Festival of Firsts Open Poetry Competition 2017

Adjudicator: Gill McEvoy

Awards will be presented on Sunday 9 July 2017 at 5.00pm

at West Kirby Arts Centre, 29 Brookfield Gardens, West Kirby CH48 4EL

Prizes will be presented by special guest author Berlie Docherty with an introduction by Gill McEvoy

Poems are shown below – click the + next to any poem to see it

1st Prize - £175 • Anna Saunders • Orpheus Ruins the Party

1st Prize – £175
Anna Saunders
Orpheus Ruins the Party


Orpheus Ruins the Party

In their defence the accused say he quashed
the mood of bonhomie,
extinguished their fire with a dirge
that trickled slow and cold from his lyre.

The Defence say,
let’s hear more about the deceased,
a man who walked the lanes lamenting,
singing always the same, tired song.

No one invited him for this, to spill dark music
so it pooled like a shadow.
Even the birds became nervy,
skittering as they heard his step.

Where is that man who made the damsels
open like flowers at dawn,
the men gambol and carouse?

The mouth of the wind is stopped
as they fall upon him.

In summing up the Defence say how incendiary
the display of sorrow is,
that grief is a fire that must be snuffed out
before it spreads.

The judge shrugs,
recalls how only yesterday
how he’d kicked a cup from a beggar.

Coins roll on stone.
Orpheus’ limbs bob on the river’s floor.

The killers walk free, heads held high.
They remember, only after he is buried,
how thirsty the soil was once for his song,
how the cracked earth drank it greedily,
as if it were rain after a time of drought.


© Anna Saunders


2nd Prize - £75 • Dominic James • Sigurd and the Nuthatch

Sigurd and the nuthatch
from the disquieting myth of Fafnismal

Overhead, the call of crooked parliament;
he heard their raw escrow convert to words
and at once blond-bearded Sigurd understood
that birdsong is all talk.

The yellow nuthatch shuttled past, its cry
of panic, doubt: Sigurd secured no no no!
Burnt fingers to his mouth, the hero
started at the whistle:

the trees had filled with wild birds. Maytime’s
tapestry of leaves bristled where sparrows
stropped and wove, intoning precedent
to his eternal woe.

Further in, a scented rope mashed underfoot
uncoiled on shadow, Fafnir the dying serpent
spoke, thus:

A face untouched by fear, young man
you look so brave, take out my treasure,
in this race – like Ayrton Senna –
you’ve cut across and wronged my brother.
Despite his own forked tongue, beware,
he’s bound to pay a debt of honour.

Since he had trapped and killed the snake his course
was set in blood. Not one to court regret, Sigurd
quit the noisome grove, which canted on revenge,
the laws of brotherhood.

Returning to his quarry’s twin – the brother –
sprawled in heather near the wood, asleep,
coins from the iron keep to hand, smiles on
his curling lip:

Sigurd cut the sleeper’s heart. No pause above
his mentor’s corpse: unstemmed the flow of his
sword-sweat was poured and cooled to half prevent
the cries which led him on,

and in the woods a dragon slain, looping
on his bed of gold. Death hung in the air.
Cool Sigurd mounted on his quiet grey
and rode on ahead.

© Dominic James

3rd Prize - £50 • Mandy Pannett • Not taking the Bright Sky Down

Not taking the bright sky down


They were long forgotten, the old gods, except
by you, Paul Nash, to whom they were ‘patently
     quick’ in their guises of antler, tennis ball, sunflower, moon.

You, a lover of clues, sensed narratives behind the surface,
felt the uncanny in a placid landscape, understood
the lurk and lure of stone.

Yet there was no air for your hawk. Not a deity
but mortal, hunched-up, land-locked, it gazed through glass
at its own dark eyes.

Those old gods, genii loci of mudscape and ditch,
did they keep vigil at the catastrophe of torsos, shells
like summer lightning?

‘We are at the peak of our flight’, you wrote to a girl. ‘We climb
dizzily like birds who make love in mid-air. We have not yet taken down
our own bright sky.’


© Mandy Pannett

Highly Commended - £10 • Anna Saunders • Befriending the Butcher

Befriending the Butcher

When my father first walked in to the shop,
the pheasant dangling clumsy from a string like a plumy yo-yo,
and asked the butcher how to prepare it for the pot,
he didn’t expect to hear Mozart playing. Or to talk Kierkegaard

as the feathers were plucked. A Thomas Hardy hero
striding the coast before work,
chin cleft like the rocks at the estuary edge,
we thought he’d mark the whole country with his steps.

He spent his days dressing flesh
preparing Primal Cuts and his nights – carving wood,
reading brick-heavy biographies of Larkin or Keats.

Rude health didn’t last till retirement.
We visited him in a bungalow on the other side
of the tracks, his hand-carved bird tables trembling
on long stalks as the trains thundered past.

There we sat, over-shadowed by Victorian furniture,
none of that blood-bled modern stuff,
just oak, or mahogany,
on chairs as dark and immense as the Wagner
which poured into the room, slowed down

by its own heft. Around us – shelves of Folio editions
fat spines emblazoned gold
row after row of corpulent companions
in brass and buttoned regalia.

No longer able to walk, he scored the floor
with wheel chair marks as if ticking items of a list

and the single bar of the fire was a winter sunset;
a thin scarlet line, blazing with its own heat
as it slipped down silently, into the dark.


© Anna Saunders

Highly Commended - £10 • Sarah Leavesley • After my Mother Broke

• Poem reserved by author •

Wirral Prize - £30 • Celia Gentles • Barn Owl

Barn Owl


Once, long ago,
persecuted by shepherds
and farming men,

I was ill omen –
ghost bird, demon bird,
owl of death.

Close to their last breath
sick people paled at my screeching.
Families drew near.

Superstition, fear
spoke of lambs and babies snatched
away in the night.

My silent flight
frightened folk, startled them at dusk
when I hunted prey.

And even by day
when winters were harsh, food scarce
I hunted low and wide.

Now, farmers provide
me with boxes, nesting sites
in lofts and barns.

I rid their farms
of rats and mice. I am less feared,
less free, less wild.

But beware, my child,
should you ever see my face in the glass –
I am ghost bird, demon bird, owl of death.


Celia Gentles

Adjudicator’s additional commendations

Joe Cheesman
The Box

Keith Robinson
Flora of the Wirral

Sarah Lewis

Julia McGuinness