For most of us, 2020 will have been one of the most extraordinary years of our lives. While we have been isolated in our homes many of our thoughts have turned into creations to develop a new sense of the world around us. Writers and poets in particular may not be on the front lines of the pandemic but are the creative force who mine the human spirit and give us all a deeper understanding of the times we now live in.
Literature has been a core strand of our festival since its inception in 1976 and this year in particular the written word has never been more important. An annual highlight at the festival is this poetry competition, where along side world renowned poets we celebrate new voices.
We wanted to hear your creations, whatever your rhyme or reasons – the fun, the sad, the mundane, the surprising, the isolated, the hopeful, the beautiful and we were grateful for what proved to be a huge response from a deep well of personal experience resonating with the collective; realisations, imagery and sentiments which our judging panel relished reading and also enjoyed the audio recordings of, by those who made their submissions with this new added aspect of representing their work.
John McAuliffe is an Irish poet who has lived and worked in England since 2002. He has published five collections with The Gallery Press. His first, A Better Life (2002), was shortlisted for a Forward Prize. His second collection Next Door was published in 2007, Of All Places (a Poetry Book Society Recommendation) in 2011 and The Way In (2015). His fifth collection, The Kabul Olympics, was published in April 2020. He co-directs the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester where he teaches poetry and co-edits The Manchester Review. He also writes a monthly poetry column for The Irish Times.
Geraldine is the author of two novels for young people and a biography and, since moving to Mayo, she has published three collections of poetry, World Without Maps and Of Birds and Bones. Her third collection, Mountains for Breakfast, was launched in March 2017. She is part of the Writers in Schools programme, run by Poetry Ireland. She acted as Poetry Ambassador for Trócaire from 2012 to 2015. In 2016 and 2017 she judged the children’s poetry competition at Dromineer Literary Festival.
Ger Reidy has won several national poetry prizes and has received an Arts Council bursary. He is the author of Pictures from a Reservation and Drifting Under The Moon. Poetry Ireland, referring to Reidy's poems comment "that they have Kavanagh like realism and eye for the particular.... his poems echo the grounded concision of Larkin". Ger’s latest book Before Rain was shortlisted for the Pigott Prize at the Listowel Writers Festival. His first collection of short stories Jobs for a Wet Day was published in 2015 and was nominated for the prestigious Edge Hill Prize.
The three winning poets are listed here in order:
First prize - Winning poem
Asking Crow - Cathy Ryan
The day breaks clean
as the flaming sun rises
over the blue lip of the sea
I walk the roads every morning now.
In the quiet I can taste
the breath of the Earth;
primrose banks wealthy
the hulk of a buzzard cresting
a pole - sailor on the lookout for life.
The milky light of morning
peels open the day
and it’s Crow who stops
me, his cry
close to words.
What are you saying?
You fly, beading the land
with your shiny black eyes.
What do you see?
The Crow is dead.
Stygian pitch on top
of the old stone wall
Across the grass, a set of
clothes dry in the wind
dancing like ghosts
a body to wear.
I bend closer to Crow.
His eye holds the sun
an inkwell of light
tail feathers spread
five fingers of wing
Hold steady for death
It’s part of the dance.
come on so - Maresa Sheehan
Belted in and sitting high
on the booster seat
in the front of the van,
off to see Jim Coburn
about a greyhound,
with the car freshner trees
swaying and faded,
barely denting the smell
of dogs and shredded paper.
Parked up skeoways
outside The Little Shop,
they lick, suck
ice cream cones
with baby and false teeth.
It's not the day
for saying a treat only
the worst thing
good men do
with small boys.
Cold Tea - Lynda Tavakoli
In the good room of our small bungalow,
mum read tea leaves from china cups
rescued from the Oxfam shop,
her slight frame and unassuming manner
a mere subterfuge for her divining skills.
There were rules - never on a Sunday
and never in the company of my aunt.
I don’t expect our dad much approved either,
but he let it go, understanding that some things
are probably best left undisturbed.
Believers came to swallow readings
with the trust of any never on the Sabbath
congregation and sculpted dregs of faith
round porcelain curves. Prophesies of doom
were subtly laid aside for Sunday sermons.
I sometimes wonder if she’d seen her future
buried in the leaves. An arrow (never good news),
snakes (the same), or wavy lines portending
journeys unfulfilled. But if she did, it was for none
of us to know, for that was not our mother’s way.
Looking back, I should have read the signs myself -
cups of tea, half drunk and cold, perched
on the bird table or teetering on bathroom shelves
and once or twice abandoned by our father’s garden tools -
that sedge of herons she had planted by the pond.
It’s the way I like to drink it, she would say, the dare
in her eyes always enough, and later,
tea leaves carefully strained, I would present to her
a sun, a fish, a flying bird and catch her smile,
cupped in her hands the white lie of a daughter’s love.
HIGHLY COMMENDED POEMS
Dog Days - Brian Kirk
Summer came scampering into the house
this year, uncalled for, dragging garden
smells on muddy paws and a new silence
coloured by a yellow, ever-present sun
that threatened but never delivered storms.
On humid nights you were visited in dreams
by memories of failure, the unfulfilled dreams
of your youth. You cowered while the house
held its breath in expectation of a storm
that never came. Something stirred in the garden;
Orion’s dog slept under a shade in the sun,
tongue lolling, his breath breaking the silence,
laboured, hoarse, excavating the silence
of your mind, making room for more dreams,
vague anxieties fostered under a glaring sun.
You grew accustomed to being prisoner in your house,
the known world extended to the bottom of the garden,
no further, but the TV brought you closer to the sturm
und drang of peoples tearing each other apart. Storms
in teacups to you who measured out each day in silence.
Heat spilled out the open windows into the garden,
searing the grass, choking flowers while you dozed, dreaming
of disease, death and decay consuming the house.
Outside it was worse, speared under a burning sun,
unable to pretend that everything was normal, to sun
yourself and watch the skies, wait for the storm
to pass. Your impatience could not be housed
by an absence that knew no other form but silence.
Worse than sleeping was the waking dream,
finding yourself alone and standing in the garden,
looking around, naming what you see: garden,
grass, trees, bent flowers dying under the hot sun,
knowing you haven’t been away, just in a dream,
wishing to hell that something would change, the storm
might break, the children next door might assault the silence.
After a while you give up, go back inside the house.
After this summer of silences, you are primed to storm
the garden’s barricades and reach up to pull the sun
down out of the sky, into your fever dreams, your hollow house.
The Sadness of Crows - Lynda Tavakoli
Before the day opens its eyes,
on a fence,
two black crows,
their thistle throats
rinsing the morning
If I could,
I would offer them
the fragile bones
of a vanished chick,
its soul seeping quietly
into warm-dug earth.
I would tell them
it lay now in softest tissue,
belly feathers fluffed
and eyes of lazuline
puzzling the injustices
of ‘going light’.
For in the night
my sleep had met
their fledgless child
and I had known the flutter
of its death kiss
on my cheek.
Later, the boneyard
of my garden
would fold its limbs
about that curl of wing
and clutch of claw
in final flight.
Before the day closes its eyes,
on a fence, two crows,
messaging the sky
with longing for
a small remaining breath
in a dying afternoon.
The Bats of Kasanka - Eoin Hegarty
A thread is pulled
and the evening sky
and a million wingbeats.
We gaze, suspended high
in our ‘butterfly tree’ –
have become tree –
bark and bole
and unblinking eyes;
hands raised like branches;
what’s left of the light.
And just like that,
it clears. And the night sky sweeps in
with its stars and distances,
and we descend
the make-shift platform –
insect clicks and trills rising
in a static of cresting
energies; and we share a nip
of good whiskey, the moment
warming through us,
electric on our breaths.
Abstract Painting Of A Lake - Sighle Meehan
Read me like Corrib waters straying over rocks
manipulating, rummaging, bruising to the sea.
Read me like mayflies on the upper lake,
wind horseplaying on the shallows.
Read me wild like salmon jumping, surging home
new life frisking underneath the waves.
Read me to the depth of blackness, my greedy mouth
red-painted, and when I cry in the grey edges
cup me in your hands, willful through your fingers,
white, when love was young, my wedding dress
like swans at peace on the lower lake
their powerful wings preset to flight.
She Asks For Mercy - Ger Duffy
Before she reads her poem, she asks us
to forgive her father. We listen to, how
her mother fed the family on thin air sometimes, how
only when he left the house could they relax, how
his armies of words invaded her every thought, how
his arguments laced her days, how
his rages filled each room, how
for years they lived like this in one house, how
she sat in school each day in a daze.
She asks us for mercy for her father, so the damage
of his actions are hers to contemplate,
so she can gather him up in her arms, examine
the landscape of his life from son to father,
so the rains of despair that fell on him
and seeped into her can be expunged.
She asks us for our mercy first,
before she reads, we give it.
Apple Spirit - Susannah Violette
The day is light, which is not light,
but still the apples ripen.
I fill my pockets with brutal red.
Cleave my chest
as if you were splitting a log.
Inside I am spalted as marble cake.
The frou-frou of life contours
my softened heart like an oil slick.
Apple shamans bring lost parts home.
Outside my clothes are already winter,
a drab code of solitude.
The colour of sparrow, of safety.
I offer you my hand,
white as field mushroom,
and an apple in swallow-me red.
You take both like a smash ´n´ grab.
Livestock Auction - Daragh Byrne
My uncle, youngest of five, took on the farm.
The only boy. The only thing to do.
We’d go down in late August. He’d spin us yarns:
Tall tales of all the trouble we were due
While stopping in. Callow, not knowing birds,
Or the land, like he did; and trustful — all we knew
Of cunning country ways came from his words.
He took us to the mart. Ego on id.
Staid old men nodding at the auctioned herds.
I swung from railings. Enough to make a bid:
He told me, smiling, that I’d bought a lamb.
I never saw it. I’m still not sure I did.
When I think of him, I think of being a man.
Craft buried in humour. He wore the weight
Of it lightly. And I think of who I am —
Long limbs swinging from an old farmyard gate.