Guest judge Jack Cooper received your entries with thanks, and attacks the tough job of judging - read here...
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.
We rode the rickety bus together, side by side; eager for the journey ahead, all the while marvelling at the unseasonably warm weather, as sultry and humid as our fledgling love. My body conscious of the heat from your thigh pressed against mine, even through the flimsy fabric of my skirt, lighting a fire in me as if two sticks of timber had been rubbed together to coax a spark.
Dust particles bobbed and danced in the sunbeams glancing through the window as if putting on a show for our entertainment. The road beyond, cutting a ribbon through the swathes of purple heather carpeting the moor. So wrapped up in each other, we paid little attention to the other passengers aboard, only dimly aware of new people settling into their seats and others shuffling down the aisle to alight at various pauses along the way, the engine noisily idling as it trundled to a stop.
Occasionally, we’d encounter a pothole along the way, bouncing us almost out of our seats. Each time you’d wink as if to say, “ we made it!”, and our expedition would continue in companionable silence. Outside the torpidity in the air pressed down, unabated. Flying ants, wooed by the brewing tempest, crawled out of the dry earth and whirled by the window like black winged harbingers of doom. A pointillism painting against a soft mauve background. No kettle of boiling water here to douse them as my Mother was wont to do when they surged through the cracks in the garden path.
Soon the cerulean skies gave way to a menacing granite grey as the first plump raindrops slapped against the window, the change in temperature making the fine hairs on your forearms stand erect like iron filings seduced by a magnet. I shivered as a sense of foreboding overcame me as quickly as the opaque sea mist rolling over the moor like a rushing wave unfolding on the shore.
At that moment the bus juddered to a halt, the sound of the hissing brakes and spray from the puddles commingling like an almighty sigh. You touched my face and kissed my cheek as you whispered, “I have to go - this is my stop.”
“But it can’t be. We both bought the same ticket.” My shocked tone belying panic and fear as I clutched at your arm, willing you to stay.
“You don’t even have a coat.”
“ I’ll be ok. Be strong and I’ll see you later.”
Then as you walked towards the doors you turned and mouthed, “I love you.”, and were gone.
I ran to the back of the bus and knelt on the back seat watching as you disappeared from view. A grey shape, shrinking with the distance, blurred by the mist and the salty tears rolling down my face. I cried for what seemed like seconds, minutes, hours, until I gave in to fitful sleep. Waking only when the low evening sun touched my face. The calm after the storm - cool air brushing my tear-stained cheeks. Each mile taking me both further away from, and nearer to you.
My journey carried on alone. Many years later, when my hair was white and my face etched with the furrows of life, I rode that ramshackle bus over the moors again. The driver was the same, he seemed not to have aged in the intervening decades and was still wearing his uniform of white coat and stethoscope. We smiled knowingly in acknowledgement when he said, “Next stop is yours, Miss.” Then I heard the familiar hiss of the brakes as the doors opened and you were waiting for me.
- Hour of Writes: Finnbar - it was both! :) Nice to see you
- Finnbar: Really hoping that "testing the site" was a real prompt and not a developer note about launch-testing an update :)
- Tsukuyomi: What inspiration is there left to draw from a declining world? A world where we are disconnected from the forces which guide our own celestial motion, through the dance that is life. What horror frames our days? What beauty can be found within these four walls? Are we no more than stunted shades, purchancing goods in order to fuel the void growing within all of our hearts? We must connect with nature, for nature to exist at all.
- writerBFHEKQSXJJ: Delighted to have won the last contest but confused re.not receving any other entries to mark and whether there is a prize as I haven't been contacted by HOW staff at all. Anyone else enter and not receive marking/emails re.marking?
- swatie: -1/3- outside the window are days full of my mother my father’s gardens he calls prints of Punjab like the pages of a yellow book, my mother's nameless youth was caged between book ends— mother, father, daughter, mother her mother’s phulkari hand spun subterfuges to release, a family heirloom -2/3- like a painting to complete, it took many strokes to cover our days, a languorous summer, fall, winter, summer sometimes in between, like estranged cousins, impish winds would come to play a lover’s story sweet sweet warbles, singers made to order Pigeon fliers even in two tight plaits I felt free -3/3- a sickly gaze from the bedside sometimes upholds the promises of an opulent life up and down and between the shadows taming a temperate sun’s impish play what can a sickly gaze spare after all? irreverent skies, or cheap ticket stubs to window romances? —as if pastiches of romeos and juliets and romeos even with my romantic hair I am caged chipped pieces of bargain scattered all over the window sill.
In dreams I climb through glassy air in flight
Above my parents’ sycamore I swim
and drift in joyful sunlit lift,
brush leafy canopies. Below, the land –
my parents’ garden, Tom’s house, orchard – pass,
then flowing meadow,
crossed by walls of stone,
the fertile patchwork quilt of grey and green.
Some swallows arc around me in my dream
six or seven starlings rise,
elated murmuration, winding out
in tight formation;
high in halls of light
I soar and sing
and swim through air in flight.
Last Week's Winner!
Winning entry by Finnbar
I thought that the rainbow was from oil, I even said as much to the Australian girl, Elle Lee, whom Michel and I were both infatuated with. But Michel corrected me, and said it was caused by a layer of algae on the surface of the water.
“Well, I see it at this time, in the spring time, and later in the year I don’t see it, and at this time there is all the algae. One plus one equals two eh?”
We both looked to Elle for confirmation of the fact. Not because she knew anything special about oil, or algae, but rather because she was so clearly out intellectual superior.
“Yeah naw. Could be, but also it’s sort of one word against another right? There’s no way to tell who’s right. No way at all. We could ask and ask, stopping people one by one on the street and say “hey do you know why the canals shine like a Beatles song?” and they’d say “no way mate, or if we do we’re not telling ya. Because you’re not German.” Or maybe they would tell us, but it would be in German. Or else, they agree to tell us, but only if we went on a quest to find their son who disappeared in the 70’s wearing only his uncle’s football jersey. Or maybe we’d have stumbled across their big secret, and the road would be full of like, furtive glances and closed doors, and we’d have to change our names to get away from the secret police.” She went on and on, spinning outlandish options for discourse with elderly Hamburgers on their balconies and we laughed, and no one mentioned the elephant in the smartphone.
I think that was what Michel liked so much about Elle. She was untethered from the reality of conversations and social interactions, but not in the way of our usual peers; Michel’s classmates spouting Tolstoy and Kafka -neither of which I had read- through their turtlenecks or those cockroaches I worked with in PWC, twitching and orgasming over the scent of money and blood in the water, confused animal metaphors aside. But Elle wasn’t like that. She was crazy smart- on two occasions I’d seen her calmly and good naturedly obliterate men who condescended to her because of her easy-going manner- and by all accounts she was great at her job, but she would steer a casual conversation down jungle paths that only existed in her mind, and we would weather bumps and potholes and try to cling and enjoy the ride as she satisfied her imagination, wordplay and performance all at once. That, for sure, was what Michel liked so much about her. She engaged him, fascinated him, pulled him in and pushed him out again, left him tangled and confused and desperate for more.
For me, it was much simpler. She’d seen me.
It was in a business conference, one of those things with infrared smoking areas full of cigar smoke and a catering company. Thus far the worst place I’ve ever fallen in love. She was chatting to my boss’s boss’s boss, all casual and charming, changing the tone of their corporate conversation with questions so simply-phased it was easy to ignore how piercing they were. And she’d looked up and seen me, and said “hold on just a tick” to the partner, and walked over and said “Hey! When I go back over there I’m going to pretend that I thought I knew you so that the bigwigs don’t get agro. I don’t know where to find the cool stuff in town, so can you show me around when this thing is over?” And I just stood mouth half open, and she said “ha alright then, I’ll be out the front afterwards pretending to call my grandmother.”
And she was, she ditched the glitzy after-conference party to walk along the canals with me, smoking rolled cigarettes and talking about how we had found ourselves at the conference. Elle was a chemist and mathematician, and had developed some kind of analytical model which the financial institutions lapped up. I was an economics graduate trying to make my folks happy. Afterwards she came to my apartment for tea to warm up, though the weather wasn’t as cold as it would be in the coming weeks. I showed her my paintings. The paintings I hadn’t shown anyone, not even Michel.
She stayed in Hamburg for two weeks after the conference. She had flights booked to Munich, but changed them after Michel and I brought her rock-climbing in a little hall near his place. We got black coffee from the half-broken machine by the door, bought five sandwiches and a packet of nuts from the guy behind the counter, and went to sit on a bench by the nearest canal. She went, “huh, this is a cool place” and took out her phone to change the flights there and then.
“Did you know that Hamburg has more canals Venice?” I asked.
“Ugh, Nein. This is not how you say it”
“What? Am I wrong?”
“Yes. Well no. Maybe. But it’s about the bridges. Hamburg is the city of bridges. It has more bridges than Venice, Amsterdam and London put together.”
“Oh. Yeah so probably more canals too.”
Michel asked Elle “have you seen some of the bridges?”
“I mean, some yeah. I didn’t really notice bridges particularly. But then again, I haven’t seen the tourist stuff yet.”
“There are some really nice ones actually. The Köhlbrandbrücke is my favourite. It’s four kilometres long and high enough for ships to pass underneath. Some of the ones connecting the Speicherstadt are also very nice.” Suddenly a city-wide bridge expert.
“Have you seen the port at sunset?”
She hadn’t, and we went. All three of us, in my car which I almost never use. We hopped a fence and climbed up some old steel frame marked for demolition, and the orange backdrop to the spindly cranes and gantries put me in mind of War of the Worlds.
“It’s beautiful” said Elle, and suddenly it was.
That was the start of the most liberated two weeks of any of our lives. Sometimes magic happens, and it happened then.
We did the tourist stuff- the tunnel under the river, a concert in the Philharmonic which Michel and I couldn’t afford but Elle insisted on paying for us, Miniatur Wunderland. Michel was way ahead in his course and hardly had anything to do. I took annual leave. We bouldered at halls around the city. We played board games and smoked weed in Michel’s apartment when the weather got really cold, and read Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? together. I was George. Elle read Honey. Michel did Martha and Nick, putting on accents that were more Louisiana than New England while Elle and I broke our sides laughing. He couldn’t contract words, and sang “Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
My therapist said, and many people agree with her, that I have likely altered the memory of those two weeks because of what happened afterwards, making them too perfect in my mind. Maybe I have.
In the end, the night before Elle’s altered flight date, Michel went out to get pizza, wearing his stupid noise-cancelling headphones. A guy had a knife and wanted a wallet, but Michel couldn’t hear him, and when he reached to remove the headphones, he got stabbed in the stomach. Elle and I found him. We called the ambulance. We held him as he died.
Six months later I visited Elle in Melbourne, in the year of travel after I quit my job. She told me might have kissed, that night, if things had been different. I asked her if we still could, and she said maybe. When we did, in the end, it wasn’t good, and we agreed not to do it again.
We still talk. Once a year we do a remembrance by video call, which we kept up for years before the pandemic made it cool. And on snowy nights in Hamburg, when I’m feeling trapped and afraid, I call her, and we talk about those two weeks, and how neither of us has ever felt so free.
to which the lion’s share conform.
Wanting in fear, conscience and anxiety;
but the greatest dearth is empathy.
He is the psychopath.
Free from ponderous responsibility
shouldered by the likes of you and me.
Brain cracked like a spiderwebbed windscreen;
doped up to the eyeballs blankly serene.
He is the lunatic.
Free from having to remember
events too painful to dismember.
World shrunken to a golden elixir,
self medication the ultimate fixer.
He is the alcoholic.
Free from the weary grind of living
bleak as hell and as unforgiving.
Cold steel kisses him under the chin
a split second before the blowout within.
He is the suicide.
Free to spill imagination’s guts
transcribed on paper as lines and dots.
Words evoke paintings for interpretation.
This flowing outlet the greatest liberation.
I am the poet.