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 …
- 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
- Seeking Wolf: thank you to Alison! As Miris says, this was indeed sorted out-i should have come back here to say so!
In my teens my mother found
my stack of girlie magazines
and threw them in the bin,
but to stem the flood of hormones
romping through my adolescent veins
was a battle she could never hope to win.
In 1933 Adolf Hitler lit the skies
of Germany by setting fire to books,
an attempt to eradicate by burning
three thousand years of learning.
But the sparks came down to rest on
Hamburg, Cologne and Dresden.
In the Kremlin Putin has decreed a law
that Russians mustn’t speak of war,
fifteen years incarceration for those
who don’t say ‘special operation’.
His Thought Police are on their way
controlling what the people say.
In the Moscow underground
a woman dressed in blue and yellow
didn’t make a sound,
but spoke louder than
any megaphone that
Putin may have found.
Last Week's Winner!
Winning entry by DyedDeadRed
And with that, we've lost them. Into the stacks they go in search of better, more difficult, books. Books better suited to the advanced reader. The reader with refined tastes. They never seem to question why we stand here, at the front, and give them this chance. Just the once. No. They are here in pursuit of knowledge, dark and dangerous and unignorable, and all hidden in plain sight on these shelves. Neatly ordered with gold numbers on the spines. It is a good idea. To keep them all in one place, the books with an infamy all of their own. Helps to keep track of the collectors too. Hunters of rare manuscripts with bibliophilic fingers in search of pages, lightly foxed. All so eager to sign their names for that shiny black card.
'Member: The Library of Banned Books'
They all end up here in the end. Once their shelves groan under first editions, rare misprints, masterpieces their authors left on the train or in a taxi. In search of something - stronger. Like the epicure who, bored of the basics, bored of lobster and foie gras, decides that they would - in fact - be fine with covering their heads in a clean white cloth so god couldn't see as they ate a songbird freshly fried. Freshly alive. If it meant they would know what it tasted like.
Just like those diners, the book collectors come here to see, just to ask you understand, exactly what would it feel like, a book bound in human skin? Or a book, they've heard, has a devil trapped within. And we show them. We lend it to them. And when they return for the grimoire of this, the necronomicon of that, we give those to them as well. They enjoy the smell of the leather reading chairs, the buzz of the dim bulbed lecterns and the squeak of the stairs that roll around the stacks on casters. They enjoy sharing furtive looks between each other, jealously eyeing each others' finds and making notes for future reservations.
There are accidents, of course. Some books really ought not be opened, but is it our job to say by whom? No. Of course not. Libraries offer information to all it is not our job to police it. Nobody should police it. Why bother, to what end? Those who need information, find it, there is always another library ready to lend. Always a friendly bookseller around to post the offending inoffensive item. We believe all books should be to hand. Upon request. So, should a book run overdue, and the member not respond to our polite request for renewal or payment of fines (which is highly unusual considering our very specific guidelines on the non-return of items) then we send out the assistants to bring the book home. To - catalogue - whatever happened to the borrower. It is a shame, but it happens, we make the best of the situation. Even books of human skin require re-binding, from time to time.
It is stated in our motto. The line on which we stand. "All books, at all times, for all people." Which makes it tricky when there is one book, one among thousands, that whilst we cannot stop being borrowed we do rather feel it ought not be easy to do so. Feel it should be discouraged. Heavily. But how does one ban a book, without actually doing so? Well. The problem with experts, with collectors, those in the know, Is that they are keen to prove it. So, on their first visit to the branch, each new member is shown the book. The one we'd prefer they left. Told they would like it. And they would. Immensely! It is precisely why they are here. But, bound in plain cloth and card - not even leather - and presented as an easy option it is discounted every time. It is not offered again and not once has it been asked after.
What is inside remains hidden. Whatever it is. The damage it could do remains undone. No matter what the book keeps whispering if held to ones ear it will not be issued. But ban it? Ban this book? My my, the very idea...
It’s intolerable. A book that lists so many crimes and horrors yet is revered. Why? Because it’s old? DeSade wrote a book in the Eighteenth century about cruelty and sadism but that’s not sanctified.
Can a book take on a cloak of decency by venerating old stories of primitive rites and customs which destroyed communities and brought despots to power?
I read this long volume to discover the secret. It was a historic record of many sacrifices and travails but lacked all reverence for individuals’ rights. It told of the futility of female power, except as the seducers of important men. It glorified fables of divine superiority granted to one race over others and rejoiced in the destruction of other peoples.
Viewed in the light of modern minds and social media, it must be banned. It is called The Bible.