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18th September 2018

Deciding on a theme for Hour of Writes is a tricky business. It must be precise enough to inspire writers to create pieces with clear connections to the theme, but broad enough that each entry will be unique. Of all things Attack And Receive could have been inspired by, it came from a playing card in the franchise that dominated my childhood: Yu-Gi-Oh. With such an aggressive phrase, I was hoping for war, embittered couples, and intrigue. I was delighted to find all this, alongside some whimsy.

I was immediately drawn to Entry 3155, which explores a situation too many of us will be familiar with. It reminds us that those who suffer from violence often turn to violence, that this cycle is not easily broken. Entry 3155 also shows that there can be a lot of power in simple language.

Entry 3160, Red Poppy Boy (gets what’s coming to him), has a lovely rhythm that drives the reader through a story of addiction and consequence. This can be seen especially in the second stanza, with: ‘an A1 stealer / all state receiver / a total syringe believer’. Successfully employing rhythm always makes a poem more compelling.

With Entry 3163, we see a regular structure and rhythm used to great effect. The images were very vivid, essential for communicating a story with such a degree of movement and as many changes in scene. I particularly enjoyed the shift in scale in: 

‘Zipping through the midges and the dragonflies / We crest the spikes and fall into a murderous scrum’,

making the poem more dynamic and cinematic. 

For me, Entry 3159 was the obvious winner. Gentle and concise, the piece takes us ‘inch by inch’ through a race. The poem is dense with imagery, and it is a credit to the author that they evoked such a strength of feeling in me with so few lines. I keep returning to: 

‘The last water gone / Like legs / with nothing left / except blisters, cramp, / tiredness beyond enduring’

drawn by its subtlety of rhythm and simplicity of language.

Thank you to everyone who entered. Judging this competition was a wonderful excuse to sit down, have a cup of tea, and immerse myself in varied poetry and prose. You each responded to the prompt differently, making this process an absolute pleasure. I hope you all continue to write great work for Hour of Writes, and for yourselves.


About The Judge

Jack Cooper works at the University of Oxford, in a laboratory that uses the sexual courtship of fruitflies as a model to understand core features of development and behaviour. His poetry has been longlisted for the National Poetry Competition, and shortlisted for The New Poets Prize and Segora Poetry Competition amongst others. Stephen King, Final Fantasy, and K-Pop are the great loves of his life.

You can find him on Twitter at @JackCooper666, and on Instagram at @JackCooper0696


I started at PricewaterhouseCoopers on the same day as Gavin. We were both on the Management Consultancy program but in different teams. Gavin didn’t look or sound like a twat, which I suppose is what disarmed me initially. He was good-looking and confident, dressing to impress and grooming himself to match.

We were only an open-plan section of the office floor away from each other. We both had our own social areas and kitchen, so there was no real need for our paths to cross. But he liked to use our fridge as an overflow, popping in his deli meats which he would then cram between two layers of posh bread. Once he sliced up a stonebaked Kalamata and Halkidiki Olive Batard. I pointed at the packaging and asked him if he’d been to private school. He slapped me on the back, a little too vigorously, chuckling softly. He told me he’d boarded at Repton, but they’d never had bread like that. And with a flash of his Union Jack cufflinks, he was gone.

Over the first few weeks in the job, I grew to like him. On our second or third night out he offered me coke in the toilets of The Queen’s Head. We’d been drinking hard since finishing work, and it was nearly kicking out time. He leant back away from the urinal next to mine as if he was abseiling with an invisible rope, one hand on his member, the other extended towards me with a white line over the back of the thumb. Joseph, he said. Have summa dat. I declined, and he shrugged before stowing away little Gav and then smoothly inhaling the party talc. That night, at a bijou and naughty little club in the West End, we became Riggs and Murtough, partners in (solving) crime and (management) consultancy. Lethal Weapons. The ladies did not know what hit ‘em.

The year went through peaks and troughs of intensity at work, only assuaged by our full-on social grandstanding. Christmas, we went out on a predictably massive festive bender. I knew Gavin was probably after the team leader job I’d been eyeing up, and after a few beers and a wrap of speed in the bogs, I stupidly moved my cards away from my chest.

‘Have you given much thought to the team leader job?’ I shouted in his ear.

Gavin looked askance at me, his face bathed in scrolling bars of purple and white. ‘About as much thought as I’ve given to becoming a monk.’

‘Why not? You’d be good,’ I said, nodding sincerely.

He turned to look at me properly. Ignored the question. ‘Aren’t you going for it?’

‘We-ell,’ I slurred and made a face. ‘Maybe. It’s a shitload more money, and I’ve got to keep up with your posh twat lunches. Yeah. Why not?’

Gavin laughed, suddenly seeming more sober. ‘Good for you. The reason I’m not going for it is because I’ve been riding a wave of farts and piss for…well, pretty much since I’ve been born. Things can’t keep getting better for me automatically, and - ’

‘- shut the France. Get the door, the front one,’ I interrupted, insistent. ‘You say all the right things and know all the right people. Guppy Thumb? Jackie P? I don’t even know their real names. You, you’re - ’

‘Joseph. It’s not happening. Come on, let’s go to the WC pharmacy and forget about it.’

So I stopped trying to persuade him about the job. And he offered me coke again. Except this time, I took it. Snorted it right off the cistern. And he was in the cubicle with me, telling me he didn’t want me to throw a whitey as it was my first time. I didn’t notice his phone out. As it must have been.

So in the new year, when it came time for my interview, I got two emails about different things. Neither about the job. One, a notice of dismissal pending investigation of drug usage on a work night out. And two, a line – just a line - from Gavin.

Sorry, buddy. I guess things have to keep getting better after all.

Recent ShowNotes

Things… Get… Better

Last week's competition

Featured Entry

by Patsy's Poetry
Madman Immortal

"Things get better" Reverberating through my mind.
Echoes and rings of a false affirmation chiming from well wishing yet clueless parrots.
Swallow the pill, take a breath and understand.

"This year is my year" A fictitious mantra that fuels my engines, running on steam and a faltering will. With each coming day, a new terror, a new pain, a new agony to survive.

"The future is bright" A spurious fantasy to encourage my incessant trudge to move mountains. Ignoring the fallacy that the future will never be my present, the future remains as a slice of optimistic pie that will long go cold and rotten before I take a bite.

I take compliment at idealist proclamations and hopeful thoughts,
I'll never allow my life in another person's prayers go ignored or unnoticed.
I just envy an understanding of my realist values.

In my bedside drawer lies two notes, both final messages from my closests.
Through blood, sweat and far too many tears, I held them close.
Those letters are now just paper, a reminder that I could change fate and rebuild our destiny, to keep them safe.

I am the last of our trio to stay steadfast, to never falter.
How can I? The Cornerstone, the one who held our heads above the water as the devil tried to drown us like helpless puppies trapped in a binbag.
How dare I show a sign of weakness, How dare I write a third and final note.

Is it Grand Design? Am I an image of Atlas? To carry the world on my shoulders for the good of others? Sacrifice my life to never die?
If I had made a decision, If I had ran the path before them? Would the worst have come to pass?

I've been robbed. The final God-Given right to any living creature to decide when I've had enough.
To be burdened with the eternal knowledge that through my suffering, by me holding onto the thin threads of our reality, I can keep them safe.

And if that morning comes when I can take a breath and step back into my own self, I would do it all again, in half a heartbeat I'd pick up the Earth once more.
Because one day, things may get better.

Last Week's Winner!

Winning entry by Shay Rose
I'm sitting here, waiting for my PhD thesis to print.
What a thing of complete retrospection to be doing on a Monday night. I will never live up to the idea of Scientist, because the left side of my brain scratches and spins against the rules and regulations of an experiment. The creativity to create the technique, the meticulous thought of hypothesis--these are left unacknowledged in my acknowledgements section.
I sit and I wait for the printer to do its one job.
The stairs in this building are designed to look like DNA as they wind upwards.
The act of printing is going to be the only action in this...poem. Essay. Rant. Whistling into the wind.
At the end of a PhD, there is only endings. Oh, you know you're about to move to Seattle to work your dream job as a cancer researcher. You know you'll be close to friends and family again. You can smell the campfire that you'll build in late September, and the pine warm in the sun. You remember all this future yearning? Yet, there is the ending, ending, ending, thunderous in the background veins, pumping toward the end, surging towards the shoal, mixing all the metaphors.
Galway will be the end of me. And, I suppose, that as an American I will never be more Irish than experiencing the act of leaving Ireland, and of yearning for her shores months and years from now. The diaspora was real, and I am a continuation of it four generations after my grandparents. Great-great. How many years pass before you forget the name of your childhood? How many years before pints are not a drawback to my thesis, to this ponderous study period, when I researched a protein called ZC3H14?
The printer is still printing, and I am still yearning.
A monstera plant has been moved to the second floor. Beata, the building manager, loves plants, and now the whole building is bursting with greenery. She started planting after the lockdown, when she was brining life back to the empty hallways. There were whole days where she planted and repotted her cuttings. Spider plants, snake plants, fly traps placed cleverly near the Drosophila lab. Can you imaging making the world so much better, so consistently, and in the face of disapproval of the budget holders? I suspect my budget holders have never approved.
Five years in a lab, with the twirling learning of nucleic acids, and all I can say for certain is this: ZC3H14 is phosphorylated by ATM after DNA damage occurs. It is a substrate, in this substrate-driven world. The proteins, they pass messages like students in grade school, hand-to-hand, spreading word like gossip, saying hey! Something here is broken! The good ones ask to send aid, the bad, they propagate negativity, crowding the one who is laying in a puddle of her own tears.
I am afraid that clichés exist only to the young. I want the PhD to become so common that it can become cliché, yet I don't want my degree to become obsolete. How can everyone not want to learn, their whole life? How can that not be the goal?
The printer printed the first copy. I want three--one for each examiner, and one for me to reference when in my Viva.

I know well that my worst writing habit is a lack of action. I am a poet, but not a story teller. Have you made it this far? How much further are you willing to go? I am only thirty minutes into waiting for the printer, only thirty minutes into writing. How much random shit can I get onto the paper in the meantime? Isn't that the joy in life? Or is it the job? Have I made it five years into my PhD? Have I passed the hurdles enough to come to the next ones?

Oh. My sister wrote a short story that is better than any I have read. Think Jonathan Seagull, but in magical human terms rather than philosophical seagull. The story is called "Pushing the Boulder," and its about growing up pushing a rock, being proud to push the bigger rock when its your turn, learning to push a squared rather than rounded boulder, pushing it and becoming stronger the character's whole life, becoming burnt out when people expect you to do it and no longer offer praise. Of course its a metaphor, and on explanation the metaphor is obvious to me, printing out my PhD thesis. Stop pushing the boulder just because you can; find fulfilment in walking away from the boulder; don't be dependent on 'good jobs' from others caught up in the pain of their own lives. But, when reading this story, this clear meaning is somehow distilled and clear yet not directly allegorical. There's a better word--not directly preachy. It is an allegory, in the same way that Plato's Allegory of the Cave is allegory.
I think, because I asked earlier what the point is without continuous learning, I think that both my boulder and my fear is a life without learning. What if my PhD has been so specific that it has dug me deeper into the cave, rather than turning my head to my right? What if, when I see my friends, they're all in chains, and the call of the wild from behind me is calling in the clear light of day?
What do I want?
Do I want Knowledge, or do I want to be Kind?
Because, I think above all, I want to be kind, I want to be kind, I want to be kind. And I want my thesis to print, without becoming bogged in retrospection. And I want action to lift me forward into my life. And I want to be kind, not just to others (that's easy), but to myself, with my thoughts and my insecurities and my five-pound theses that I will soon put behind me in the past and not read again for ten years.
The printer has a red line developing on the bottom of every page.
The trees outside are swaying in a strong wind, and the clouds are fast.
I turn towards poetry, towards writing, towards teaching, towards learning guitar, as solace. People can't understand the draw to art from the scientist, but its only the past two hundred years that they've been separate--the word 'scientist' was coined in the 1800s in juxtaposition to the word 'artist.' Before that, scientists were called 'natural philosophers,' and they were all polymaths, studying art and anatomy, biology and poetry. Think Da Vinci. Sure, they were mostly white men who had servants and free-time, but they were never shoving themselves into a corner of thought. Its still called a doctor of philosophy, philosophiae doctor in Latin, and I'm sure we can imagine a world where the true sciences were the sciences of thought.
I gear away from action, towards the philosophy that my doctorate is truly in.
And still, the printer prints; the ink is warm and I can smell it where I sit.
My Notes