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Proms Poetry Competition: Ian McMillan, Jackie Kay

Ian McMillan, Jackie Kay and Judith Palmer are joined at Imperial College by the winning poets whose writing has been prompted by music at the 2016 Proms. Reader: Stella Gonet.

Judges Ian McMillan - poet and presenter of The Verb, Jackie Kay - Scottish Makar and Judith Palmer - director of The Poetry Society are joined on stage by the winning poets whose writing has been prompted by music from this year's Proms. The reader is Stella Gonet.

Winner over 18 Category: Anna Kisby Runners-up: Graham Burchell and John Scrivens
Winner 12-18: Lucy Thynne Runners-up: Katherine Spencer-Davis and Jason Khan

Lucy Thynne Juliet on water inspired by Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture

a breath, and the notes fall on dark water,
hesitant at first, but then sailing, like pale
adjacent bodies rising on the blue hips of a
young girl. I think of this girl's heart, hollowed
by the hands of that man, careful as they carve it
to a canoe pushed out on to this ocean. Quavers
like geese follow as it skims, blemishing the
stillness for only a second, bending the air, a
perfect house made out of water. Somehow you never
think anything can hold you this tight by the ribs and
still breathe. In my mind I think of the couple, spools of
song pulsing beneath their boat, stellate and wet
against eyelids as it makes tracks like stains on my
skin, a journey with an end best left unsaid. I think of
that tiny fistful of love, of blood feuds, of that
girl running in from blue coldness, only to meet
her crescendo, accelerando,
fine.

Anna Kisby Fireflies Unlimited inspired by Steve Reich's Vermont Counterpoint

We're in the half-built house
in Vermont - me and the man
I nearly marry, but don't - unroofed, holes
where windows will fit. In sleeping bags
on untreated boards, night falls and fireflies
arrive - a quickstep, a certainty, a flute added to
flute they synchronise. This was the dreamtime,
the simple time, that time between schooldays
and real life. Do you remember such a time
of firsts? We were living hand to mouth -
dollars counted into palms,
money soft as moth-wings.
In those days we went looking
for what we didn't know was there.
Our reward: fireflies without borders -
un-tame, a coming-together-last-minute plan.
We watch them sandpaper the sky, they jerk for joy,
they jagger, god's own migraine. In lightning-tongue
they sing to us Forget your sad cities of light, we are
our own ferris wheels. Now the roof must be on,
the forest cleared for lawn, each patio slab
a square of extinguished light. Anytime I want
I can catch them there, fireflies in a jar -
a torch-full of past, banging at the sides of this glass.

Producer: Fiona McLean.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Winner 19+ Category: Anna Kisby - Fireflies Unlimited

Inspired by Steve Reich - Vermont Counterpoint


We’re in the half-built house

in Vermont – me and the man

I nearly marry, but don’t – unroofed, holes

where windows will fit. In sleeping bags

on untreated boards, night falls and fireflies

arrive – a quickstep, a certainty, a flute added to

flute they synchronise. This was the dreamtime,

the simple time, that time between schooldays

and real life. Do you remember such a time

of firsts? We were living hand to mouth –

dollars counted into palms,

money soft as moth-wings.


In those days we went looking

for what we didn’t know was there.

Our reward: fireflies without borders –

un-tame, a coming-together-last-minute plan.

We watch them sandpaper the sky, they jerk for joy,

they jagger, god’s own migraine. In lightning-tongue

they sing to us Forget your sad cities of light, we are

our own ferris wheels. Now the roof must be on,

the forest cleared for lawn, each patio slab

a square of extinguished light. Anytime I want

I can catch them there, fireflies in a jar –

a torch-full of past, banging at the sides of this glass.

Winner 12-18 Category: Lucy Thynne - Juliet on water

Inspired by Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture

 

a breath, and the notes fall on dark water,                                     
hesitant at first, but then sailing, like pale

adjacent bodies rising on the blue hips of a
young girl. I think of this girl’s heart, hollowed

by the hands of that man, careful as they carve it                                                        
to a canoe pushed out on to this ocean. Quavers

like geese follow as it skims, blemishing the
stillness for only a second, bending the air, a

perfect house made out of water. Somehow you never                                   
think anything can hold you this tight by the ribs and

still breathe. In my mind I think of the couple, spools of    
song pulsing beneath their boat, stellate and wet

against eyelids as it makes tracks like stains on my                                                
skin, a journey with an end best left unsaid. I think of

that tiny fistful of love, of blood feuds, of that                                                                      
girl running in from blue coldness, only to meet 

her crescendo, accelerando,                                                                          
fine.

Runner Up 19+ Category: Graham Burchell - Anti Mass

Inspired by Paul Dukas’ ballet La Peri - Poeme Danse


After an age  one bird does cry out above this place

one in a rush   passing over   the aftertaste

is a pull of breeze through summer branches 

and me  I’m sat in the ribcage of this gutted

roasted whale of a god house  sat on the side

 

where the bones are shattered 

where all I can see of piety is a celtic cross 

a crying face  where charcoal fragments 

ash and scorches have been air-brushed 

the altar  chapels  and tracery windows

 

have taken on wildflowers  here is air 

and shadow patterns  spaces for the unexpected

aerobatics of swallows   

                                          hate  far off     burned

another church               a creator noticed 

saw the black char as emblematic 

 

ripe for hanging from puppet wires  ripe

for hanging like an explosion  held

at the midpoint of its moment  devoid

of sound and weight  dark light that beacons 

beckons one to spear a thought

Runner Up 19+ Category: John Scrivens - Small Song for a Lark

Inspired by Ralph Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending


I know this piece.  I can recite each beat;

Time signatures I grasp but, even so,

These accidentals took so long to know,

And I have learned each triplet, each repeat.

I've practised long, would not admit defeat;

It does not matter that I will not shine;

The boring hours are gone, this piece is mine;

My fingers numb, my knowledge is complete.

 

This hall is silent now, and every eye

Is on the baton raised.  Pause.  Begin,

And deftly, quietly, launch this small bird's flight;

The melody surrounds me, fills my sky;

The lark ascends, the gentle sun pours in;

Discard the page: the day is filled with light.

Runner Up 12-18 Category: Katherine Spencer-Davis - Live Another Day

Inspired by Mark Simpson - Israfel


She is dying,

She can feel it, quick and sudden and far too loud,

 

She is running –

Run, little girl, run –

Faster, faster, faster,

Skeleton soaring, bones come to life.

 

Her heart is pounding –

Run, little girl, run –

Death is chasing you,

Death is catching you.

 

She can’t slow down, never slower –

Run, little girl, run –

I am here, I will help you,

Just don’t stop moving.

 

A twig cracks beneath her –

Run, little girl, run –

She is looking behind and death’s

Red eyes are gleaming.

 

She is tired, throat is closing –

Run, little girl, run –

You will be clean, I will wash

My hands in your blood.

 

She is close, closer, quickly –

Keep running, little girl, keep running –

 

You are here; you have escaped.

Runner Up 12-18 Category: Jason Khan - The Church of Self-destruction and the Worship of Evergreen Release

Inspired by David Bowie - Ashes to Ashes

 

I stumble through Tokyo alleys,

With the sound of mid-life karaoke humming

In the narcotic night nitrogen,

Sinking into effervescent coma

Induced by Japanese Geishas in neon bliss,

Prosecco pouring from my earholes,

As ascension elixirs enters my saturnine veins,

And emerald halos cycle the crows

While they pick on tie-wearing carrion;

I shake with pre-meditated self-grief,

Glass teardrops pirouetting at my transparent sides,

The Dawn shattering through my Bakelite eyelids;

Falling to my knees, I, unravelled and extinguished,

Drift off to inner space writhing

And whispering. ‘Mother, I’m sorry.’

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