Friday 11 September 2020

Given Poems for National Poetry day 2020 – Adults

Here is our selection of the entries for Best Poem for the Given Words competition for National Poetry Day. They all had to contain the five words letter, childhood, fly (the animal), greedy and dream.

You can read the winning poem I am a Blue Whale Heart by Stuart Airey along with the judge's comments here and the poems from the Under-16s category here.

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Weather Report

The wheel turns
From a whispering silky sea / weightless turquoise sky
To ribbons of air unwinding skeins of letters
Of a leaden sky / grey metallic green ocean
Torn surf flecked with stretched foams and pale blues
Bream Bay coastal current vectors twist and roll
On this periphery of ragged headlands and islands
The horizon not a line but a zone of incrementally
Rising undulations driven in from Antarctic ice shelf melt
Arctic melt, glacier melt, permafrost melt, thermal expansion
Mesmerizing in their fresh salt laden intrigues
That leaves on the high tide flotsam / jetlag line
A pig (sow), bloated, fly-blown on a spit (sand)
Bunch of bananas (lady finger) edible
Plastic star jump toy (green)
Fragments of childhood memories (happy) and distressed
The swells find they have no-where else to go
Fall into a jumble of meter and structure
Theories of cultural greed, life / art
As object / dream / practice / process
Also described as sea level rise crisis panic

Piet Nieuwland

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The Dancing Bicycle

the ink-black bicycle leaps into the sky
carbon components jostle out of position
expand away from the diamond-shaped

frame held together with spit and grease
and a greedy dream of flying like you are
ten again and the rear carrier rack is full of

sheet music with a string of eighth notes
jumping off the staff, trembling in burnt
umber – crank, chainring, derailleur, even

the wheels spin an open letter to your soul
allegro bicicletta! danza! danza! twirl in the
cat’s eye of childhood – stay gold ponyboy

let the old jumble bike jitter down the dirt
track like the sun-drunk buzz of a fat fly
circling just as our spiral galaxy spins in the

wind-whipped rhythm of corduroy, the spray
of unregulated laughter – the trick? keep your
feet off the ground, your hands off the brakes

Jenna Heller
Ōtautahi – Christchurch

Notes: Inspired by the painting Dancing Bicycle by Zoran Tairovic, 2019;
and ‘stay gold ponyboy’ is from The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

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You are sitting in the back seat after
your sister kicks your dad in the face, breaking his glasses.
His face is quietly bleeding
(and you think you have swallowed a fly).

All of his sticky silence is for her
and you hold your own ribs tight because
you want your heart to not be so greedy
(but you’re sure you’ve swallowed a fly).

The seat beside you is empty. He turns the bright key
and childhood is receding in the rearview
as she screams in someone else’s arms, as the road noise rises
rough as the inside of your throat
(where you swallowed the fly).

Dad’s face is invisible. Dark is falling
in one direction only (behind you) –
trees hard-edged on the ridge ahead, black
as the letters of her name on the form they exchanged,
black as pine, with the sun behind
feeding itself to the horizon
(fatter than a swallowed fly)

The hours carry you home. Dad’s fingers never reaching
to comfort his face. He turns your sheets blindly
and you climb into bed alone, give yourself
to the small cold hands of a better dream
(that you’ve swallowed a fly. That you’ve only swallowed a fly.)

Susan Wardell

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This Last Equation

The day sinks beneath all waterlines.
Birds stay still in the trees; no wind.

Taste the silence. Sniff the fear.
Sitting immobile, touching the essence

of near-death. Backbone unhinges
ankle sinks into mud and guts.

In a half-dream, I return to my childhood
bedroom, visualising every detail.

The wallpaper; the Underwood with the
sheet strangling the spool, empty of letters.

The bed where several before
me have taken their last breath.

A finger of sun pressed across a King James.
I awake; someone sniffs beside me. A sob.

A greedy fly swirls round the crinkled
tin lid of tainted meat. Even its life means more.

We wait in that predestined peace, wait
for the siren to rip through. If I

stood up now I may just get to see
the first rays of sun in time.

Lincoln Jaques
Tāmaki Makaurau – Auckland

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The gift

She sits in barren dreams,
pulling the wings and legs off flies.
She stuffs these into envelopes,
along with a letter absolving us of our lust and greed.
Forgiving us for tearing off her own wings
and cutting her legs asunder.
All so we could steal her childhood,
which she now gifts back to us.

Rory Nelson Moores

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Freedom’s mum stole our Stephen King books

she returned only three: Misery, Thinner, and It
I wanted to call her a greedy book thief but instead
I stayed quiet, twelve & between two worlds

Freedom’s mum made us chips and fried chicken
told us through her three missing teeth
about crystals & The Celestine Prophecy

she stayed inside with closed curtains
leaving us at night    alone with our childhoods
to watch movies and Freedom’s sister and
                  the pet chicken
which dropped pellets onto the sofa
& pecked flies from the air

Freedom’s mum has a psychology degree
and a boyfriend who doesn’t speak, only smokes
with car windows up
she doesn’t notice our necks
when we come home smelling of bourbon
                  of boys, dark-eyed and illiterate

mum wrote her a letter years later
when her phone cut off & they had to ‘shift’
she wouldn’t let me read it but
I caught the words hope, girls and bruise

I stop seeing Freedom & a decade later
I have read every Stephen King book
picture deep fryer oil flicking hot on the pages
after each last page    I dream dark
about Freedom’s mum
                  and the monsters we live with

Leah Dodd

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The first house of memory

I wrote a letter
to the house
the other day.
The house
with the blue
pantry doors
and asbestos
in the garage

It arrived and sat
on the kitchen
dress-up parades
of wedding veils
and Oma’s old

One dog and then
One cat and then
no cat.
Flies with pimento
eyes flirting
with the ever-sticky
It saw children

silver bowls
on their heads.
A smattering
of rosehips
and the dissection
of those rosehips
by grinners
wielding butter-knives.

It sat
in a bubble
of childhood
privy to
the perpetual
tearing open
of paper bags
filled with
crumbed mushrooms.

It sat
in an almost
dream, under
the layering
of pass-the-parcel
with newborns
and the maggots
under the cardboard
left in the garden rain.

The door
keeps opening
and closing
and I am greedy
to step over
the threshold,
to slide the chain
of the latch
behind me.

Lily Holloway
Tāmaki Makaurau – Auckland

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Home Is The Place I Dream Of

I dream of a home I’ve yet to call.
Dream of my feet planted in a blanket of
a trillion, earthy stars.
Eyes tracing the points of the shoreline;
a treacherous map to God’s divine treasures.

I dream of peaking over the edge.
Of planting my toes in Papatūānuku’s backbone,
bridging the gap between life
and death.

I dream of belonging. Though,
my bones have never bathed within these waters.
drank from the Manuka tree or sang with the Tui.

I dream of an unknown place, folded
into a letter and stamped with the piece of my heart
that sleeps between the pages of
childhood bedtimes and
ancestral scriptures.

I dream of a sand fly, washing in
blessings from the Waiapu river.
I wear his wings to be everywhere at once,
to belong where I’m told I don’t.
When I grow weary,

I dream of his greedy bite.
Dream of falling into the sting of my pillow and
back into the home I’d always known-
eleven thousand, five hundred and fifty miles away.

where buildings scalpel the sky and
pigeons sit on spikes of freedom;
gargoyled and unpromising.

Tahla Krosschell
North West of England

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Sort it out

I once carried everything along with me.
I feared the loss of childhood
in the combustion of the world.
I was sentimentally attached,
and each stray object hummed
with the dreams it was soaked in.
As years mounted, so did the things,
the crumpled paper, photographs, tokens.
A letter from my first girlfriend.
A Shell Oil patch on a childhood jacket.
Schoolbooks ink blotted and tickets
to places been, dappled with fly shit,
to places walked through, over and under,
with tears, love, mostly the boredom
of jobs, greedy for my time,
that funded this accretion of experience.
Like listening to a shell:
the scratching of time leaks out.

Victor Billot

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Chaos of consonants knock’d
Round fat greasy vowels mock’d
(On childhood tongue forgiven)
Stern word skeletons are block’d.

Now the day dreamed word feasts run
Greedy speakers’ falseness spun
(On adult tongue full blam’d)
Letters shine: toxic vision.

Letters, words: dusty, brittle
Mottled, lost in our spittle
(On aged tongue forgotten)
Dung for flies, all else means little.

With more care of words we could
Make the music that we should
On global tongues for healing
And hum the world t’ward good.

Gaenor Brown
New Plymouth

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Brown Quota

You come over here,
With your greedy hands,
And families unwelcome.

You are flies that stick,
Where we do not want you.

How dare you want more,
Than we give you,
How dare you aspire to letters,
That were never meant for you.

C’s get degrees from Universities,
That have special brown quotas.

You are lucky we let you,
Onto our land of milk and honey,
Where your dream should be,
What we dream for you.

How do we unstick,
These thoughts from childhood,
Our programmed minds,
That my brown skin,
Is a threat to your existence,
Your way of life.

Elissa Baledrokadroka

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given (the speed of) words

my sisters and i are riding wooden horses down an old hallway;
imagination’s fertile plains unfurling silvered slopes,
wild stampedes, a moon sliver of childhood where dream
was portal to galaxies, winged flight from rugged cliffs and

words voyaged for weeks before appearing on our horizon;
a grandparent’s tremulous hand transmitted to page —
familiar, beloved, the letter cherished like a pressed leaf,
and death seemed a slow and distant season.

this week, death could crawl in on the bent legs of an insect,
slip insidiously from a lover’s palm, a child’s cheek,
or across the threshold like a phantom, greedy for air.

disaster’s tally washes up on cyber-sands;
words en masse, disposable prose;
linguistic plastic riding in on a millisecond wave
reporting the world’s grandparents —
how fast they’re drowning — or the sun running high fevers,
the elderly earth gasping.

above the reeling news screen,
there is a slow, thick fly on the wall,
chronically imprinted to interpret rot, as nectar.
it hasn’t moved for hours, biding its time;
waiting, wordless —hungry, for my decay.

Sophia Wilson
Woodside, Otago

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Ombra - Scene for a Ghost or Shade

4am footprints howl in our heads, here
is our hurt, our sad story, our strong note

hurled across time, lodged in our hand —
made hope, our softly polished bodies

from the ordinary melisma of days
a strange dream voice sucks a whole

greedy chord of fear and loss and
attention, the open door, the menacing

presence, the stuckness, the moment
when we are bereft, a ferocious whimper

resonates, places itself in a strange savage
centre of aprons and shoving and crying

“Oh Melvie, Melvie, don’t do this
to me Melvie, please, please!”

scones scattered across the floor, red soup
slashed across the wide window and the girl

who was about to leave childhood forever said
“Don’t want it eh, well all the more for me.”

the slick backhand smashes her spoon into
her mouth and, oh that’s pretty, she thinks

there in my bowl, the same colour but it’s not
tomato is more orange, mine has a blue tint

She stood. She said more words. One was
a loud swear word. Her leaving letter.

Flies gathered on the sunny window pane
sipping, sampling, censoring.

Jenny Dobson
Waipawa, Central Hawkes Bay

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Heptagon housescapes
Each a vignette of dark and light
Beyond the memories of childhood

A hum as loud as a refrigerator in summer
The business of flies in murmuration
Punctured by the styrofoam squeaks of a fantail

Squished and splattered between dreams
Letters origami’d into the folds of lost attic loves
Pages greedily nibbled till they are gone.

Lara Sanderson

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greasy fly

it was that childhood
Houdini act, when all
hope lost i took
the teacher’s letter
and stuffed it into
the hedge after
stepping off the
bottom step
of the bus.

the whole thing
came later back to
haunt me, spurred
in endless summer
of clouds like yachts
in aerial races and
blue morning tides,
by a fly that bit the
corner of my mouth
one afternoon

overstepping the
night into dream,
the greedy fly
of guilt, the winged
greasy fly,
an eye like
dark blue enamel
with a slot to post
a letter in, my
teacher’s hand
popping it into
that gap, for this
foul postman to
ferry it to into
my parent’s
all hope

Peter Le Baige

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Given this

I gave you the thread of the islands of the heart and yet
               here we are
The fire is high and greedy for fat and yet
               the pig still dreams
A fly finds a hundred ways to say the same thing and yet
               here I am
Not everything we feel in childhood can be swum in and yet
               the islands float
You pass letters to the boatman as if they are playing cards
               he has the thread now
I gave you the sweet roast pork but you find as many ways as the fly to say

Kate Waterhouse
Westmere, Auckland

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This Child Is

This child is no fly; although their wingspan
Is as short as his childhood, (as all of ours are),
Equal greediness for the love he can
Tease out of your heart, air-proof as a jar.

This child is no moth; don’t swat him away
From warm bulbs you could share so easily,
Curled in folds of once-safe blankets that fray
In the darkness a child should never see.

This child is no wasp; don’t teach him to sting,
Lure his mind into black and gold fetters,
Make him buzz with anger when he might sing,
Or write hate, when he hardly knows letters.

This child is a child; as clear as that seems,
There are some who give him an insect’s respect,
As though an ant, in their sky-scraping schemes;
It’s our duty (who else’s?) to protect
This child, that he might take wing in his dreams,
And sail higher than adults dare expect.

Loredana P. Kint

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Childhood games with you, Fly:
the plastic swatter game
the dishcloth game, lethal as a whip-crack
the hand-clap-just-above-you game
the electric zapper game that fries you with a sizzle
and feels like cheating.
Tinker tailor soldier sailor with your corpses
then out to play in the sun.

Years later
living with a man
I have a pet spider named Hidey
whose home is a crack between handbasin and wall.
There’s nothing in the antiseptic bathroom to feed a spider
so I perfect my old skills
leaving you just alive enough to struggle and kick
till Hidey emerges with his coy side-step
his greedy embrace.

The man watches silently.

The day I leave I stuff a suitcase with clothes and broken dreams
listening for the snarl of the V8 engine
the heavy tread in the hallway.
As I scrawl a letter he’ll never read
you alight on the table before me
your wings at a jaunty angle
and look me dead in the eye.

I want to take Hidey
but he won’t come.
I leave him to the tender mercies of the man
and the can of Doom under the sink.

Vicky Jones

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Nights Disturbed By Lateral Images & Latent Memory Of Flies

the dream materialises
at night
after screen time
a lit quadrilateral in dark
duplicate images on a susceptible brain
hungering for sleep

rectangle rhombus trapezium kite
each infested with lunging missiles defying oblivion
black letters incarnate on wing
mapped trajectories
like persistent flies in humid heat
irritation brushed away again & again
in vain
their programmed loop undeterred
fresh from our toxic waste & rot

multiplying maggots
hold the horror of childhood’s writhing memory
they return in the adult-scape psyche
with recurring unrest inciting insomnia
consuming the humanoid mind
greedy for remnants of reason

Suzanne Herschell
Eastbourne, Lower Hutt

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Little fly
Your wriggly childhood spent in a stagnant pool
You emerge ravenous, greedy
Ruthless little blood-letter
You strike while I dream.

Roger Anderson
Point Chevalier, Auckland

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The Bougainvillea Drops its Flowers

The India of my childhood was 62 Friends Colony. Faded letters on a sign at the end of our street. We had to point taxi drivers in the right direction. Beside our house goats scavenged, all greedy eyes and protruding ribs. Flies hovered in never-ending circles. Earth, dry and hard.

We heard the musicians first, dancing and singing. Then saw the elephant, almost too large to fit down our narrow street. A white-turbaned bridegroom high on its back. Garlands of yellow marigolds. Frangipani. In the far distance a bride waited, her red sari heavy with gold thread and embroidery. Every step weighted.

Outside by our gate, the dhobi set up his board. Heated his iron. Pressed clothes. My seersucker blouse. A nightie, cotton skirt. The cook prepared his speciality, Tipsy Pudding. My mother sat, played another game of Patience. Through the window, our lawns were green and the bougainvillea dropped red flowers. Evening scent of jasmine entered dreams.

Marjory Woodfield

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In an old woman’s dream,
what I see is a faded piece of paper
abandoned on that sun-bleached chair
warm from our sitting playing ladies with
pebble tea cakes, and buttercup teaspoons,
pouring make-believe tea from a tiny pot.
Greedy to capture more of the memory of you,
I pick it up, and there is your name
in uneven childhood letters, and
a splatter of fly spots, looking just like
tiny drops of tea.

Susan Jane Howard
Matakana, Warkworth

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