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.
Nine woke and rose before the alarm sounded. Another perfect day, and why not? He lived in Utopia, and everything was perfect. He could hear the alarm sounding in other rooms: some of his classmates were clearly less alert than he.
Today, his class – eight boys, eight girls – would finish their Education. Everyone in Utopia got A* grades, of course: anything less than perfection was unthinkable. More important, they would be given a Name instead of a Number, and enjoy a whole Seven Days freedom before starting the Job they had been allocated. Unemployment was unknown in Utopia. His education was designed to give him the skills to perform any job which needed doing.
He’d had That Dream again. He hadn’t told anyone about it, yet he half-suspected the Synod which ran the city would be aware of his unsettling Dream. They knew about and controlled every aspect of daily life. However, he hadn’t been questioned. It seemed there were still some things the city Fathers didn’t know.
And yet. Most unexpectedly, he felt … Something. An Emotion? The schooling he’d received over the past eight years was designed to remove all such weaknesses!
He closed his eyes and held his breath, listening for any slight sound.
There! The faintest possible scrape/creak. It was repeated, and seemed to be directly outside his door. As his fingers curled around the latch, he knew the answer. The Question in his mind was “Who?”
“Nine?” The single word throbbed with the unfamiliar concept he had labelled Emotion, but it also ‘felt’ alien, delivered by a Voice he recognised, knowing it was not his own.
“Three.” Not a question: a Statement. He hastened to secure the tenuous, unexpected connection before it was lost.
“I am Nine. Three, stay with me!”
Remembering to breathe (which required a conscious decision) he slowly opened his door. Immediately opposite a corresponding door opened just as slowly to reveal Three, a female member of his class.
“I am not the only one to ask a Question! Three, I have no Answer – yet! But you are not alone. We are … different, but that does not mean We are ‘wrong’: Do you understand?”
“Yes. I know your Voice. But how…?”
“I cannot say. We ask Questions. We feel. Come! Talk!”
Nine pulled his door open and backed away, staying where Three could see him. A few seconds dripped slowly past. Three flowed silently from her room and crossed the corridor.
Something was different, something he hadn’t yet had time to name: he had only become aware of its existence seconds ago. Whatever it was, it wasn’t ‘he/him/his’. It had its origin in Three, but sat uneasy in his mind …
He could feel breath surge across his vocal chords, sense the movement of his lips, hear the words so clearly he expected them to assume a physical form, dance across the room. Three nodded, and he knew at once they were ‘speaking’ normally, not exchanging silent thoughts.
“We know the meaning of the word ‘Emotion’, but our Education should make it impossible for us to feel such things.”
Three nodded but did not interrupt. He continued:
“If we live in a perfect Utopia …”
“We do not need these Emotions.”
Three could no longer resist interrupting, completing Nine’s thought.
It was Nine’s turn to nod agreement. Another powerful surge of Emotion swamped his mind: strong, positive, and somehow right.
“I can ask “Who?” You ask “How?” Perhaps we do not ‘belong’ here?”
Nine could scarcely believe he was speaking such heresy, but he was ill-prepared for Three’s instant and complete agreement – and the strength of the warm, positive emotion he experienced as she replied.
“So there must be an alternative.”
“Not Utopia? Some other … place?”
The idea of anywhere ‘not-Utopia’ was so foreign, neither could find a Word for it. Yet Logic had led them thus far …
“If we leave now, nobody will know! If there is somewhere ‘not Utopia’ we can find it.”
As he spoke, Nine watched his hand drift towards Three, inviting contact. Her hand mirrored the movement. Nine felt himself a passive spectator. Their hands touched, clasped. More Emotions, the most powerful yet, fired his being. With his free hand he opened the door and led Three along the deserted corridor to a door which opened to reveal the perfection of Utopia’s cityscape, the only Home they had known for sixteen years.
The streets were empty. At this time of day, everyone else was either at Work or in school. In the city’s North Quadrant, less than a mile distant, the discreet haze of a shield marked the utter limit of their Known World, the safe, protected community of Utopia. Nine turned to his new-found soulmate and companion.
“When we leave, we cannot return. You understand?”
“We do not belong here. We leave nothing: if we find nothing, nothing is lost.”
Three nodded again: Nine sensed a sudden but unmistakeable increase in the pressure of her fingers on his. He gazed intently into her eyes.
“What?” Nine knew he hadn’t sounded the Question Word aloud. He was so tense, he dared not breathe. Three reacted as if Nine had filled his lungs and screamed the impossible Word with all the power he could muster.
“Nothing. You say we leave nothing here. Must we take Nothing with us?”
Nine’s eyes flicked around the spartan room he shared with seven other boys, all roughly the same age as himself. Identical beds, identical lockers, and without looking he was certain each locker would contain exactly the same clothing, accessories and equipment. Once again he experienced a strange Something he had no name for bubble briefly to the surface of his inmost thoughts. He forced himself to ignore it: there was no obvious way it could be of any practical use if they were going to leave the only home they had ever known.
“A change of clothing. Some few small things, perhaps, but nothing large or heavy – we must move now, and move quickly.”
He strode across the room and shook the pillow on the nearest bed out of its cover.
“Go now to your own room, take some clothing and whatever you want, but no more than you can carry in a pillow case. I’m using one from another boy’s bed, but it won’t make much difference. They will know who is missing as soon as they check! Go now, and hurry!”
Nine opened his bedside locker and studied its pathetically few contents. Two folded one-piece coveralls, one grey, one a pale green, otherwise identical to the white one he was wearing. A cup, cutlery, a small towel: a glowstick, which could be adjusted to provide either warmth for cold hands working outdoors or light in a dark tunnel at night.
“This is all you have, all you own, after eight years of schooling, learning rules written by someone else?”
The newly-awakened Voice inside his head was becoming more critical, less like his own, every time he heard it.
On an impulse he took the grey one-piece from his locker, then raided other lockers for a towel, a glowstick and basic eating & drinking tools. As he left his room, Three’s door eased open and she joined him. Her pillowslip looked to bulge in roughly the same places as his, about three-quarters full. This didn’t surprise Nine: there would be no real difference in what was available to plunder and steal.
Although he ‘knew’ Three had spoken to him without vocalising, Nine’s eyes flickered along the corridor in both directions, alert for any alarm raised at this pivotal moment.
Nine felt another unexpected flood of Emotion, but this was different again. Three’s words were simple, yet carried a subtle hidden meaning. He took a deep breath, grasped her hand.
“One thing we miss: our Naming Day. Gold, I name you, for the beauty of your hair.”
“Blue, then, I must name you, for the colour of your eyes.”
Words were superfluous. Turning as one, the self-baptised Blue and Gold took their first tentative steps on the journey from Utopia to who knew where …
- crwo-shifting: Hi Alison and the admin Folk, Just to let you know I emailed you , because the email for this account no longer works! So-in case, it comes into your spam folder... and-the exhibition on Utopia-will you be posting up when and how to see it?will it be online? All best, from a disbelieving-and-delighted-at-what-I saw shifting crow!!!
- MirisB: Hello - all is well. The pieces are now with our competition sponsors, Good Business, who will nominate a winner very soon. We will put up a new title shortly! Thanks for entering. All the best, Alison
- Seeking Wolf: hello All, Am just hoping all is well? I am not sure why I only had two critiques on the recent comp?(I did three...) And-more-find myself wondering when we may see how we all got on, and procedure/theme for another comp? All best
- Nutcracker: Have emailed. Hello again, is there anyone there??? (10th May) When can we expect results of the Utopia comp, please?
- Seeking Wolf: Hi Nutcracker...There is an email address at bottom of the page,,worth trying?I hope everyone is ok...These are difficult times... Seeking Wolf
Amelie was fully aware of what was coming to her. She had run the gamut of emotions, from despair to a drug-induced euphoria, and back and forth between them through aching dullness. But she had settled, her days had a pattern, and often it was she who found herself comforting her husband Tomos rather than the other way round.
'Do not worry, mon amour,' she said to him, stroking his arm. 'I am not leaving you. This is just an adjustment, a shift into a different part of life.'
She realised, during the weeks of that summer, that it is easier to bear our own pain than that of another, and indeed seeing him in such tumult was to her as sharp daggers in her side, a kind of protracted crucifixion.
'Let us go, one more time, to the sea,' she said.
They went to a favourite place on the southern coast of the island and sat for hours side by side and hand in hand, watching the inexorable va-et-vient of the waves, before eating a salade de tomates and thin slivers of cheese and drinking a bottle of the finest Sauvignon blanc.
Next day Amelie asked again to go to the sea, for it was as if sleep had wiped her mind clear, and she cried when Tomos told her of their day, and of its joy. To calm her he spoke of past times at the sea, in that place, and yes, she remembered - how could she forget? They had been so happy, they could be happy there again, it was her favourite place, how could he deny her one more visit, knowing it might be her last? That made him cry, her saying that, so wide-eyed.
They went again, and again, and that summer each day was clear blue and glorious, and Tomos was glad of it, and of his wife's simple pleasure, for all that for her it was a chimera.
On the same day and at the same time each week, Tomos asked Amelia these questions:
When and where were you born?
What was your mother's maiden name?
What was your last job?
Each time she replied, without the slightest hesitation:
I was born in Nevers, France, on the second day of February 1962.
My mother's maiden name was Aumont.
My last job was as a seamstress in the workshop of Jean Samier, couturier in the Rue de la Melle, Paris 5e arrondissement.
She would add little details about the town in Burgundy where she had been born, and which she and Tomos had visited together so many times. She would reminisce about her mother, remembering - and perhaps creating, who was to say? - nothing but good times. She would speak of her job in Paris, of the fine work that she and the other stitchers had done, and of the pleasure it had given her.
Tomos, whose own past life had included things he would rather forget, indulged his wife, was glad to see her smile, whether what she spoke of had been real or was a vision. It was a way of coping, for both of them.
'I have had a good life,' she said to him each week, at the end of their conversation, and it made him weep.
Amelie knew that one day she would be unable to answer one of the weekly questions. That, at least, was what she had been told. But what actually happened was different, the shift that she had expected of a different order.
One day she woke and did not recognise the man in the bed beside her. But she kissed him and her returned the kiss.
'Are you my prince?' she said.
He laughed. 'I'm just Tomos,' he said.
'I don't know you,' she said, putting her hands to his face, gently. 'But you are beautiful.'
When she rose from her bed she did not recognise the view from the window.
'Is this the Garden of Eden?' she said to the man who was a stranger to her. 'Are you Adam? Am I Eve?'
Tomos told her again who he was.
They kissed once more, and moved together as the young lovers they had once been.
Tomos found himself living with a woman who he knew was his wife, but it was as if she had already moved, in earthly form, to the paradise in which some people believed. She spoke less and less, but seemed happy, or at least calm and content. And that was enough for him, for they were still together.
Last Week's Winner!
Winning entry by crwo-shifting
Those lofty castles built on slavers' fees
Are not for me,
Nor fine deep forests
Where the hunters roam.
We dream of freedoms
Holding constant peace,
Where children sing
To elders at sweet ease
In sunny gardens...
Utopian visions! Who is equal there?
Can "gentlefolk" who wish to rest or muse
Achieve such joy without the servitude
Of workers bringing oil and clothes and food?
We are that species with the hellish power
To make things change from boredom, greed, or lust...
Or is it fear that makes us lock our gates
and threaten others whom, we guess, we hate?
Do lambs look on us as their saving gods?
Or calves . wrenched from their mothers, moments old?
Each spring the dams lament for long crying nights.
(Explorers ever meddling with our world)
Succumb to live in Eden
Which surrounds us as we kill?
A sprawling hand that metes out war
Too easily erases sights
That once gave all a taste of hope-
Cathedrals , temples, where we went to dream
Of perfect moments, privately,
Or touched a hint of glory in a priest-led prayer,
So quickly crumbled...
Fields edged with poison
Hold lost pastorals.
The rising melody
Of springtime's birds
Becomes a memory.
Utopia with rules
To hold the cruel ones back?
CAN this be best for ALL
Since it would lack
The power to stop excesses
That THEY cannot see?
Their heaven's not designed
To give equality.
The circle closes.
Colluders have no rights
To live perfection
Since we create night.
My friends, you think of this so narrowly!
Utopia's in every breath and sigh.
So let me tell you my thoughts warily:
We even find perfection as we die
If every moment we attend the sound
Of dawn's full opening-and -best-
Embrace with loving arms each friend around
And all who show us how to live with zest.
THEN nobody would call for bloody war
Or kill for "pleasure" , paying no regard
To others' rights to love lost Eden's store
Of glory still, although so much is marred.
If every moment promises a rose
Utopia's found in every thing that grows.
So soft and sweetly bade the friends farewell
And went their ways, musing so wistfully
On what was said, hoping to find a way
To search out gently, and with fine regard
To others' needs, to share all equally
With generous hearts, in equanimity.
Yes, I did catch the virus in England and it nearly killed me. It changed the very composition of my blood and strained my heart and lungs, which remain weak. But I am sure they will improve in the high mountain air of New Mexico when I get there. The pandemic is almost over now and the vicious Russian war too if disputes over territory between Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states can be resolved. Liberty and Democracy have been under threat, shaken to their core, but after it was suggested by the authorities that my ‘foreign’ wife might be a spy in England, I’m not sure I believe in democracy as much as I used to.
I was afflicted at birth with a need to understand myself and the world. Dreaming of a better world is something I have always done. More’s Utopia didn’t sound like much fun. The people worked too hard, spent their little leisure in honest and laudable pastimes, but were docile and controlled, not spirited and free. However, I found it striking that he imagined Utopia as a real place, rather than as a set of principles. From an early age, I have had an impulse to write things down and I wrote to a friend about my thoughts on a perfect society when still a schoolboy…
“Don’t you think it would be possible to have a large house, really big, you know, and all the people one likes best live together? All in the one house? Oh, plenty of room inside and out, of course, but a sort of centre where one could always find those one wanted, a place all of us could come to as a home. I think it would be heaps nicer than to be all scattered and apart. Besides, there’d always be someone one liked near at hand. I know I should love something of the sort. Haven’t you often felt sad at the thought of the gradual breakup of families or groups of friends like ours? I have, and it could be avoided if we had the means.”
More’s vision rose from the converging streams of the artistic Renaissance, the age of discovery and the print revolution. A post-war, post-pandemic modern world in the middle of a communications and technological revolution is a time to take stock, make plans. Consider the seed; how it stays dormant until conditions are favourable. It is almost time for action, for renewal of my youthful vision. If I find what I think I will in New Mexico, we should invite all our friends to join us with the intention of creating a new society. Everyone must do things. Cook and clean and build and make what we need and grow flowers and vegetables. Others may copy us. The first law will be that there are no laws and the second that all men and women shall have the right to food, shelter, and knowledge and the right to mate freely. Our religion will be a religion of the blood and the flesh and of warm, human contact. We will use the new technologies but follow our instincts as much as our intellects. If we can always be our best selves, it would be the finest way to live. In time we may even regain contact with the lost world of the senses.
I hope the landscape of New Mexico will yield its secrets to me. Whatever I write there will be shaped by the landscape. My work has always been concerned with love and sex and death and the more I am vilified and persecuted, the more passionate I become about it. Nothing I see or feel will ever be beyond the reach of my pen.
Yours, DH Lawrence, April 4th, 1922
PS My best supporter in England, Forster, thinks I’ll still be read in a hundred years when every other modern writer is forgotten. A hundred years! By then the reading public, if it still exists, will wonder what all the fuss was about.