Poetry competition: 2011 winners

Poetry competition 2011 winners

If you're planning to enter our poetry competition this year, read the three beautiful winning poems from 2011, for inspiration.

First place

Charlie's Beans by Tony Scarfi

For five or six seasons I had watched them
Week on week,
Admiring their dappled green and glimpsed red,
So afterwards I always felt
Embarrassed by my own limp efforts.

Vigorous they were, Charlie's beans,
And when you called by
You noticed other canny, clever things like
An ash path, dahlias growing in a garage with no roof,
Tomatoes twined to a cross-beam -
The whole plot an organised clutter,
While Charlie and the wife, like sages,
Ignored each other intimately from a weathered bench.

Those beans thralled me
With their frail, flexuous tendrils,
The tips, nonchalant, never rushing,
Haphazard yet somehow certain,
Biding their time
While they inexorably clothed their slanted canes.

Earlier this year I heard how Charlie had lost his wife
And I wondered how he'd cope -
Whether he would find the will to sow and grow,
Whether he would trust in gardening's healing balm

So, when I passed today and saw his patch
All pocked with tufts of couch and horse-tail
It hurt; and straightaway I thought of his saved beans
High on a shelf in his pantry,
Chill, blotched, dormant in a rusty cocoa tin -

Tight, silent and unchanging,
Just like his grief.

Second place

Ground by Anna Wigley

A garden is a theatre of small miracles.
Now, after forty years of not caring,
I understand this.

As a girl I watched my father's wiry frame
coppered by shirtless days in July sun,
digging up potatoes, leeks, courgettes.

Not an emotionally showy man,
he dug and mulched and picked and planted
long afternoons, till the shadows were stretched

and his hard arms ached.
From a distance I watched, then later saw the heap
of tangled roots and bulbs

gleaming under their crumbling caul of soil
piled on the kitchen table.
My father's nails were rimmed with black,

his forehead slick with sweat.
"Just look at that!" he would say,
as if he had grown a box of chocolates.

Now I comprehend his pleasure and pride.
It has taken four decades and my own plot.
It has taken my first clematis,

my first sweet peas and tulips to bring me back to that place where my father stood
on his fifty yards of turf -

digging not for victory but for love,
for the sound of sparrows in the hedges,
for the sun's palm pressed on his back.

Third place

Compost heap by Peter Wallis

Down past my shrubs and fig, my unproductive veg,
Down past your herbs and our need for separate beds,
Past the lawn you sowed and I refuse to mow
And the shed not for me but you wanted anyhow,
Past the trellis where the wind piles up the leaves,
To the bottom at last, where the bin is, plus
Our steaming heap of old compost. We sling in peelings,
Parings, weeds, harsh words, apostle spoons, regrets;
All, all our sins. It is writhing with worms and yet
It is at bottom, warm as breath; soft as velvet;
Moist as a kiss and dark as our rich secret

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