HELEN ASHLEY from Totnes and NIKKI KENNA from Neston, near Corsham both won places on the Commended list for poems which enter and then triumph over the negativity of winter.
Helen’s poem, Fall, creates the inner life of trees so convincingly that every line is like the compelling step of a forest walk: each stanza moves us deeper into an environment where trees, not humans, are the significant inhabitants. These trees ‘live’. This writer is not just a poet, but a natural historian. I was particularly gripped by the marvellous fourth stanza in which the green leaves of summer become the bright foliage of autumn. “The shutting off of vessels / the withdrawal of green / the few weeks / of non-consuming flame.”
This is how Helen introduces ‘Fall’ in the programme notes : Whilst acknowledging the botanical process of deciduous trees, I can’t help feeling that they share my relief when the throng of summer gives way to autumn.
Nikki’s poem, with the delightfully surprising title Taking Leopard in St Ives , contrasts the debilitated ‘crumbs’ of the dead of winter with the passionate remembered warmth of an African leopard, ‘claw-strong, yellow-eyed alert’. As we asked in the competition guidelines, Nikki’s poem is doing more than its apparent subject suggests. It is not only evoking the difference between the heat of Africa and the cold of a Cornish winter – though it does this with great economy and gripping choice of physical detail – but is also exploring the ways in which memories, if treasured, remain to enrich our lives and help us to preserve our vitality whatever constraints seem to narrow our horizons in the everyday.
This is how Nikki introduces ‘Taking Leopard in St Ives’ in the programme notes:Seeing five thousand year old engravings of giraffe, rhinoceros and lion pecked into stone in Twyfelfontein, Namibia heightened my belief in the power of animals to alter the mind. In ‘Taking Leopard in St Ives’, I call on the feelings I experienced watching a wild leopard under a Mopane bush in Chobe, Botswana to overcome winter humdrum.
Fall by Helen Ashley and Taking Leopard in St Ives by Nikki Kenna can be found under Competition Poems on the right hand side above the wisteria.