Mini Competition 3: Snow and Ice in Verse

Thank you to everyone who entered – we had a huge response, which made choosing hard work, but great reading. The two winning pieces are from Christine Considine, ‘Mother’s Last Christmas’ and Gabriel Griffin, ‘Domo to Geneva’. Both of these poems show beautiful control with so much left unsaid around the precise details. Both of these poems will be published in the next competition anthology, Jericho and other stories and poems.

On the website you can also read the four excellent runner up pieces. ‘Snowscape’ by Rosalind Hudis uses exquisite imagery and matches sound to content; ‘Snow-blinded’ by Martin Willits Jr takes the theme sideways with two definitions of snow blindness that coalesce around a poignant, but controlled portrait of autism; ‘High Fidelity’ by David Olsen is a first person persona of a climber in danger of being cut free, once again superb sounds an authentic voice that put me in mind of the film of Into the Void, and Miceál Kearney’s ‘Walking on Water’ is a convincing, raw-edged piece of rural life packed with powerful imagery.

We also had very strong work from Gill O’Dwyer, Jane Moreton, Jane McLaughlin, Sian Tower, Scot Siegel, Michele Byrne, Alan Waddell, Ian Richardson and Phil Madden.

MOTHER’S LAST CHRISTMAS by Christine Considine

Mother's Last Christmas

Not the last of her life but the last
when she could cope with freedom,
an unfamiliar room.

We drove over the moor in a blizzard,
held our breath on the dips and rises,
the old house a longed-for refuge.

No neighbours, no lights from distant farms,
no birdcalls, even the snow fell
in a windless silence

and froze silently. There was
no going out on Christmas Day
to the plain brown chapel

where if there were no kings
there would be shepherds,
and three girls playing brass instruments –
mother and I confined to our stone shelter,
our fire, tête-à-tête meals
and radio. No visits
no visitors. Every morning I trudged
the half-mile to the sharp steep curve
gleaming with untouched ice
and evey evening at the open door
described to my blind listener
the silver moon, the unreachable silver hills.

Christine Considine

Domo to Geneva by Gabriel Griffin

Domo to Geneva

Rain all along the lines and lakes from
Arona to Domodossola. Then sluttish snow
began to slur the windows, a white dust trample
shoe-stains in the corridor. The train whirred through
the black hole of the Simplon, our Janus faces
a series of slides tear-streaked, finger-printed, smudged
as is my memory of you. You liked
Switzerland, the ordered life, no surprises, the cows
slaughtered in whistle-clean abattoirs, out of
screaming, out of sight. Not Italy, no, Italy with its
haphazard landscapes, hooting cities, its history and
art and myth a Macedonian salad – Italy wasn’t for you.
You told me once in Rome you’d visited Keat’s
grave; a nameless headstone heaped just the same
with flowers: purple iris, yellow roses out of season,
lilies, violets in the February grass. Behind weeping
trees an incongruous pyramid. ‘A pyramid!’ you’d
exclaimed, ‘Under such English rain!’
Uneasy all the time, unsure, you’d check
the name at every station and still stop
the conductor each time he passed. Our windows
whipped through stations hard with iron, cement,
those waiting ignored the silver lines that
carried us away.  I wept.
What’s certain? Not your death – I wasn’t there. They said –
but what have words to do with you? For me, you’re still
travelling on that train, a TGV,  the one that rushes past
the one I’m in, hurtling up-line; so fast I can’t see you
looking out, perhaps for me, white face against glass. Snow
falls thick and slow, the tracks ahead are black with ice.

Gabriel Griffin

Snowscape by Rosalind Hudis

Snowscape

In your painting there is no one on the street.
Snow over pavement and roofs: a blue
hand that came to rest here in the night,
long after engines were quieted.
You have left some windows awake
for those who must push cars out
no matter, or wait for trains which may
not come, because work clatters
through the possible and impossible
alike and we have always pulled on
gloves and boots and mustered down
an iron or tinder path, needled with ice
towards rail lines in the dark, or an office
where digital heat keeps out
the white high whine of wolves
the hasp of breath becoming frost.
But for now there is no one on the street.
These houses are bonescapes for the snow,
its soundless temerity, its blaze
in a chancel of sodium lamplight.

Rosalind Hudis


Walking on Water by Miceál Kearney

Walking on Water

Out across the turlough with hack and sledge
and one small empty bucket filling one big blue barrel;
thawed-out tractor ticking over.
Thankfully, Minus 13 is extremely Bipolar —
a living ecstasy of concrete and glass.
Each blade, branch and rock
erotically clad in white balaclavas.
I know it’s them, I can see their eyes.

Miceál Kearney

High Fidelity by David Olsen

High Fidelity

I’m wedged in the crevasse;
my horizon’s narrowed to nowhere.
The wind’s serrated edge
amputates your voice.
To be sure of saving yourself
you should cut me loose,
but the rope remains taut.
Above, you must be working
your legs through soft snow
to brace against ice.
I press outward with hands
and back to support my weight:
kick, kick, kick, lift.
Crampons lever me up by inches.
My hands burn with cold
until I can’t feel them.
The ice wall at my back
shreds my parka’s shell.
Hands abraded, back cramped,
your faithful belay holds.
I hope you’ll have the chance
to peel away my frozen gloves
and warm my hands on your
bare stomach, enduring the shiver
of intimate reunion, wondering
how many fingers I’ll lose.
We’ll retrace our steps, striving
to avoid another snow bridge
promising an easy cross.

David Olsen

Snow-Blinded by Martin Willitts Jr.

Snow-Blinded

i. Another word for the worse kind of Autism: autism spectrum disorder;
ii. Snow blindness or “photokeratitis”, a type of temporary eye damage caused by snow reflecting UV light

His muscle tone was a roller coaster, not going
where it was supposed to go, which made him
jumbled and juxtaposed. Walking on his toes,
did not help change the effect of appearing
like dodging snowbanks, almost depositing himself
into the rush of cars, blinded to his stumbling.
Why can’t they see him? Is it because a handicap
becomes invisible or numbing our senses?
Does he need to communicate by sign language
to our deafness? Maybe he points on spelling boards,
pictograms of his needs and we do not understand
simple needs when we see them.
When it comes down to it, we are all too sensitive to light,
suddenness of sound, touch becoming acute attention
almost overpowering and intense, taste of flavors
not existing, or dysfunctional smell. It is not just him.
We assume being in a crowd is normal, but for him
it is crushing as being in bumper cars, or bright lights startle.
No wonder he commits self-injury, banging his head,
pulling out clumps of hair like extracting entranced teeth
without tools. He is sleepless, experiences epilepsy,
and his moods are disordered. We call attention to it,
like hawkers at a carnival. Sometimes snow is intense —
things disappear into whiteness.

Martin Willitts Jr.

Mini Competition 2: – Review

Thank you to everyone who entered and congratulations to Deb Baker, whose review of Anne Cluysenaar’s poetry collection Migrations won the competition:

Migrations by Anne Cluysenaar

Migrations is a collection of poems that are insightful, thoughtful,veined with wisdom, and also well crafted. Cluysenaar writes not only of human experience with feeling and skill, but also of human and natural history, literature, and philosophy.

The musical language in “Eels,” a poem in the section called “On the Farm,” is lovely, with interesting letter combinations such as the “gl” and “sh” along with “o” sounds as in the first stanza: “Glasseels, that in open ocean/passed for glints or ripples,/nose into rainflow freshness./Their gills flush crimson.” This reminded me of Seamus Heaney’s lilting poems.

“Through Time” is a series of poems that evoke the wonder of geological time and our human awe of it, and the poems’ shapes are jagged-edged like the shorelines, causeways, quarries, stream beds, shear zones, valleys, and other features Cluysenaar explores. She muses on things such as tiny prehistoric creatures who left “. . . delicate pale arabesques/on the stones at my feet” noting, “This was all beyond my/reach this flow –/independent ongoing life,/things quite unknown,/unconscious minds/feeding from tide to tide,/doodling grey stone.” There’s something almost liturgical in this language, and I love the image of an ancient chain of life leading to a person walking along the shore.

“Clay” is a long poem inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh and by the author’s discovery that an ancestress of hers lived 10,000 years ago in what is now Syria. The poem alternates between the ancient and the remembered present, as in this passage reflecting on a young scribe marking a clay tablet: “But what if he knows we’ll look down/ on that river (still flowing), our steps/and our thoughts, like his, still restless?/I see his young hand, ghostly,/making strokes for the word life –/life that enforces a journey./My own, typing the word./Text upon text upon text./And thoughts’ unwriteable palimpset.” Shivery stuff, that ancient hand writing alongside today’s poet.

“As a wind or an echo rebounds,” a poem whose title is taken from Plato’s Phaedrus, is shorter but still a few pages long. It is a very poignant reflection on the death of a loved one: “. . . the terror/of love about to flow between us.”

The final section of the book, “Migrations,” joins poems which reflect that theme but are varied in subject matter, point of view, and setting. I particularly enjoyed “Late-night London. The Tube” which describes a singing panhandler, “It was a round bin, strapped,” about a sort of drop box for books traded between the narrator and a homeless person who annotates the margins. “No I can’t remember his words,” “Waiting for tests,” “Mere canvas – flat, timeless,” and “A metaphor for this earth” are also particularly strong, lovely poems.

One more in this final section actually made me squirm: “Soft as water, my finger-tips,”about a salmon’s experience as someone lifts it out of a stream, is so evocative that I felt as if I was experiencing what the fish was: “. . . the air clasps round,/harsh with heat, the floating/surface below him broken,/ no water to breathe, nothing/against which to brace his fins.”

Cinnamon Press is an independent source of original voices and fresh talent in a world in which large publishers’ marketing and sales departments often determine what the public reads. You can’t go wrong with any of their high quality titles,and I recommend Migrations wholeheartedly.

Mini Competition 1 – Travel and Land

Thank you to everyone who entered. This was an excellent competition with lots of innovative writing. Narrowing the field was hard work and pieces by Margaret Wilmot, Karen Whiteson, Stephanie Percival, Tricia Durdey & Michele Wardell, but after lots of deliberation the three runners up are: Jez Noond, Phil Madden and Victoria Grigg and the winner is Ken Head for his piece ‘Sus’. All four winning pieces are published here and you can find details of our current mini competition at www.cinnamonpress.com/competitions

Runner-up pieces:

36 IMAGES by Jez Noond

It was rollmop herrings and cheap vodka. You threw a party the night before our student trip. You lived on Margaret Street then. There must have been thirty of us in your flat. The air was pickled and blurred. Everyone was young and pretty. I wanted you. You were vocal. You told me a story about defection, how to enter Russia through Afghanistan, over the Hindu Kush on a mule. You dragged on a rolled cigarette and slammed an empty shot glass on the kitchen table.

You kissed your lover goodbye in the early street as we queued for the coach to Heathrow. You slept down the motorway with a bottle by your side. You were hung-over at the departure gate. You gave a sarcastic little salute as we walked out to the Aeroflot, a sarcastic little smile for the pilot, the hammer and sickle on their peaked cap. The steward served black bread with a ribbon of gherkin and a cheese medallion. You said it looked like some decoration from a great war. It was 1985. We both read Nineteen Eighty-Four as we flew to Moscow.

You ditched the other students. Your western clothes and vanilla scent brought the looks you wanted on the way to The Kremlin. You took photographs of Chernenko’s widow in Red Square. She was surrounded by state wreathes and black snow. You pulled in admirers and I took photographs of you. I put my mouth together with yours in the lift back at the hotel on the way down to the restaurant. You didn’t say a word. We ate Borscht with the Argentinian football team and you talked about Tumbledown Mountain.

You folded our books together at the station for the overnight train. You said there’d be no reading. You slid our fingers together on the platform and then our legs on a narrow bunk. I pulled the curtains when the train stopped in the middle of the night. It was a bleak postcard. You reached for our books and told me we were on different pages. Hours passed while you slept, the horizon was a flat line like a heart with no beat.

There was a bride and groom next day, at the Leningrad memorial. You laughed and said they were already at war. The lights cast our shadows together across the golden walls of Nevsky Prospekt and you rolled your eyes as you dragged me down onto the Metro. You pulled me up the steps of the Winter Palace, into a room of paintings by Fauves. You saw yourself as liberated, posing in front of a red nude, but I saw conflict in you. I noted everything. I noted that already I pissed you off.

We walked on a frozen Neva River that evening. There was a grey spy ship in the port, covered in radars, back from the Baltic Sea and a cold conflict. You asked if I failed to read signals. (Your rhetoric was wearing thin.) You bought me good vodka from a shack back on the quay. Those workers drank there. Their big hands made the shots they held look like glass thimbles. Their books were covered with pages torn from Pravda so no one could see what they read. I pinched the end of our shared cigarette when you told me that no one could read your heart.

There was no party after the plane back home. You went to ground between someone else’s covers just as soon as we landed. You didn’t reappear when term resumed. Your old lover said you’d gone to another institution, one that favoured your kind of art. I consoled myself at their mouth and hoped for an echo of your words. You were silent. And then I read the paper. You cashed your cheque and ran. Your indulgence got the better. The money ran out—along with whoever—and you choked over to the other side.

I still want you. I imagine you’ll speak to me through an upturned glass on a Ouija board. My words are more real than you. Your young face is an old image, a bookmark in a diary I can no longer find.

Peaches by Phil Madden

They took the  bus from Burgas to Sofia. Above, the Black Storks were circling, readying for Africa. Some would return.

There were peach stalls in the lay bys. Mile after mile, framed by soft boulders of watermelons. The farmers   and their wives sat in the shade, with impassive sun ripened faces.

Behind them were fields of sunflowers, like factory farms for Van Gogh memorabilia .

He glazed out of the window. He was back on the train from Amsterdam to Brussels. The crows in the mist. He remembered how,  half drunk with  tiredness, she had curled  in his arms.

The bus rolled on. Heat shimmered off the plains.

He thought of a  Koan – “Where are you going? Where my feet will take me. Where will your feet take you? Where I am going.”

The bus stopped by a roadside restaurant. There were peach and melon stalls here too, on the wide curve of the bend.

Everyone got out and ordered a drink.   The bus driver smoked, stolid with  fate. The heat made everyone listless. No one was buying peaches.

Suddenly a Mercedes   hurtled into the car park, the driver laughing to his passenger. He took the bend too fast and clipped one of the stalls.  It collapsed on the man and woman behind it. Peaches and watermelons rolled everywhere.

The car scraped a sidewall before juddering to a halt in a cloud of dust.

The driver burst out of the car. Black glasses. .Menace.

“Mutri. Mafia.” she said quietly..

He kicked the farmer as he was struggled to get up, sending him sprawling into his wife. They lay entangled as if they were having fumbling sex.

”Look at my car!”

“I am sorry.”

“ Sorry is not enough! You will pay.”

The driver picked up some peaches and  hurled them   wildly at the farmer and his wife.  One hit the woman on the ear.

“Money.” he said.”I want money.”

Everyone was watching now. Helpless terror and thrill.

That scene. Many years ago. Two women fighting in a crowded mall in broad daylight. One woman kicking the other one, tearing lumps from her hair.

There were two men there too. One slight and the other muscular. The small one looked like he was with the woman who was being beaten up. The muscular man held him back.  The woman slumped to the floor.

He had done nothing. Everyone else had done nothing.  It was one of his shames he often came back to.

“Leave them alone” he said in English.

The men spun round.

“They have done nothing. It was you who were driving too fast.”

The men coiled. Did instant calculations. A fucking foreigner-the police would become involved.   Their boss would not be happy.

Decision.  Too much hassle. But a message was needed.

The driver took a step towards him, smiled and spat slowly on his shoes.

He did not react.  He did not know where this calm was coming from.

The driver jerked his head at his companion.

“We go.”

They walked back to the car and sped away in a screech of wheels.

Hair trigger silence. The passenger stared carefully out of the window. He knew better than to say anything. .

“We get the car fixed. ” said the driver.  “We say it was some crazy driver. You understand?”

The passenger nodded. He knew some whore would pay for this tonight.

Back at the stop the farmer said nothing. The stall was beyond repair. Maybe that son of a bitch of a brother in law would lend him another one. Maybe he wouldn’t  smirk when he did so.

“It’s time to go “ she said.

The other passengers looked at them. No one said anything. .

Where did this act take them? Would she admire him ? He couldn’t bear admired.

She briefly touched his hand-.

“Are you Okay?”

No, I am a thousand times sensitive to the nuances of your touch. I know what just touching my hand means.

“I’m fine,” he said.

He stared straight ahead. Maybe one day, he would look at sunflowers again.

Another Hour to Jedburgh by Victoria Grigg

“Tell me.”

Kim breathes in.  “All there was all night was his hand feeling round my knickers like some kind of sea creature.”

The motorway reaches out in front of them.  It is a grey day.

Kim looks across at her Auntie Angela whose seat is ratcheted in close to the wheel of the clunky old Land Rover.  They are driving up to Scotland now that Kim has finished her English degree and they’ve both got time to spare.  Kim is talking about Nick, how they broke up.  She left her bike.  They inch past a lorry straining like a pig, and Kim sucks at her Sherbert Shocker Sour Fizz Strawberry Flavour Chew, tanned bare feet on the dashboard.  It is hot.

“How did you feel?”

“I didn’t want him to touch me anymore.”

The engine drones.

“At one point, he was going to make me a cake.  But he didn’t ever do it.  It was like my voice got choked up in my throat – all these uncomfortable silences.  There was one time we just sat on the bed covers staring at each other.  I didn’t know what to say.”

Angela turns the dial of the old radio/cassette and some violins begin playing, as though nervous.  Kim looks out the window to the left and watches the grey grass flicker by.

“I wasn’t even that into him to begin with, then it’s like I can’t control myself.  I wanted him to like me.”

Angela is frowning at the road, back straight.  She has brown arms covered with bleached hairs.

Kim leans back, heavy, and gnaws the chewstick with her molars, mouth watering.  A hill with a large hollow in the side moves past.  A bowl of shadow, as though someone’s scooped a handful of land.  And a bridge swoops over them like they’re playing Gran Turismo.  All too easy.  Kim looks down at the agitated white line and feels like taking it in her hand.

“You’re a great person,” says Angela into the space of the car.

*

They stop at the services and bring coffee into the Land Rover.  Steam flutters on the windscreen, and the revvings and fumes come in through the doors wide open like wings.  Kim burns her tongue, sipping through the plastic lid.

As they get moving, she reads ten pages of a brick-heavy copy of Moby Dick aloud to Angela.  Her voice speaks alone in the cabin.  The car holds still, all the land rolls by, and Ahab senses the whale in the dark.

She feels sick.  They pull over, and she stalks through sharp grass on the verge.  Hearing the rush rush of vehicles, she vomits soupy liquid amongst faded Kiora cans and neatly bundled nappies.  She examines the colours of her sick, then looks round at the trees standing near the road.  The Land Rover rocks on its suspension as a van shoots by.

On the road again, the car hums and her eyelids droop.  Angela switches the tape off and a green sign looms.  Newcastle 30.  Kim thinks of Nick in the lounge before they both moved out.  “Don’t do this to any other girls,” she’d said.  He was silent.  They hovered around the house, packing, like tidying up after a festival.

Her mind feels like a stone.  She’s swimming through black water.  It strokes her face like velvet, enters her mouth and fills her throat.  She takes it into her body and keeps pushing her arms forward, then around to her sides in wide arcs.  When she wakes, a breeze flutters in from Angela’s window and strands of hair tangle in her vision.  A long road rises up and down, up and down to the horizon and brown land stretches out on either side.  “Another hour to Jedburgh,” says Angela, who is still in the same position, eyes straight ahead.

The winning entry: Sus by Ken Head

Beyond the window
speed reduces landscape
to an afterthought

Soldiers deployed beside the track, tanks slewed in an armoured chicane across a narrow road in the middle of nowhere.  More than enough, you’d think, to warn us something wasn’t right before our tgv throttled back to a resentful stop alongside a deserted forest halt too small to have a name.  But nobody reacted until teams of men with scanners and laptops clambered aboard to check passports, slowly, carefully, giving out those small-hours, Cold War frontier vibes that make you wonder, if your memory stretches back that far, what it is they’ve already decided you’ve done.

Knowing the doors are locked doesn’t help either, not if you’re already as jumpy as he was, the man in the single window seat, travelling alone without much luggage.  They barely glanced at his passport, dark green, elegant gold lettering on the cover, before they led him away, one of them carrying his bag and looking worried.  There’d been no security check at Lausanne station, where we’d all got on, so nervous questions floated in the air.

After what seemed an age, they brought him back, watched as he struggled to stow his bag, then left him, humiliated, too shattered to face his own reflection in the window and as close as most men get to tears, to stew over whatever might’ve been said or done while they’d held him somewhere none of us could see.

For the rest of the journey, he seemed asleep, arms folded across his table, head down, barely moving until we arrived in Paris, where he disappeared, as we all did, quickly, onto the busy concourse.  Looking for cover inside the crowd?  Trying to blend in, as if  he thought he must still be wanted for something?

In suspicious times
mistrust and fear
find everybody guilty

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