Rachael Mead The Pleasure of Getting Nowhere
Beth Spencer Travelling Light
Shey Marque An Unlike Likeness of What We Are
Damen O’Brien Love and Other Junk
Marilyn Humbert Moon Shards
Mike Greenacre Doorways of Love
Youth Incentive Award
Issy Orosz Hand Clasped Heart
Poetry d’Amour 2020 Judge’s Report
What is love? sang Haddaway back in the 90’s and this simple question still resonates 30 years later. Indeed, will we ever really know? Love is ‘many-splendoured’ and it enriches as well as tests us. It is both a universal, and at the same time, a unique experience; one we’ve all had at least once, if not many times, during our lives.
Probably even before Sappho’s ancient description of love as ‘the limb-loosener’, poets have searched for an answer to this seemingly simple question. This subject of human curiosity has been expressed through literature from the first markings of words on clay, to pen on paper, and now pixels on glass. The poems submitted for Poetry d’Amour 2020 reflect multi-faceted experiences, and explore love as affection, missed opportunities, a young and carefree seduction, the first stirrings of romance, compelling sexual arousal or physical attraction, the loving connections of family, the tender love of long familiarity, or the bereavement of a loved one.
All poetry is an attempt by the poet to share with others their thoughts, feelings or insights into life. The emotional heart of a love poem is situated in the meaning of love for that poet, realised through a vivid and imaginative use of language, along with poetic techniques, to resonate with or affect a reader. The challenge for me as a judge was how to tease out a small number of poems as winners, and then choose about one in every three entries for inclusion in the Poetry d’Amour anthology. This was initially a daunting task, but like a clear-eyed seducer pursuing their next conquest, I decided on a strategy. It seemed detached and cold to think like this, but as I worked my way through the entries, I found this scaffold I’d built was essential. It consisted of four metrics: Form, Craft, Love, and what I call Soul.
Form and Craft both relate to the writing technique used, and to the poetics engaged with. If a poet wrote in a particular poetic form, I considered how well they worked within it, and how exciting was their divergence from it. It extended to considering their use of line breaks, punctuation, and the presentation of the poem on the page.
My assessment of the Craft of a poem related more to how the poet applied language and the poetic ‘gifts’, such as metaphor, imagery, allusion; all the wonderful ways we bring poetry to life. This included how they showed their understanding of love rather than told us of it, and by doing so, allowed us to enter their particular exploration of the theme.
The metric of Love helped me determine the poet’s approach to the topic of this competition. How did their poem address love, was it overt or implied, did they make the personal universal, and vice versa? What new and interesting way did they explore their understanding of love in this world saturated with commercialised expressions of love, lust and romance?
The final metric, Soul, was the most personal for me. As I read a poem, I paid attention to my heartbeat, or how my mind chased my own memories of love, if my eyes pricked with tears, or I smiled with recognition. This was an embodied response not a cerebral one, and thus the least ‘knowable’ of them all. I discovered how I felt about a poem depended on the time of day I read it, if I was distracted by external circumstances, which poem I’d read just before this one. It was a measure as subjective as the topic I was judging, and just as complex and confounding, but ultimately, it could be argued, this is the purpose of poetry: to affect the reader.
Haddaway follows his lyrical question above with a plea, Oh, baby, don’t hurt me. In any quest for love, or for poetic recognition for that matter, some will be hurt. I sincerely hope that those whose poems are not included in this anthology will not be disheartened. Any expression of love, or commitment to an understanding of what it is to be human, any attempt to relate to another through creative expression, is commendable. I read every single one of the more than 300 entries and each of them was unique and compelling. Keep writing and loving because as a poet, poetry will be Stuck with U as contemporary heart throbs, Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, declare.
The Pleasure of Getting Nowhere by Rachael Mead
Opening with John Cage’s famous quote I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry, Rachel Mead’s poem immediately takes us into a shared moment of walking. There’s a sense of closeness, but at the same time a distance between these two people that ultimately ends in a failure to connect. This lingers as the poems ends: But on clear nights I’ll spin warm fictions from these spare stars, / my ears straining for your voice.
Mead leads us to this moment through intimate and evocative details; of stones chiming beneath our feet, or hands that brush only once, and Rain brushes my cheek. The metaphorical use of landscape and the forces of geology in the first three stanzas reinforces a sense that something profound is happening. Coupled with the rhythm of the lines, we are with the poet walking, drinking and contemplating deep time and physicality. The final stanza disrupts this illusion and we are left with those warm fictions created by the ephemeral and intangible nature of words and thoughts.
This is a poem about striving to communicate, whether through language or unspoken gestures, and how it can so easily go awry. Mead opens out for us her understanding that even though we may be speaking, words create silence and how saying nothing, and saying everything, is poetry.
Travelling Light by Beth Spencer
What at first appears to be a simple statement of events, a recollection of a road trip, of that time soon after we met and went away / for a night on the back of your bike, this poem soon becomes so much more. Beth Spencer uses imagery to create an underlying physicality that suggests rather than tells us of sexual and emotional proximity.
It’s the practical things in life that open us out to this deeper contemplation—the room upstairs above the pub; possessions in a plastic bag; a bath with claw feet—and with each new description of a place or of a moment, Spencer builds through accumulation, into a love story. It’s one full of tenderness, where young love and adventure are intimately entwined and it has a gentle quality that, like the lover in the poem, wraps around us on the beach at night.
An Unlike Likeness of What We Are by Shey Marque
Love and Other Junk by Damen O’Brien
Several of the poems submitted explored physical love, and this one by Shey Marque takes the act of lovemaking beyond mere sex. It becomes an affirmation of self as well as an enjoyment of each other’s bodies that are in quest of oneness, interclasped. She uses playful language here and builds on this with the more evocative commentary of skin-hitting-skin. Each of the eight-line stanzas is complete, moving from the body, to the intensity of the act, and ending with a determination to live without regrets.
In contrast to Marque’s focused poem, Damen O’Brien’s dense, almost despairing, reflection on poetry ranges across love or life and death and
black and white. It charts how if he were to write a poem for his wife it would need to reach much deeper than before, where the water’s / fresher, where the valves gush open and bleed / closed. Here, love is found and celebrated in the everyday and the familiarity of the lives we live.
Moon Shards by Marilyn Humbert
Doorways of Love by Mike Greenacre
Both these commended poems allow us into small details that resonate beyond the moment they describe. However, they could not be more different in their approach.
Marilyn Humbert’s poem is hopeful, looking to the future. It’s at the beginning of a relationship and implies a naivety in love and its arts. There’s a consistency of metaphor with the moon and stars (often associated with love) as silent observers of this interaction. She touches on a longing to understand and a desire to make sense of the brush on skin / of his rough-shaven face as her hoped-for lover departs.
The familial love in Mike Greenacre’s poem is a swift journey through the past; of a life lived together in friendship, in respect and lust. Prompted by a moment of reflection, this poem delicately holds a gentle remembering of love, family and times shared. This life-long partnership is brought together in the final stanza: and the past, once the future / skips with our lives / through these doorways of love.
Youth Incentive Award
Hand Clasped Heart by Issy Orosz
The visceral images and direct language in Issy Orosz’s poem depict the kind of love that is unrequited, that hurts physically when the object of that love is seen, or even just thought about. Their poem depicts an emotional pain, and although it’s still an untested desire, one not yet acted upon, they feel it is if it is as real as the pins and needles / in my toes.
Thank you to everyone who submitted poems, and to the people behind the scenes at WA Poets Inc. and Poetry d’Amour for this humbling experience and profound task. As I read these poems, I laughed, cried, felt elation, pain and joy, reflected on the past and present, and remembered missed and dismissed loves—a range of emotions as varied as Love itself. Each reader will, I’m sure find those poems that resonate with them, and, I hope, discover how love can mean so much more than we can ever know.
The Pleasure of Getting Nowhere
I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry.
Five seasons without rain. The cold south wind at our backs,
we walk the creek bed, stones chiming beneath our feet.
We are learning to walk the ancient way—quietly, shoulders loose,
skimming the earth until the soles of our feet have ears.
I see you and sense that you see me, your eyes
inland seas in the desert. We lean into conversations
clasping wine in hands that brush only once. It felt solid
but those words were just a flash flood through arid land,
our pasts layered deep below, millennia of strata laid down
and buckling from primeval tensions, our exposed surfaces
sculpted by eons of weather into this five-day formation.
It’s the archaeologist in me to want everything laid bare.
Now I’m back in my ordinary happiness and just like that
I’ve blown it, failing to grasp how easily words create silence.
But on clear nights I’ll spin warm fictions from these spare stars,
my ears straining the quiet for your voice. Rain brushes my cheek.
That time soon after we met and went away
for a night on the back of your bike.
No destination, just south.
Playing pool. Drinking beers. A country pub embroidered
around the edges. Counter tea and a room upstairs.
The juke box humming up through the floorboards.
In those days I could pack light—wallet, cigarettes, undies,
eyeliner, diaphragm—in a plastic bag which you tucked
without a word in your panniers, handing me a helmet.
Next morning we discovered a claw foot bath
in a tiny room and spent hours soaking and talking,
washing the layers from each other.
Breakfast—or was it lunch? —at the famous Donut Van.
Then back on your bike, and we rode till we found a beach
where we lay fully clothed in the sand dunes and slept.
The soft warmth against my cheek. The wind skirting
over the top. Your arms, around me. The future just
a present in this still bowl. And I was wrapped up in you.
An Unlike Likeness of What We Are*
We make each other ache, you and I, act out
slant histories in the body, skin opening
its cache of tactile narratives of which
the hand, too, is a schemer in as much as
it wants what it wants, mapping the tumid
swellings, contours of backbone, misshapen
hollows and scars laid out like touchstones
furl us, and so we stay, we stay, we stay.
Because we’re ripe, and a little too much
in quest of oneness, interclasped, only
looking out of ourselves to the other,
we won’t notice if the sky is on its side.
We don’t care who passes by the window
or if anyone is over the wall listening
to the commentary of skin-hitting-skin
stammering to its end, turning into street-talk.
What we don’t know is that we’re the same
as those ripped-jean rakish millennials
and all they aspire to against urban frescoes,
the taking and offering carried out there,
bare hips pressed to the red bricks, feet
flexing imperceptibly in the dark. The next
day wears on cantingly, with too many versions
of what we’ve been, and we regret none.
* Louis Armand “The Balance of Happiness” Indirect Objects, Vagabond Press, 2014
Love and Other Junk
Half of everything I ever write is dead,
cadavers with a tag tugging on their toes:
love and life and death and black and white,
and the rest is shovelled mud into the grave,
or lightning-spasmed leads into the heart,
the fuel ran out in the generator long ago
and now we rehearse flame, and god and flower
like we’re skipping rope or pushing on a swing,
and now that I’m nearly wise enough to write
of love or life and death and black and white,
I find they pulled those down and built a block
of flats called life and death and black and
white and flower and flame and god and
anyone can rent them by the hour, anyone
can put a coin in and watch the silver claw
catch hope and faith and justice and desire, and
drop them all again just before they’ve won,
or flick through forty channels of pain and peace.
Now that I am old enough to write a little truth
or lie about hope and faith and justice, pain and
peace, I find they’ve plastered over all the
‘no poster’ signs with posters for that new band
you like: they’re doing something acoustic tonight
at the Victory Bar. All covers: grief and heart,
and inspiration, wonder, joy, fear and failure.
So if I want to write my wife a poem, I have
to go much deeper than before, where the water’s
fresher, where the valves gush open and bleed
closed. I have to say I love you on the toilet
or shifting the car into third, or reaching into the
letterbox to collect the only mail we ever get,
which is unsolicited, or bills. I have to say
I love her just like the bills, or those Realtor
postcards they leave you, that let you know
they care about your house and have someone
lined up to make an offer, would you please call?
I love her like the pizza coupons or the brochures
that sell you something which isn’t even real:
like life and death and black and white and hope.
We wander hand in hand
following a lazy river of stars
to the still pool.
He chooses a flat, round stone
tumbled smooth in the wash
to skip across the shallows.
It bounces five times
the moon’s reflection.
He walks away
leaving my night starless,
in the company of unsteady ghosts,
the brush on skin
of his rough-shaven face,
a trace of his scent lingers.
I search shadows
gathering moon shards,
my shaking fingers stitch
slivers of silver.
Doorways of Love
Sitting here, the past swings back
around me, like an open doorway
that traces our beginnings
from the slender words
of greeting to the strength
and commitment of love
in just a week, our minds had
moved in together and grabbed
the laughter and joy from each other
in friendship, in respect and lust
that sang out in Irish melodies
and the pints at Clancy’s
racing through to our children
Jonathan and Jaime whose lives
became our guiding sights
with the families on both sides
amassing siblings and cousins
that squeezed in family gatherings
until the years have grown
beyond us and our adult children
visit with stories and future plans
and the past, once the future
skips with our lives
through these doorways of love.
Youth Incentive Award
Hand Clasped Heart
i can feel you in my chest
your hand clasping my heart
squeezing it until you know
you just can’t take
looking at my pain any longer
i feel it physically
i feel your snaggly nails
gripping on my vessels
on my left atrium
on my right ventricle
i’ve never actually felt your touch
never even held your hand
but your hold on my heart
as real as the pins and needles
in my toes
is tighter than anyone has ever known