We can now announce that December’s ‘Pick of the Month’, and our final one for 2015, is James Parris’ ‘The Alchemist’ which featured on the first day of our ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ series. James writes from East London and has only just begun to turn his mind to poetry.

James will receive a copy of our Christmas anthology TWELVE: Slanted Poems for Christmas and has asked that his prize (£10) is donated to St Martin-in-the-Fields.


The Alchemist

The house was strange without one.
Corners where it could be swelled
daily in their emptiness
and threatened to topple the festivity.

Contrary under her gaze, he determined
that a squat bought thing just wouldn’t do,
and, shedding skeptics,
picked me as acolyte for misadventure.

And so in speckled overalls, like skins,
treading dampness into itself,
we left Crosby-carolling
for the trees who shivered at garden’s end

and saw in hand and hand on trunk,
he hoisted me into the twiggy innards
and spiced stench of sap
to amputate a branch or two or three

that we might puzzle together
in counterfeit of Christmas.
Metal teeth chattered bark to pulp
until my knuckles roared.

Then on the grass he laid our loot
and crouched and bent and sculpted,
rehearsing imperfect forms
gloveless, beneath the limbs’ original,

and twisting out an edifice, like origami
patterned from some secret
blueprint, invisible to me,
he stood content over his design.

Inside, we propped our patchwork nature,
boughs shot out like a mad star,
where he hoped it might not
shout its own lie loud enough

for her to tear it all to pieces.
Still, she came, and stood, and, silent,
circumspected for a hanging second.
And she smiled.

From one angle it was almost a tree.
But from every side his alchemy
now seemed to warm the house,
fuller in its strangeness.


Voters made the following comments:

The wonderful use of words that give it such a unique rhythm but mostly the sentiment and the pleasure the alchemist finally brings.

I liked the idea of building a Christmas tree and it being perfect despite its imperfections

For it’s extreme originality.

The most well-written, insightful poem of the list.

Subtle, understated, great word-pictures – like “knuckles roared”.

This gets my vote because to me it symbolises families coming together at Christmas.





Comments on the rest of the shortlist included:


Lana Bella, Eleven Years Tasted Like a Thousand Year Old Chinese Egg

I liked the mystery in this.


Joanne Key, Watching Tai Chi in the Park in December

Loved the initial apparent simplicity of this poem, then it moves and weaves to become multi layered and full of depth.


Sally Long, The Door

Like the door,it opened my mind


Wendy Pratt, Undone

This one left me undone x


Andrew Turner, My father’s watch

I love the way the poet has described the passage of time inside the ‘carefully imagined tin’.