
at the tree’s base
lies the nest
icy ocean eggs have disappeared
along with the cold
something new here
besides the nest
surrounded by delicate spring snowdrops
an ivory skeleton
of the mother bird
she’d been there all along

Jemma Prileszky, aged 13

Read the poem in Spanish.

Jemma Prileszky is a thirteen year old high school student. Her main interest and hobby is writing and she is always scribbling or typing; busy capturing new ideas. She has been attending The School for Young Writers in Christchurch for the past four years. When her fingers are aching from typing or holding her pen she relaxes with her pets, including her gorgeous whippets Kirby and Pip and her rescue cat Miss Maple. Her poem for this competition draws on the idea of indecision, and the consequences of not acting when you know you should have bothered.

Jenna Heller's Saturday Morning class (ages 12-14)
The School for Young Writers is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1993 and based in Christchurch, New Zealand. They offer tuition to young writers anywhere in the world.Their aim is to help people develop confidence and individual styles as writers. Most of their workshops and online lessons are with young writers aged 7 to 19, where they show them that writing improves with effort, enabling them to succeed. The School for Young Writers team also introduce young writers to the joys and challenges of publication through their magazine Write On. Currently, 68 young people attend Saturday morning classes and hundreds of other young people attend workshops in schools, master classes, holiday programmes or learn via distance and online programmes. All of the tutors at the School for Young Writers are successful writers.

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Continue reading our selection of poems from adults here and from under-16s here.

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