“Judging The Moth Poetry Prize was a beautiful experience,” says Somali-British poet Warsan Shire. “I’ve come away changed – inspired and hopeful.”
The annual prize shortlist was announced today. The four poems, which feature in the spring issue of The Moth, are The Unloving Ground by Aniqah Choudhri, Hotel Petroleum by Mark Fiddes, Small Moon Curve by Roz Goddard and Chase Street by Heather Treseler.
Shire describes Choudhri’s The Unloving Ground, in which racial profiling is brought painfully into focus, as “a lush, gorgeous poem – one that indulges all of the senses, a heartbreaking poem, an unrequited love poem, a poem for a home that does not want you”.
Choudhri is a British Muslim writer from Manchester. She has been published in the Hippocrates Anthology for Poetry and Medicine, the Bristol Short Story Anthology and the Lightship Anthology, as well as publications such as The Tribune magazine, The Independent and i-D magazine.
In Fiddes’s “striking and subversive” Hotel Petroleum, a guest is reassured they will feel “as thin as your platinum card”, the future will be desalinated for freshness and “what you don’t have, you may shop for”. This “slick with wit and dystopic” poem is, Shire says, “like an episode of Black Mirror in poem form”.
Fiddes’s second collection, Other Saints Are Available, was launched by Live Canon last year. His first, The Rainbow Factory, was published by Templar Poetry, following the success of his award-winning pamphlet The Chelsea Flower Show Massacre. He is a winner of the Oxford Brookes University International Prize, the Ruskin Prize and the Dromineer Festival Prize. He was placed third in the UK National Poetry Competition and runner-up in both the Robert Graves and the Bridport Prize. His work has been published in Poetry Review, POEM, the Irish Times and The Moth, among many other titles. He lives and works in temporary Brexile between the Middle East, Barcelona and London.
Shire was drawn to Goddard’s “gentle and tender” Small Moon Curve – as a woman about to have a mastectomy observes how each of the women the surgeon visits “sings her own winter” – because of its ability “to explore a difficult, painful subject with exquisite grace and beauty”.
Goddard is a poet and teacher and is currently training for ordination in the Triratna Buddhist Order. She is a former poet laureate of Birmingham and has taught poetry extensively in schools, prisons, libraries and literature festivals, as well as being a mentor for the Poetry Society. Her most recent collection, Lost City, was published by The Emma Press. Previous pamphlet collections include Spill and The Sopranos Sonnets and Other Poems, which featured on BBC R3’s The Verb.
Treseler’s “deeply powerful” Chase Street, where a young child listens as her mother gauges her father’s mood, “her mother’s hallway greeting held out as a stiff semaphore / for night weather, fair / or foul, sober or unbottled” is, according to Shire, “a beautifully written poem exploring childhood, memory and motherhood. A deft poem that lingers long after you’ve read it.”
Treseler is the author of Parturition, which received the Munster Literature Centre’s Fool for Poetry international chapbook award and the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize from the New England Poetry Club. Her work appears in Harvard Review, PN Review, and Cincinnati Review, among other journals. Her poem Wildlife was chosen by Spencer Reece for the WB Yeats Prize, and her poem The Lucie Odes was selected for The Missouri Review’s Jeffrey E Smith Editors’ Prize. Her criticism appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Boston Review and several scholarly books about contemporary poetry. She is associate professor of English at Worcester State University in Massachusetts, and a resident scholar at the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center; her work has been supported by the NEH and residencies at the Boston Athenaeum, TS Eliot House and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She grew up in Boston and its surrounds, and her mother’s family hails from Co Cork.
Poems by Sylvie Baumgartel, Laurie Bolger, Simon Costello, Christina Hutchins, Jasmine Ledesma, Daniella C Ndubuisi-Ike, Othuke Umukoro and Anna Woodford were also commended by Shire.
The overall winner will be announced at a special award ceremony at Poetry Ireland (online) on Poetry Day Ireland, April 28, and will receive €6,000, while each of the three other shortlisted poets will receive €1,000 and the eight commended poems are awarded €250 each.
The current issue of The Moth, featuring all four shortlisted poems, can be purchased at www.themothmagazine.com or select bookshops.
The Unloving Ground
In the shadow of Black Chew Head, an English woman
sets her dog on you. She says private property
but she doesn’t mean that small patch of earth,
of potato and bracken, but the purple tors, flaming
under a Lancaster sun, the crumbling sandstone
of keep and bailey, the dark wind flooding up
the wide Roman roads, the shorelines where the rocks,
wet and oilskin black, host the glitter of coalfish,
bream and bass, and the towers where crows
caw under a waxing moon, in the city
that once crushed a kingdom. Dare to leave the red
bricked factory-smoked cities, and the glances
slip and slide like oil until you run home
to the headlines that say, this isn’t yours,
this isn’t yours, you can speed your car through
the twist at Snake Pass, walk through the dogwoods
or the pearl-crushed mist, eat parsnips with bloodless beef
and sweeten the grist with sugar in your tea, dream
of Yorkshire fog and lilacs and the dark salt sea,
but even if you die here, you won’t belong here.
Even if you bury your heart, your ribs, your breath
in the sea-stormed, lichened, unloving ground,
England won’t answer
Your air-conditioning is the voice of love.
It sighs and cools like cotton sheets.
Each pool reflects your inner turquoise.
All that you touch is fragrant and labial.
Even the trees are squeezed for perfume.
Your limbs tan the suede of antelopes.
You feel as thin as your platinum card.
Your eyes take on whatever sky you desire.
Diamonds crust your lovely skull inside,
lighting up your brain like a film set.
Conscience will be supplied by Pokémon.
Your ragged past we dumped in the sand
with all the other non-refundable rubbish.
Your future we desalinate for freshness.
Your anxiety you may feed to the birds
whose volume knob is next to your bed.
The on-off button is for self-control.
What you don’t have, you may shop for,
even Virtue, with its bold new branding
and an exciting user interface to die for.
Until the humming stops, the power dies
and stars arrive to mock the endless night
just say yes to everything. Thank you.
Childhood, a cold planet warmed by women.
And my mother’s childhood, its unspeakable
fear, meteors, astral glare.
Among early memories: watching, from her bed
by the back window, as a clatter of crows shrieked
and flapped madly –
settling into a jostling line along the phone wire.
Before she learned the word omen, she knew dark
like a storm of vitriol, startled (without warning)
from the green water of the trees. She counted
them like wooden beads
on an abacus or rosary and listened for nightly bells
from a spire sharp enough to pierce the fevered skin
of sunset, a sexton
levering ropes of sky with the pendulum of his body:
a man, with hawsers, in need of a ship, his belled song
dead reckoning for land
ahead, land of night hungers, the day’s offices locked
by those who carry the keys. I go back to her childhood,
the child in her watchful
berth by the window, the trains’ long hydraulic sighs
into the station as her father made his way uphill
in a suit, having left
his bloodied tools and shirt to an autoclave and boiled
laundry. He could remember the map of any mouth,
its carious glitch
and pattern of gnaw, its record of appetite and wear,
its tongue’s compass rose: the cavity of the mouth
makes its mute
confession to the priest of drill and hand mirror, auditor
to what a body will not, cannot tell itself. So the child
listens for his whistle,
studies his stride, hears the door’s spin of its latch, her
mother’s hallway greeting held out as a stiff semaphore
for night weather, fair
or foul, sober or unbottled. There is hidden song in her
mother’s voice, a ritual dash for keys, baby, back door –
her infant hands steady,
their grip on the mast of her bed. Is it vestigial, my trust
in second-storey windows, lookouts, hideaways, a getaway
car? Or this need to tally
birds and bells, catalogue the signs? In a photo of us in a field,
my cheek rests against her bevelled chest, my face scowls
with scorn for what would
draw me from that embrace, its trapdoor to a warm planet
of women with its bounty of rain and daughtered sun,
its memory, hers and mine.
Somewhere, a sexton peals the chords of evensong as crows
clamour for carrion and a figure of malice or affection strides
uphill in his pressed suit –
while a womanly silhouette pauses, then hurries upstairs,
laying claim to what is hers in the small child who still
lives on Chase Street.
Heather C Treseler
Small Moon Curve
Small moon curve, warm in my hand,
rising like a sweet bun. In another life
you would slip, wet with kisses from a silk
dress, sleep as a small animal through
a yellow afternoon. It’s dawn.
Sunrise milks the skylight.
We’re dressing in backless gowns,
ivory stockings. Oh, to hear a blackbird.
My wedding ring slides onto a finger of air.
The surgeon asks me to name my future.
You’re performing a left breast mastectomy.
He touches my shoulder the way a bird lands,
feels ice under its feet, inks a cross near
the thickening. Each woman he visits sings her
own winter. We’re a grove of tenderness as trees
in sorrow are. Two nurses walk me to theatre,
ask how I usually spend mornings. I mention
watching corvids, pot-bellied in oaks, listening
to their love songs from another realm.
I’ve lived the life of two crows.