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.
Jemmie was never silent.
The moment she was born, she made her presence known with wails and squeals, gurgles and hiccups. Even in sleep, she murmured and sighed. There was never any danger of losing her or forgetting her. I always knew what she was doing and where she was. She wasn’t an unhappy or disruptive child, just always making some kind of noise. She wasn’t even all that loud, just constant. She existed in the world and she made sure the world knew it.
The noise of Jemmie quickly became the soundtrack to my life. Part of my attention was always fixed on her, tuned to her frequency. It got so that, when we were apart, I would find myself straining to catch a hint of her voice amongst the background noise of wherever I was. The unconscious effort would release with a physical sense of relief as soon as I returned to her orbit and could hear her once more.
That’s the worst thing. That straining is now constant, and it will never be relieved again.
The first time I came back to the empty house, the silence was oppressive. It pushed down on me like a smothering blanket I couldn’t fight my way out from under. I wanted to shatter that silence, to scream and cry, to rage against it and exert some control. Anything not to be left alone in those still, quiet rooms. But I could not produce a sound. I opened my mouth to pour forth my emotions, but they wouldn’t come out. The silence stuffed itself down my throat and trapped all my sounds within me.
Jemmie would never laugh or speak again, so neither would I. The house would stand as a monument, forever in silence because it would no longer echo with her noise. And I would stay in it, frozen in time and space. I have made my choice to remain silent in the face of the void of my existence, which no longer has Jemmie in it. I am wrapped in my failure to promote and protect her precious voice, and so I have sacrificed my own.
Silence is my penance, my only companion now that Jemmie is gone.
- 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.
- J.A.Masters: Tabitha stared sadly into the small, bathroom mirror, shocked at what she had become. There was nothing left of her at all, just an empty shell of what she used to be. She had altered herself for a man, once again. Before she had dressed differently, abandoned her own opinions to fit theirs and given up jobs and friends. This time was different. This time was worse. Her hair was dyed black as opposed to the sunny blonde she used to be; her eyes were baby blue instead of the beautiful bottle green they used to be; she'd had to get new clothes because she had lost so much weight; her makeup was dark and heavy in contrast to the nude shades she used to wear. This time, the man was Cole Duncan. He was tall, handsome and a bit of a bad boy. Well, he thought so, anyway. In reality, he was tall, muscular and a loud mouth. He was great at picking his battles, the problem was, he picked them all. He lived in a small flat in England. The living room was cluttered and the red carpeted floor was barely visible under the empty beer cans and old takeaway wrappers and boxes. There was a stereo in the corner of the room which was always blasting hip-hop music and a fish tank under the window. All the fish were dead and the water was murky and green with cigarette ends floating on the top. The kitchen floor had a slightly sticky residue and the counters were covered in filthy dishes and general grime. The Bathroom was, surprisingly, the cleanest room in the flat. It had a small round mirror which was grimy but only around the edges; a white ceramic sink with rust around the plughole and limescale on the taps; a chipped white ceramic bathtub that was only ever used when they showered. The shower head was rusted with a hint of silver. Tabitha had tried cleaning the flat, but realised pretty soon that she was fighting a losing battle, so she gave up and lied to herself that she liked living in clutter. "Tabby!" She heard him shout from the living room of his flat. She sighed and walked out of the bathroom and across the narrow hallway to the living room, shaking her head quickly to dismiss her mother's words ringing in her ears: "Maybe you'd be better off on your own." She had a fake smile plastered across her painted red lips. "There she is! My beautiful girl!" He grinned, giving her a sloppy, drunken kiss on the cheek before quickly whispering, "smile for the boys!" in her ear. She looked at his friends and smiled a false smile at them. They all grinned and cheered, clearly intoxicated. Cole wrapped his arm around her shoulders and smiled at his friends as they guffawed and gaped at her. She pretended with all she had that she was fine with him showing her off like a prize. The men all took seats wherever they could find space. Some sat on the damp, squashy sofa, other's on the damp, sticky carpet. Cole took pride of place in the armchair by the kitchen door. "Tabby, beautiful girl, get us some drinks please?" Cole asked loudly, although, it wasn't really a request and Tabitha knew that. She smiled and sauntered into the kitchen to grab some cans of knockoff coke out of the fridge, placing the cans on a tray, she painted her smile back on and wandered back into the living room. "What is that? I said drinks, Tabby! Come on!" Cole responded loudly, throwing his hands up. "Of course, sweetheart! Sorry!" Tabitha replied, taking the tray back into the kitchen. As she was putting the cans back into the fridge and replacing them with cheap beers, she heard Cole say to his friends: "Women! Sometimes, some of the training just does not stick!" As they all laughed, Tabitha put her smile back on and handed out beers to the men. They all looked the same, white T-Shirts patterned with beer and food stains, worn out light blue jeans and dirty trainers. All of them had buzz cuts and they were all tall. Some had beer bellies and others were lean and muscular. They all drank, laughed, and made Tabitha uncomfortable for several hours until they finally all left at around midnight. By that time, Cole was swaying and slurring his words. Suddenly, he turned to Tabitha and towered over her. "You got a problem with me drinking?" He asked, slurring swaying in front of her. "No, sweetheart! Of course not!" Tabitha replied, trying to usher him back into his armchair. "Then what was with that little stunt you pulled? Trying to make me drink cheap coke instead of beer?!" He demanded, only moving to sway from side to side. "You didn't specify what you wanted, honey, I didn't know-" "BOLLOCKS!" He shouted, making her visibly jump. Her right hand began to shake at her side and she did everything she could to steady it. He slowly walked towards her, forcing her to back slowly away until she was up against a table, leaning backwards over it while he continued to intimidate her. "You were rude to my friends." He stated, coolly. Her stomach lurched. She knew what was coming. The way he said it was the worst way he ever spoke to her. Not angry, or loud, or intimidating. Normal. Perfectly calm. Which was scarier than shouting, swearing or intimidating combined. "I wasn't." She whispered, knowing it wouldn't help at all. "LIAR!" He yelled, his face just inches from hers. He grabbed her right arm and pulled her away from the table, throwing her against the wall. Hard. Her head bounced off the door frame and she had just enough time to make sure her tongue wasn't between her teeth. "Cole, please." She begged, again, knowing it wouldn't help. He laughed, a horrible, humourless laugh. Just before his fist connected with her face, she ducked. A big mistake. "Shit!" He muttered, rubbing his knuckles after they collided with the door frame. Tabitha ran into the bathroom and locked the door, knowing she had nowhere to go. She couldn't think through the throbbing in the back of her head. She touched the spot that had bounced off the wall and felt a wet, sticky layer of blood cover her palm. She washed her hand and pressed a towel to the back of her head. "Maybe you'd be better off on your own." Her mother's voice came like a piercing shriek in her brain. "Lot of good that does me now." She muttered, looking around the bathroom for some way to help herself. She found nothing, but it was too late anyway, Cole had busted the lock on the door and was towering over her once again. He punched her in the face and her head smashed the mirror behind her, causing glass shards to get stuck in her head. He grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him, punching her repeatedly in the face before dropping her into the pile of glass on the floor. "Maybe you'd be better off on your own." Her mother's voice flooded back into her mind as she glanced into a shard of mirror on the floor. She nodded slightly to herself and picked up the biggest shard, not caring that it was cutting her palm. She pulled herself up using the sink and stood shaking for a moment, then, before she lost the nerve, she strode into the living room where Cole was flopped in his armchair, holding his head in his hands and crying. "Tabby, my beautiful girl! I'm so sorry! I love you, Tabby, my beautiful girl." He told her, sniffling and crying freely. She held the mirror shard behind her back and sat down on his lap, straddling him. "You're sorry, sweetheart?" She purred, resting her forehead against his. He leaned forward and kissed her forcefully with his hand on the back of her neck. His other hand was resting in his lap. She pulled the mirror shard forward and it plunged deep into flesh. Blood poured down Cole's chin and neck on to his white shirt, soaking into the fabric. "Shit!" Tabitha whispered, blood pouring from her mouth and out of the wound in her stomach. She fell off of his lap, landing on her back on the floor with blood pooling around her, soaking into the sticky red carpet. "Tabby, my beautiful girl. I'm faster than you." Cole spat at her, standing over her. The last thought Tabitha Rose Cooper ever had was her mother's voice, flowing through her brain as it began to shut down. "Maybe you'd be better off ... on your own."
- Octopoda: Will any of the the previously submitted entries be marked? Thank you
- writerAIFOZZZUXU: A new competition is now live.
- evemoore_: Cold Step Step of despair figures of fear and frustration, A positive break fast; It a glass balance without a heart, It deciding if she was to nourish or neglect the day; It possessing a constant magnetic tether over her. A single tear plummets onto the cold step; Back to square one.
Last Week's Winner!
Winning entry by Alex Fleet
We pulled up near the massive front door and as Toby ran up the steps his Mum, my daughter Kathy, was there grinning from ear to ear. It was lovely to see them as Toby ran into her arms, had a great hug, then turned and ran back to me and hugged me too. “It’s super! It’s huge!” he shouted as he stood once again with big eyes sweeping from one end of the building to the other.
His Mum laughed. “It’s not all ours, Toby, we have just a little bit of it. There are lots of people live here, all of us in little houses built inside. You’ll probably see them other boys and girls, so just you keep an eye out and let me know if you see any!”
I don’t think Toby was interested in making friends at that point, he was just in awe of the size of the place. “It’s like a museum” he observed.
Yes, I pondered, it has a history, that’s for sure. It used to be a lunatic asylum, years ago. The nuthouse, it was called in those days. Now it had a more upmarket name, something which sounded as if it had been replanted here from an elegant London street.
We walked in through the great door and into the equally large hallway. Toby ran to the lift and pressed the button for the top floor, for that was where Jackie’s flat was. As we went up in the lift he and I smiled at each other, our secret smile, just between the two of us. Somehow at times we seemed to be the same person. We loved to wind up Toby’s Mum, because we seemed to communicate without words and she would stand there perplexed: “How do you two do that?” she would say exasperated, when we had agreed something to do together without a word being said.
I could feel the electricity sizzling between us strongly as we went up in the lift. I knelt down and we stared at each other, his eyes clear and blue, mine browned with age. He stepped forward and I held him close, feeling him tremble slightly with excitement.
The doors rattled open, the same steel doors from all those years ago, the ancient concertina type where you had to be careful not to get your fingers jammed between the rails when the door opened.
Toby looked at his Mum to confirm which way to go and ran along, counting the numbers on the doors, skidding to a stop outside his new home. Jackie let us in and Toby disappeared, but we could hear him whooping and shouting, his running feet echoing from room to room.
Soon he was reporting back: “It’s huge!” he said again. This was true: the ceilings were high, the rooms were big, the windows were big enough to stand in. Jackie and her boyfriend Sam had moved from a small terraced house in London when his company relocated and had then rented another small terraced house while they looked for somewhere to buy. They had moved in here over the last couple of days and Toby had stayed with me and we had some quality time together. Meanwhile, Toby had settled in well at his new school which was conveniently close. It was wonderful that they had moved here as I had been living nearby too, having inherited an aunt’s house which I had moved to a couple of years back. I used to live here. For a while. But that time was best forgotten.
Toby wolfed down a snack, then went exploring again. “Would you like to have a look outside, Toby?” his Mum asked.
Outside, the extensive lawns were laid with paths criss crossing from one end to the other, which kept Toby amused as he ran up and down them as fast as he could. “Can I cycle on these paths, Mum?”
After a while, Jackie looked at her watch and went in to start dinner. Sam would be arriving back from work in an hour’s time. Jackie’s work she could do anywhere, anytime: the marvels of the internet.
I stayed outside with Toby and he carried on exploring the woods below the lawned areas, hiding then jumping out as we walked around. There were trees to climb, paths circling round and round so he could run as fast as he could but still be in the same spot one minute later, which bemused him. It was lovely to see him, free and fast, enjoying the fresh air, as free as a bird. I felt my tension relaxing.
We went back to the flat, in time for Sam to arrive home. Toby hugged his Dad, then ran back to me and asked where all his toys were.
Jackie served up straight away though, and after a leisurely dinner Jackie got Toby into the huge bath, then afterwards handed him to me, wrapped in a snug warm white towel.
“Story?” she smiled at me. Toby nodded emphatically.
As I carried him along the hallway, Toby snuggled close to me. He was warm, with the scent of a clean towel and clean skin and Toby’s own delicate scent when his skin was close.
I put him down at his bedroom door and left him to clamber into bed while I just popped to the bathroom, still warm and steamy from Toby’s bath.
In the bathroom, it was quiet. Except for the tap. The dripping tap. I couldn’t wait to turn it off fully but in that half a minute the panic had risen. I had so had it under control. It had been a long time. But it started to come back, the forgotten but familiar feeling. I could feel my muscles tense and consciously had to make an effort to relax. I flushed the toilet, and with that came the faint scent of antiseptic that Jackie had used on the toilet. It was not her usual brand. This was different. This was . . . familiar. I felt my hear racing again. I closed my eyes. The smell was strong. My feet were cold on the tiled floor. The room was cold. I shivered.
I opened my eyes. It was Jackie’s bathroom, not the one I had flashed back to for a moment. I breathed deep and slow, calmed myself. Coughed. Walked out and into the hallway.
I could hear the muffled cries of a child in the next flat, through the thick Victorian walls. The hallway echoed as I walked along it. Toby’s room was at the end. The door was ajar. The light was not on. As I walked towards it, there was a slight luminescence and as I quietly arrived at the door, I saw it was from the moon shining in through the tall sash window.
Toby was there, at the window, staring up at the moon. His slim frame was in silhouette, the moon caressing his head and shoulders with its cold light.
He had shrugged off his bathtowel and stood there naked, how he went to bed in the summer.
I didn’t need to see him turn his head to hear him say quietly “Look at the moon.”
He was transfixed. I was transfixed. I was looking at him, at me those years ago. That had been me, those years ago, a little boy, seven, standing at the window, staring at the moon, naked because I had torn off the scratchy clothes they had dressed me in and driven me half mad by the dripping tap, the scratch of branches on the window, the noise of the other people screaming, the crush of smelly bodies in the corridor, the way people did different things to what they said and didn’t tell me, the noise, the touch of everything. They have a name for it now, they know what it is.
But I was proud that it had taken four people – four grown ups – to hold me down before they could tie me to the metal bedframe, still to carry on screaming and contorting and lunging and spitting and biting. Screaming animal screams, louder than any of the other inmates. Somehow, in the end, they got the needle into me though, and for a while everything went quiet.
To look at Toby was a help. He seemed so peaceful and quiet, just gazing up at the full moon.
I became aware of the crying child next door. For a couple of moments it was there in the background. Then, I realised it was me. In my memory. I was sure I was silent but my brain was crying out. My little boy memory.
Tonight, it would have to be a short story for Toby.
Actually it would need to be very short.
I felt my pulse rate quicken, I couldn’t control my breathing. Then, I thought, what if Toby picks up on this? That would be so wrong. I need to leave now, get out this room quick. Then, from Toby I heard a noise, a strange gasp I’d not heard before. I paused. He was still standing there, but I could see the tenseness in his body.
The scream from next door was louder. The scream in my head was louder. I remained quiet though, still. But as I watched Toby he turned, slowly, towards me. I ran towards him. Something was wrong.
Before he even saw me his eyes were wide, tortuous fear contorting his features. He knew. He knew. Or at least he didn’t know, he felt. He felt the horror of the place.
Suddenly I felt so guilty. I had never spoken of this place, to anyone, after we had moved away. Somehow I had managed to get out. Did the things they wanted me to, somehow. Got out. We moved away, never to return, till a couple of years ago. When I married, I never mentioned it. It was in the past, would stay there. I was concerned when I found that this was where Kathy, my daughter and Sam, and beautiful little Toby were going to live, but it was then such a lovely place for them, different. I would cope.
But here I am. And Toby, contorted, stiffened by fear. Finally his eyes found mine but they were unseeing. They looked through me, past me. He stood facing me now, his face in the dark, black shadow from the moon. I could not see his eyes, his expression.
But then, his tiny chest filled, his throat gargled and he screamed, a deep, agonising animal scream that sent icy chilling shivers down my spine and zapped my fingers and toes, made my hair stand up on my neck and then I too was overcome with uncontrollable sobbing and before I knew it I had taken in great gulps, sobbing gulps of air and together we screamed, screamed in the dark room, lit by the full, full moon.
This is not how he expected to feel
finding himself further from shore
that he can correct.
It’s almost a relief to be inside
this grey-water washing machine
on the spin cycle.
Its warm, dark clutches have him by the throat,
He’s a village drowned beneath friends’
better lives, mute taunts.
Trivia of his past days whizzes by
like strangers cars, rigid lines melt
nothing stays contained.
He’s shreds of being, piled thin strips upon
popped balloons, papier mache,
undone by water.