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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


Euphoria and Me.

Sometimes, Euphoria is all I need.
At quarter to midnight, I wait for her in my dressing room. My nerves are shot but luckily, she arrives sooner than expected. She is bright, confident, and raring to go.
“Just one last time.” I tell myself, as Euphoria tries to calm me. She then helps me change into the last part of my costume — a well-practiced smile.
At midnight, we step on stage together. We’re surrounding by glittering curtains and shining eyes and I feel the panic in me rise once more, but Euphoria holds my hand, and I slowly feel myself lulled into something like composure.
The audience is hidden behind a sea of coral chiffon as we move with the music. The bangles on my wrist help to hide deeply etched scars layered with concealer, while their jingling dulls the noise from the crowd. I forget where I am and who is watching and soon, I remember why I enjoy it so much. I am entranced by the melody, by myself, and by Euphoria. Nothing and no one else matters and I think to myself, maybe this won’t be the last time after all.
Hours feel like minutes and before I know it the show is over, and the spell is broken. As we take our last bow, I feel part of me shrink as I begin to awaken from the trance, but Euphoria is still there, by my side. She holds my hand again and quashes my fear, helping me to bow with grace and confidence to a standing ovation.

It's the early hours of the morning, and I am walking home barefoot; I stagger a little even though I’m carrying my heals. Euphoria is struggling as well, and though I’m tempted to ask her for more help, I think better of it. The scent of alcohol breezes past me as I flip my hair behind my shoulders. I wrinkle my nose and tell myself, again, that tonight was the last night.
“Just one more time,” says Euphoria quietly, as if she were reading my mind, “come on, it could be so much fun!” I try to ignore her, but her voice is unparalleled in its seductive tenor.

After almost an hour, we finally reach the neon lined windows of The Epicure, a club across the street from my flat. I stop outside the window and try to peer through the tinted glass. Euphoria urges me to go inside.
“Come on, I’ll cheer you up.” she says, but her voice is now quieter, and I can almost ignore her.
We take a step closer to the window and a woman with a curious and confused expression looks back at me. She looks pained; her face is haggard and pale with a large, dark shadow covering one eye. I move as close as I can get without bumping my head, and I can just about see Euphoria, or what’s left of her. My pupils have somewhat constricted and are almost at their usual size, but there’s still some redness in the whites of my eyes — Euphoria is still clinging on.

There was once a time when I could barely leave my bed in a morning, let alone step foot on stage in front of a crowd, but then Euphoria came along. She is everything I want to be. She is mood-altering and she is vibrant. She is confident and always happy, and sometimes, only when I’m with her, I’m happy too.
She is there for me when no one else is, lulling a deep sadness in me that no other worldly pleasure can quell.
Sometimes people need a hug, sometimes people need alcohol, but sometimes, all I need is Euphoria.

Recent ShowNotes

Would… Be… King

Last week's competition

Last Week's Winner!

Winning entry by Guesswho
He who Would be King

Each November
outside my bedroom window
is revealed the face
of one who would be King.

It’s no surprise
that he resides inside
a mighty oak,
the very King of trees.

He bathes naked
while he braves
the steaming cold
in early winter sunshine.

He is the jewel
in the oak’s
high crown.

He looks down at me
while I lie in bed
and drink my
morning tea.

His eyes follow
every move I make,
even as I step
into my underpants.

He probably thinks
I’m bowing
in deference
to his glory.

And when
the wind is up
I see him mouthing
and thrashing,

marching on the spot,
puffing and blowing
and swaying
with the storm.

He is a perverse
of my winter

It just requires
to recognize
his kingly gaze.

The shapes
the branches
form his regal pose.

Squirrels chase
each other
round and round
and scratch his back

and magpies
and flip their tales
in deference.

I call him
'Beerbohm the Mighty'
residing as he does
within a Tree.

I am struck
by his theatrical
and airy gestures.

He is the
Great Pretender
I applaud him still.

No Caliban
or Thane of Cawdor
was more
splendidly portrayed.

As always
he delights
in standing
centre stage.

With the drapes
of summer gone
he reigns until
return of spring,

when new leaves
swell upon
the boughs
to hide his majesty.

And now
September wanes
and I count the weeks
to his reveal.

As the first leaves fall
I prepare to throw
the curtains wide
and bid him welcome.

The equinox
is past and
now, at last,
The King cometh.

Featured Entry

by Alex Fleet
He felt as if he had not slept for days, for weeks. But finally his head had relaxed on the pillow, his body had sunk thankfully into the softness of his bed.

He hadn't realised the tension in his muscles, but gradually he felt it ebb away, as he breathed deeply to consciously slow his heart rate and try to steer away the onslaught of thoughts that threatened to overwhelm him.

These past three weeks or so had been a sudden frantic burst of activity that seemed totally endless, schedules upon schedules deluging from all quarters, all meticulously planned years in advance but still needing co-ordination and co-operation when there was a realisation that not everybody had the same plans in mind.

Somehow, though it had worked. The public had seen a militarily precise operation carried out by innumerable different organisations with scarcely a fumbled moment. They had noticed the uncooperative pen that squirted ink all over his hands and wondered if it had been a bit of sabotage by some minor individual. But apart from that he was relieved that the days had passed without major incident.

The past had not been without it's crises, sometimes of a terribly controversial nature where the media had been cruel and critical but he had to bear all that, all those things he had to tolerate and in addition all those things he had to do but not necessarily wanted to do, with the best face he could muster.

He had learnt long ago that it was difficult to please everyone all the time and relieved that now, of all times, the media as a whole had been supportive and sympathetic. Despite their criticisms in the past, they had honoured his Mother, his predecessor.

His Mother. How he missed her. And his Father, also not long passed away. They had both been strong, the strongest people he could imagine. They had helped him grow into this position, though it had actually taken a long time for him to arrive here.

He knew that his position was a unique one. How many men, or women, would pass retirement age, then take on such a challenging job knowing that it was, literally, a job for life. He would be doing this now until his deathbed.

How many people would have taken this career choice, not knowing how long they might wait before stepping into dead men's shoes, or in this case, a dead woman. And they were big shoes to fill.

Had he chosen to take this career? He might have refused, as other had before him in the past. But his Father had pointed out that free as this country is, not many people actually have a choice in the passage of their lives. Best thing is, to make the best of it. There will be certainly things he would not wish to do, but that applies to everyone.

So, here he was, in this situation he had waited patiently for. It seemed surreal. Perhaps he would wake up in a minute.
The thoughts crowded in on him, random, without rhyme or reason, the voices of a thousand people, a crowd of heads all looking at him, talking at him, a thousand wise counsellors giving him sage advice but each with their own agenda and each of whom he had to give consideration to and choose what he felt was the best and most achievable course, without offending those he wished not to follow just at this particular time.

Then he realised it was of course more than a thousand, for beyond them was another sea of heads, all demanding his attention.
Amongst them was a little boy, small, surrounded by smart trousers and portly stomachs. The little boy looked up to a sea, an ocean, of serious, stern faces, ignoring him as they consulted wisely with his Mother or his Father. Occasionally one might glance at him and remember to smile patronisingly. He was only a small boy and not worthy of more and he could not understand the significance of his own future.

Suddenly he realised that the boy was himself and felt his heart gallop and race in panic, overwhelmed by the pressures put upon him, by the trousers and polished shoes surrounding him. He was a little boy again, turning to look for the reassurance of his little friend the teddy bear, the only one he could turn to and share his worries and his secrets. But the bear was no longer there, had not been for decades. His Father had sternly reminded him that Teddy Bears are only for little boys, not for him now that he was growing into a man, a leader of men. Leaders did not have Teddy Bears. Leaders of men did not cry. He had not seen his Mother cry, despite the cries of the media who thought that, sometimes, she should be seen to cry. But still he felt her warmth, her gentleness, her humour and . . . well, her motherliness as she smiled at him across the years, from decades before when he was that little boy.

Suddenly, he felt alone. So alone. After a lifetime of support from his parents, although he had made his own decisions for decades they were still made within the general policies of the family, of the firm. There was always co-ordination and co-operation, but now the Principals of the organisation were no longer there: he was the Principle and he would have to make the decisions from hereon, treading the knife-edge between what is popular and what he felt was right. He felt his Father's reassuring arm on his shoulder and his pulse slowed. He had a lifetime of advice to help him with his new responsibilities, as well as of his own experience.

He would make the best of it.

The voices reduced, the small boy stepped back quietly into the past and once again he breathed slowly and deeply and reflected on this strange new experience.

Yes, it was a strange thing,
being a King.
My Notes