“Dear all, I wanted to let you know that I've won the Ledbury Festival Poetry Competition with my poem The Cutting. It's my first poem in Iambic pentameter to win something, so I'm chuffed about that. The prize is a week's residential writing course and I'm invited to speak at The Ledbury Poetry Festival next year - except I can't as I'm on the four-month Guhyaloka retreat!
“Here's the poem.
The cutting at the end of Crockets Lane
had a meadow on either side, a brow
fringed with blackthorn and a few sheep grazing
in sodden fields below. It carried steam trains
up to Lapworth, before the Beeching Axe
closed the branch lines down; now it was
a brambled ‘v’ overrun with elderflowers
and buddleia. We’d go there blackberrying,
filling colanders and plastic tubs –
the cutting was a good walk from the house,
almost far enough to tire the dogs.
I remember children on the embankment
carrying Union Jacks – silhouetted
against the sky like rows of little soldiers.
They came from all the local infant schools
because we’d heard the Queen would visit Henley
in the royal train. But that can’t be right:
the line came up before I was even born,
only dad remembered steam trains huffing on it.
I took Stephen there one summer; we kicked up
dandelions and it was hot; we got those
sticky burrs stuck to our shorts and socks.
We were looking for somewhere we’d be safe
and out of sight, a cleft beside a pond,
and as we walked two pigeons clattered out.
We waded nettles that reached up to our chest.
I managed to lift his shirt and touch his side,
but he was scared and so was I. And anyway
the train didn’t stop; we just stood there
on the platform while she thundered past.
Billy Collins, this year’s Ledbury poet in residence and competition judge in the Adult Category, commented: “Any reader will appreciate how this poem deftly moves from a precise natural setting to a false remembering then to another memory both real and sexually vivid. The thundering train at the end leaves us pleasantly stunned.”