Carolyn King Speaks Up for Saint Bartholomew

Isle of Wight poet Carolyn King will be reading her fascinating poem Elemental at the gathering of Competition poets on 26th September. You can read the whole poem by clicking the link above, or by locating it on the dropdown menu on the Home Page.  You can also read more about Carolyn’s publications and competition successes at the bottom of this page.

Carolyn King

Elemental comes across as a confident, adventurous, uncluttered piece of writing, establishing itself with deft economy in its opening line, ‘At first there were twelve of us at the table.’ It does not falter or strike a false note in its ambitious plan not only to cover the Last Supper in the compass of a very short poem but also to bring one of the guests through his terrible later death in Armenia and into the present day.

The conceit of the poem is the correspondence between the elemental figures of the twelve disciples at the supper table and the elements as tabulated by the nineteenth century Russian chemist and inventor, the creator of the periodic table, Dmitri Mendeleev. The way these two ‘assemblies’ manage to share space in one short poem is very intriguing.  So too is the visually striking secondary theme of silver.  At the supper table, Judas the treasurer holds the purse with its pieces of silver. Two thousand years later, another of the disciples, Bartholomew, will be ‘chiselled in silver’ by the sculptor Damien Hirst.

Authorial footnotes do not always improve a poem, but Elemental seemed to me to be much enriched by learning that Damien Hirst’s celebrated life-size silver figure of Saint Bartholomew was first shown at the Royal Academy in London and that silver is No.47 on Mendeleev’s Periodic Table of Elements. I was slightly less convinced by the positioning of the epigraph, ‘the afterlife of Saint Bartholomew.’  This in itself would make such a bewitching title that I was sorry to see it confined to brackets and relegated to an epigraph.   As a title, I think it might do more work for the poem than the single word ‘elemental’ and perhaps help readers focus even more closely on the core thread which gives this excellent piece its structure and narrative energy.

This is a poem informed by detailed knowledge of science and of religious history, both of which it wears with lightness of touch and grace.  I loved its melding of imagination and numerical exactitude and am looking forward to meeting its island dwelling author very much.


( collections Lifelines and Caviare and Chips )

has read her poetry at venues from Edinburgh to Cornwall, has had success in many poetry competitions and was in the short-list of six for 2013’s Manchester Poetry Prize.  Over the past 12 months, she has claimed three 2nd-place prizes (the Skipton Library Poetry Prize; the Royal Navy’s Portsmouth Dockyard Museum competition – to commemorate the anniversary of World War I – when she was invited to read her poem at the Remembrance event in the Dockyard; and in this year’s annual Sentinel Poetry Competition); and 1st-place in the “Second Light” Annual Poetry Competition, for which she will travel to London in November.  Carolyn lives on the Isle of Wight, where she has two poems cast in bronze at Island landmarks.