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Fifty Poem Challenge
Alas I'm not eligible, but some of you fine contributors to 50_poems might be:

Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy has announced a new prize celebrating poetry in all its forms, following her first audience with the Queen today.

Funded by Duffy's donation of her yearly £5,750 stipend as laureate to the Poetry Society, the prize, known as the Ted Hughes award for new work in poetry, will be awarded annually throughout Duffy's 10-year term as laureate. Duffy had already made clear that she "didn't want to take on what basically is an honour on behalf of other poets and complicate it with money". "I thought it was better to give it back to poetry," she said in May, when she was chosen as laureate.

The prize, worth £5,000, will go to a UK poet working in any form – including poetry collections for adults and children, individual poems, radio poems, translations and verse dramas – who has made the "most exciting contribution" to poetry that year. "I'm delighted, with the assistance of Buckingham Palace and the Poetry Society, to be founding this new award for poetry. With the permission of Carol Hughes, the award is named in honour of Ted Hughes, poet laureate, and one of the greatest 20th-century poets for both children and adults," said Duffy in a statement announcing the new prize.

Other poets welcomed news of the award, with Sean O'Brien saying it would "take account of the scope of poetry in its many manifestations, in book form and beyond". Don Paterson called it "generous and innovative", and a prize that "acknowledges all the ways we can carry the poem into the mind of the reader … This is typical of Carol Ann's imaginative approach to developing the art, and builds on her predecessor's democratic commitment to taking the best poetry wherever it can go," he said.

"Surely this is the prize many have been waiting for," agreed Moniza Alvi. "Its width is wonderful: it sheds light on areas of poetry which are so deserving of general recognition, for example, poetry books published for children and works in translation."

The first winner will be announced in March 2010, with nominations to be made by the Poetry Society, and the winner will be decided by three judges, appointed by Duffy. Poetry Society director Judith Palmer said it was an honour to launch an award linking the names of two such inspirational poets. "It's been great fun devising this exciting new initiative with her, which we believe will make a significant impact in raising awareness of the range and vitality of contemporary poetry," she added.

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This was inspired by a visit to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam for Van Gogh and the Colours of the Night. Featured alongside the Van Gogh works in this exhibit were several by Jean Francois Millet including his Nuit Étoilée from 1851. I'm certain there was a reference to, or an image of Jesus walking on water somewhere in the exhibit. The second half plays with that image. (For a nice somewhat lapsed Jewish boy, I do use a lot of New Testament imagery in my poetry. This has not escaped me.)

On Starry Nights

Reflected in the pool an autumn wheel rut holds, a clear night and one star
In restless communion with the cloudless sky from which each fell.

To connect two towns populated but by stars from this vantage
Bisecting plains lately harvested and a few trees laid bare;

This track might join two peaks forgiving the valley between
As hold stars in the cup hitched wagons unnoticed leave behind.

One insect, and then another, traverse the star thus suspended
Unsuited to question the effects of distant gravid pulls.

Ruts assume a wheelwright, while cleared land assumes a gleaner, or a locust;
Reflected stars assume not even a glance or an embrace.

We saw no ghost across the water, reflection gathering stars to itself,
Two images traversing a surface dividing earth from sky.

Describing paths to the world above we flightless creatures imagine
Temptation we knew and managed thus only to swim futilely.

He climbs into the boat, his steps on the water gone with the fish,
A gathering of stars dissolves into the dimness of daylight

Writ on water, sketched in windblown sounds spoken into sealed jars to be forced;
Messages and lost maps begging us for found clarity.

Gripped oarlock, heaved body, the miracle made common assumes a certain grasp:
Climber, boat and oars but reflections of the gathered stars.

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Follow me into the night,
Hold my hand and we'll take flight,
over the moors and above the trees
both shaking at the knees.

Leaving the past behind
together we'll both unwind
our hearts at the same pace
the moon glistening on your face.

Follow me into the dark
between us there's a spark
bright and subtle, dirty and cheap
kiss me now and make me weak.

To home again we shan't return
both of us will never learn
heartache at it's beautiful best
together we will beat the rest.

Current Mood: calm
Current Music: phosphorescent

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Spring flower
April shower
before you I cower

Before 12 I'm cruel
After I'm the fool
Following the rule.
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[poem number one!]

I yearn for your touch now, more than ever
I crave the sight of you
I'm not ready to end this endeavor
I love how you leave me bruised.

how wondrous it feels to be marked by you
the beautiful colours on my skin
blending together, purple, yellow, blue
draw feelings of awe from within.

your hard and delicate touch
on my shoulder, my thighs, my mind
I long for those bruises so much
of your enchantment they remind.

I'll never again have the delight
of seeing your irreplaceable face
your mouth so cruel and your eyes so bright
no one can replace.

these beautiful bruises fading
but never the memory of you,
though it was you who was betraying
I thirst for nobody new.

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The other night I woke up early with a line from the Grateful Dead's Let It Grow stuck in my head (We will not speak but stand inside the rain/And listen to the thunder shout I am, I am, I am). I didn't get back to sleep even after contemplating a poem that played with that line for some a while. This actually works most of the time. (Yup, my own poems put me to sleep - at least before I write them down.)

Anyway, I got down to business last night and wrote the following:

Sitting huddled behind a shopping cart
Won't speak but wants to stand outside the rain
I pass silent, jingling, awaiting a start.
Just months before, I pushed my way around
Threw my voice, a trickster astride the rain
From out my long shackling silence unbound.
The chain link fence and the razor wire
Turned from the audience aside the rain
Drowned the huckster, another mute for hire.
Too strained to hear, he follows the turning
Of those dry streams (that flow beside the rain)
Seeks mastery, or some other learning.
Failing in that, we purge our voicelessness
That we might speak and stand inside the rain
Awash in all of our old carelessness. 

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Stone Soup

When we actually left,
Long after the perceptive
Had noted leaving's necessity,
Little left to us remained.

Right upon departure,
After claiming the right to leave,
Those behind tried righting
What we had capized.

Returning to what they had cleansed,
Turned stones neatly placed
We upturned, to learn what
Lay behind.

In the main, little of use remained.
Stones, leaves shorn of roots, some gristle.
Not enough in the leavings to nourish,
Or cherishing, to grow what might flourish.

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Baba Yaga

on rooster's legs, she leans down
her doored eyeless face, bids you
enter, having never smelled your
like before, perhaps you'll have
a boon yet, or be one such.

The sisterhood of the rooster-legged huts
Aided me once for glory in my quest
One bony hand opens, the other shuts;
Glory's less a travail than a good jest.
Baba yaga looked at my torn gear twice,
Fed me her silver trinkets in thick broth
Wove lead crystals into my cubes of ice
And gold threads through her semi-precious cloth.
The cloth no longer polishes the rings,
(they never fit) and such gruel never filled;
Instead of cooling my brow, ice now stings.
Journeys afar only in sleep are willed.
Would you rather to another the boon
have been, than taken the long rest so soon?

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Out of the Fog
You move into traffic, the cars going
At the same pace; the approaching lights dimmed
Only slightly won't keep you from doing 
The normally done - a little less skimmed
Off the top perhaps, but no more cautious,
Really - whose mortality is in doubt?
Pedestrians hear scraped metal, nauseous
And dry, wondering who's taken in this rout,
And promise to be attentive and slow.
The shock of the day overtakes the shock
Of the moment and other matters tow
You to the safety of key, bolt and lock.
Suffer well the minutes we thinly slice,
Days similar, but never the same twice.

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I recently purchased a deck of Oblique Strategy cards, and chose one to assist last night's poem.

Something Oblique

Make definite what you imply, he said
Implying she was somehow sidestepping
A point - he did not want to be misled,
or when he should attend be caught napping.
Do you suggest I'm not being concrete
When I question the plausibility
Of an explanation with holes replete,
And general unavailability?

I'm here now at the appointed hour.
Does that erase previous absences?
From these early misdeeds must I cower?
Are these parries your only defenses?
If you insist on the indefinite,
My replies will seem to you infinite.

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Since when have we had a shortage -
Hunger will always be with us,
With the air, with the gift of our
Own righteous good works like skies full
Of clouds waiting on crops to hail.
Too many synonyms for "pull
Yourself up" that we must cower
From the litter and bear the fuss -
So wrong from such an early age.

The equivocation we're left
Which assumes interest in someone
Unseen that we've no need to pay,
Principles we've yet to follow,
Only one goal we can't but fail
To achieve. A long rain and slow
Promises to slake, should we pray
For a close of this time in the sun,
And a way with a word so deft.

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Where all the ladders start

Often I succumb to these small cheats
Lifting an apt simile or a form
From a greater Wilde or Sappho or Keats.
Into my own corpus I invite them worm,
Fill my dull drying quills with their decay
As if my scant readership they'd inform.
Out from the Swansea muck in which they'd lay
Thomas and his liver were best of friends,
Did not go gentle into that bright day.
Scrawling more than the genius whisky lends
Endlessly about some Grecian inkwell,
I chased them all to where my ladder ends.
Nothing left to declare or pawn or sell,
Picked of rags and bones, left only a sheet
To wind at the cold, and silently yell.

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 The fairy tale that inspired this is called Fenist the Bright Falcon.

I once recalled, as in Russian
Fairytales, wearing out iron shoes,
Breaking iron staves, and tearing
Iron caps when such things were bought
In lots of three, as we required.
Improvements in paving have made
Iron travel gear far too dear.
Would you tread forest and mountain
In such unforgiving footwear?
Do I require your guaranteed
Return, as once you asked of me?
Take my ironmongery again,
With a jape. No one wears such things 
These days. How long has it been since 
You last bid me to put them on?

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Of will
Upside down in a tree of wisdom, Wotan
Hung there to receive an answer - Who equal
In foresight, in strength, and in understanding
To me walks the Earth?
His right eye turned inward excised in return
For knowledge already possessed; unwilling
To talk the longer path of self-incrimination
Trod by lesser gods.
In other times, another god gave to Moses
His duty, his true place in the universe
From which he spent the next forty years running,
To little avail.
Had the lawgiver asked of God his destiny,
Would he have willingly embraced it: The deaths,
The wandering of a tenuously faithed flock
And the barred entry?
Did he burn out his tongue, that organ consume,
Deny himself cogent speech, rather than speak
The question: What is my place in your scheming,
That I may know it?
Given chances to declare "Make me the tool,
The instrument of your will," he died two-eyed,
But blinder for having never seen a truth
of his own nature.

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Awoke from dreams of Bou Jeloud
Riding backwards on a horse and
Consecrated to some Moroccan goat god,
Longing to come out the forest,
From out of the god oftener
Than one festival in the year.
Through dervished rites I pour myself
Between piping old men, myself pour out.
Through and between and betwixt and amidst
Battle my need to flow like sap,
To conjure the blossoms, the veins,
The vessels, to be the tumult
That brings forth from the stone and snow the Spring. 
First forces that burst from the first crocus
To the last of the harvest and
Retire to watch my work begin.

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Untitled terza rima. October, 2008

When we thought not so long ago on the vastness
Of the empire, what our genius created,
We believed we'd received a kind of glastnost

Channels that had been blocked were no longer freighted
Full duplex asynchronous and real time.
From frank chat to blank stares, we soon upraided

Innocents standing accused of crime
(Shoeless, daily, it's only jam sir we plead).
Not one lasts to cast the first stone from that grime.

The asked unanswered in the answers we read
Leaning towers of paper left unprocessed
Who, left queueing for early tombs, questions need

This late terminus of empire we resist
A Scottish reprieve to Hadrian's fastness
Although we'll have thrown the last stones we possessed.

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The wax evaporated, the mold discarded,
The artist, calm, may polish a perfected
Gold sculpture (feeling nothing for the admirer);
Satisfied with its execution, may utter
"Yes" and position it with care on its setting.
I want the marks in the clay and fault, for letting
it go, the artist who seems to us so unfair.

I understand, I hold this jewel no longer gold
But a multifaceted gem I can enfold
In memory: The gentility, the gentle
Terror with which you shaped us, your wrapping mantle
That warmed us. I have your thumbprint deep in my clay.
Foundry shut, kiln cooling, tools and wax put away.
Another uncast mold I'm unable to fill.

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Thanks to those who suggested bible translations to inspire me.

The inspiration for this is Veronese's epic painting The Marriage at Cana (which is hung in the Louvre an about face from the Mona Lisa and dwarfs it in many ways). The stanza form is the Sicilian octave, though I've used the 10-syllable English form rather than the 11-syllable form.

John 2
While Jesus thought his time had not yet come,
In that first miracle we read the last.
Water to wine and wine to blood, the sum
Lies between of all we later amassed.
Veronese depicts a snared Jesus, numb,
Sitting amidst his disciples held fast.
Haloed, neither hearing nor blessing: dumb,
Staring - of all then set in motion aghast.

The wine, or the declaration 'the best
Saved for last' that uttered to the father
Of the bride, confirmed for Him, we see, lest
He had doubt, all he'd foreseen. To gather
Memories older than himself, repressed,
Of promises to redeem, to bother,
Briefly, this outpost, to die - seemed a test
The terms of which he'd only then measured.

Half tempting the viewer, half-painted eyes
Hide from future stunts - multiplied fishes
Swim the waters over which he would rise
But rather sink under; dying wishes
Spoke once with no chance to turn them to lies,
Even sacrificing righteous for pure malicious
Anger, one thinks, before we can prise
Reasons less easy but far more precious.

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After the Scythe
26 August 2008

While we've time to talk of our mistakes,
Save me a space at the traffic jam,
As we've none but that another makes.

To dismiss the others is a sham -
They provided for us the repast,
As food for the lion is the lamb.

Calendars list for us days of fast,
Stuck here and in memory ignored,
One by one we these armies amassed.

Able no longer to room and board
Those we'd put in harm's way, in between,
To siphon what little we had stored.

The butchery we'd commit takes keen
Knives, whetted stones, and a thirst blood slakes,
Not fields of ghosts and time to glean.

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Crop Rotation
August, 2008 Bourgeuil, France

Summers of tending and Autumns of harvesting
Follow in the gardener's memory unbroken
Never from vegetable dreams or nightmares woken
Until in childhood he's from his labors resting
One season takes greater care - abundant showers
Require more - though vibrant green weeds still go to waste -
Days of sun take his care to the plot the cowers.
Plant, tend and reap before the Winter's haste.

Winters later, with not such meticulousness
As before, he pulls the weeds, leaves some of the roots
Behind, and curses his skill, hoping the new shoots
Bear marketable fruit, despite his foolishness.
His last harvest, the scythe turned away from the crop,
Hopes of three, than six Springs seeped into the soil
Waiting for the will to wait to abdicate or stop,
Gardeners sowed as habit bade them to toil.

The intervening years find fields sown with stone
Or fallow. The farmer's tenderness having left
His harrow and plow to rust, his fields bereft
Of new shoots, fertilized with iron, skin and bone.
I distinguished blossoming flower from ripe fruit
Once, when desire was not for another's ration,
When I cowered from neither night nor rain nor brute,
And planted what awaited only germination.

A long-lived squire may retreat from the harrow
Turning his soil before its turn once, and advance
To reclaim his time and those lands held in abeyance;
Loss of blood and time have made his vision narrow.
The dandelion's yellow sweetened not the work
Of picking it, nor made any less of the need.
A mother's hair returns to red in memory's murk
Long the gray of dandelion in seed.

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To understand the reference midway through to Fortunato and Montresor, I would direct you to Edgar Allen Poe's story "The Cask of Amontillado".

A Wall

Her usual rejoinder: 'What's that got
To do with the price of tea in China?'
Disarmed shyer students effectively,
Telephone support representatives,
Step-children, even her trial lawyer
husband, who always answered precisely.

Each word a brick, each breath a mortar slap,
She both trowel-handed Montresor and glib
Fortunato, and the wall between them.

With my own trowel, silence; uncertainty the
Mortar; and the speed determined youth
Apply to all such tasks, I too built walls
From behind which are spoke only the
Obvious and wholly defensible.

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A shot in the heart
He was a shot in the heart, we explained,
Warm anaesthesia up an arm flowing...
No. An adrenaline rush we complained,
Those triggers, looks, got him, unknowing,
Or words, up on the hustings to berate
Imaginary crimes, only slowing -
No, he never slowed, not even in state.
His closed eyes masked intrasurgical dreams
From which he might wake, his will to conflate
With our own, till the latter teems
With the former's fluid infestations.
Subject of the undertaker, he gleams
As one newly infused with creation's
Spark. From saying otherwise we refrained,
Never again to be his relations.

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I seem to be about 4 poems behind for meeting the goal, but I'm certain catching up will happen whilst on holiday next month.

The initial inspiration came from these sculptures seen in an Amsterdam shop window. A little more came from reading Genesis chapter 11 (in which we learn of the Tower of Babel).

No end, it was said.
Our accomplishments
Only supersede
When it's asked of them.

To this end, with a single tongue employed
Words to bricks and wishes melted into tar.
But short generations after a flood
Revealed where clouds and rainbows collide,
We took the task of bringing near the far,
Dismissing When to favor How and What.

Did the Later goal of holy glory
Make cathedrals less Babylonian?
Willful blindness erase a history
Better writ small, an Ionian
Verse, humble in marble fruit and wax?
Still words from on high are misunderstood
Recipes for strawless bricks left in stacks,
Appeals not of charity, but blood.

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