National Poetry Competition 2003

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FIRST PRIZE

The Full Indian Rope Trick by Colette Bryce

There was no secret

murmured down through a long line

of elect; no dark fakir, no flutter

of notes from a pipe,

no proof, no footage of it -

but I did it,

Guildhall Square, noon,

in front of everyone.

There were walls, bells, passers-by;

then a rope, thrown, caught by the sky

and me, young, up and away,

goodbye.

Goodbye, goodbye.

Thin air. First try.

A crowd hushed, squinting eyes

at a full sun. There

on the stones

the slack weight of a rope

coiled in a crate, a braid

eighteen summers long,

and me

I'm long gone,

my one-off trick

unique, unequalled since.

And what would I tell them

given the chance?

It was painful; it took years.

I'm my own witness,

guardian of the fact

that I'm still here.

ABOUT THE POET

Colette Bryce was born in Derry, Northern Ireland. She received an Eric Gregory Award in 1995 and her first book, The Heel of Bernadette, was awarded the Aldeburgh Prize for best first collection. She is Fellow of Creative Writing at the University of Dundee

SECOND PRIZE

The Lazy Maid by James Manlow

chin snug in her palm,

her elbow plugged firmly

in the knobbly joint of her kneecap,

legs a little ajar

beneath her skirts, is sound

asleep upon the stool, dreaming

of her mother teaching her

how to scrape parsnips,

which is how at 11.10pm

the mistress of the house

discovers her, stares at her

a while, sighs, then, as if

almost sensing a stream

of watchers on, looks

up suddenly and comes alive,

flush with wine and mischief,

gifting that wry-wild look

I love this painting for,

saying, it's too late for this,

and, see what I put up with?

How I adore this girl.

She won't change. It's 1655.

It's late. Let the dishes

alone. Let the cat eat the fish.

ABOUT THE POET

James Manlow was born in Hertfordshire in 1978, and was selected as one of the 2003 Arvon / Jerwood Young Poets. His winning poem The Lazy Maid was inspired by the paintings of Nicholaes Maes (1634-1693) that hang in the National Gallery's collection. August sees the publication of his first novel, Attraction (published by John Murray).

THIRD PRIZE

Eighteenth by Kate Bingham

There was a craze for fountain pens.

Fat lacquered ones, walnut-effect, gold-nibbed,

unlocked and lifted, two-handed,

from spot-lit glass cabinets and carried over plush

by silent nail-varnished assistants

to the desk where you and your mum or dad

would have been waiting almost eighteen years,

not talking much, you worrying because the pen

you liked best was also the most expensive.

We kept their pass-the-parcel packaging,

treasured for months the slippery, important plastic bag,

the velvety plump moulded to fit our pen alone

room underneath for two free cartridges

and an instruction manual in 14 languages, ours first,

the 12-month guarantee, as if a pen could break down,

when what we liked best was its low-tech simplicity,

that we could want a thing invented centuries before,

that it could symbolise our coming of age.

We scribbled in sepia, wrote everyone cheques

for a million hazelnuts. On birthdays

we'd crowd into the library at lunch

and watch the tip of a new pen touch its first white sheet,

the hand behind solemn and quivering, unsure

whether to doodle or draw or let the nib

try for itself, licking the page in thirsty blue-black stripes

as if it knew this was the end of freedom

and that soon it would have twisted to accommodate

each hesitation, dot and loop, its every molecule

straining with something like love as I leaned in,

imagining a future shaped by neat italics

where whatever I wanted I need only write it down.

ABOUT THE POET

Educated at Oxford and now living in London, Kate Bingham received an Eric Gregory Award in 1996 from the Society of Authors. She is the author of two novels; Mummy's Legs and Slipstream (both Virago) and a poetry collection, Cohabitation (Seren). She has written a screenplay for BBC Films, and was recently commissioned to write another for Contagious Films

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