Congratulations to Michael O'Connor and Connor Johnston who are joint winners of the Lord Alfred Douglas Prize for their poems ‘Let the River Begin Again’ and ‘Jar’. Nick Smart was also commended for his poem ‘On the cellist playing outside Poundland©’.
The Lord Alfred Douglas Prize is awarded for the best sonnet or other poem written in English and in strict rhyming metre. It is open to any member of the University, who is registered for a degree of the University, whether as an undergraduate or a graduate student. A copy of the winning entries will be deposited in the Bodleian Library.
You can read the winning poems below.
Let the River Begin, Again
Tell me about how the river begins
again: the way the water mutters, stills,
turns and turns again, flickers as it springs
over filigree meanders until it fills
the wide horizon’s girth. Tell me about
snow-melt and trout circle and rose mallow,
about the water’s mountainous redoubt
and the turn of the day in the shadow
of the hills. Tell me about the way things
fight tooth and nail, springing into pattering
sputtering vigour, of how water sings
as it cascades. Tell me of chattering
birds under shimmering, mirroring skies.
Do not tell me how the river stutters, dies.
— Michael O'Connor
Blacknesses of the bile, and shroud and swill
Meandering the cobbles of the will,
Disturbed, as every slavish stillness is,
Obliviously clapping for the ill.
The throes of doze and dose, the witnesses
Bogged motionless by daily scum and tar,
Afloat upon an ocean black with beer,
Inflated by the fogs of aimless fears
And every bath I’ve had beneath the stars,
Regressing there for minutes made of years,
A cryogenic tomb, a pickle jar,
In which to think about the universe,
And grimace, thinking still, things could be worse.
— Connor Johnston
On the cellist playing outside Poundland©
Enter won’t budge on the corner-shop till,
No matter how much boredom drives the flicks
Of the assistant as he sits there still
Chewing the gum, no doubt, that made it stick.
The door so far denied its rotation
Makes a play for his attention, it yawns
At the reversing delivery van
That beeps in time with his mastication,
But pauses when the motion is withdrawn,
And stutters to the spot where it began.
Among the cigarettes and torn-off tags,
And other scraps that linger on the stage
Marked out by heaps of tangled Tesco bags,
There sounds the indistinct bariolage
Of Bach’s first Cello Suite in G Major,
Accompanying intermittent streets
Of sputtering drainpipes and car alarms
And the ringtones of bunking teenagers.
At last, the off-beat of a builder’s feet,
With sandwiches balanced across his arms,
He drops twenty pence for the BLT,
Which – thanks to sticky keys – he didn’t need;
Her eyes glance over at one pound fifty
Pre-loaded on the contactless machine.
It refused to glint in the dull daylight
As it disturbed the open cello case
That sat collecting chippings from the road.
He stopped a moment, puzzled by the sight,
And prised the air-pod from beside his face
To watch her stretching fingers as they slowed.
Remembering the tune she once was taught
When guided by the hands that knew it all,
The sequence came without a second thought.
Returning to the note as she recalled
The arms which threw her high into the air
And fell back down from branch to branch until
Relaunched again, the phrasing dances just
The way it did in memories they shared
Of alternating notes of varied skill,
Responding to the call with mutual trust
That they’d find each other filling the gaps
In music that seemed inevitable.
And as the song awaited its relapse
Arrived the moment irrevocable
In itself, though repeated time again,
Of countless doctor’s trips and prescriptions,
Da capo, the same pills the nurse concocts,
Though stronger this time, and surely in vain,
The moment that defied all description
When she realised the music had stopped.
At such a moment of hesitation,
Her only spectator pretends he sees
Someone he knows outside the bus station.
She tries to hide the scramble to reprise
To keep him stood beside her but, in truth,
She seemed relieved that no-one was around,
On yet another Tuesday afternoon,
No-one to watch uncertain fingers move
The bow in ways that made uncertain sounds
As reaching, groping, fumbling for the tune.
The street-preacher sees enough of our sins,
The wrath of God goes home for tea at five;
Community serviceman checks the bin,
Misses a packet, the pigeons arrive.
Away go the kids breaking their ASBOs,
Away goes the swinging sale items board,
Away into bags goes the till money,
Away goes the sun revealing shadows
Of the old stray dog that passers-by ignored,
Away chugs the council refuse buggy.
Yet at the dimming of the High Street lights,
To optimise budget efficiency,
The melody again begins to rise.
The open strings resonate as if he,
Summoned to stand in front of her once more,
Depended on their frequency and stayed
A moment, then disintegrated gently.
And now she plays alongside closing doors
That scratch across the rubber mat with frayed
And faded words that read: ‘No entry!’
— Nick Smart