There are a myriad of reasons as to why voters chose ‘To the Occupier’ by Beth Booth as the IS&T Pick of the Month for April 2020 which is a tribute to the many layers in this fine poem. Some found it haunting, melancholy, rich with emotion, some identified with the otherness about it or felt it ‘[evoked] a feeling very pertinent to the current situation’ and a few found it spoke to their own experiences of renting and moving, the impermanence of it all. Where voters agreed was on how beautiful the poem is!
Beth lives in Liverpool via Cumbria and is an MFA student at the Manchester Writing School. She won the Miriam Allott poetry prize in 2016, and has poems published or forthcoming in The Moth, Lighthouse, and Orbis.
To the Occupier
I have been leaving ghosts in every house
for six years, which makes six houses –
seven if you count my temporary tenancy
in your affection. Nine houses if you count
the ones I lived in where I had no right to do so.
Arguably eleven houses. Arguably twelve
(they have taken a toll on my ability to count.)
It’s the arguing that’s the problem, though,
isn’t it – if houses are arguable then
how are they homes, how are they anything
other than a cunning place to haunt?
Shrugging off my ghosts like a lizard
done with its skin and its skilful wholeness.
I am ghostliest of all, the spook that
bites the hand that feeds, the ghoul
that has taken up residency somewhere
between the years, waiting for you to move
out, waiting for you to move on, waiting
for the next move to be a checkmate.
I am always checking, lately. Checking
out of this hotel of tendons. Leaving
ghosts on the patio to tenderly haunt you
when I am too far gone to do it myself.
Other voters’ comments included:-
This poem makes me want to read it aloud. The way the words connect with each other through shared vowel sounds. The sussuration of some and the round openness of others. The entire poem feels like a room I want to sit in and examine the details of every corner. Which fits it very well, I suppose. Delicate and fleeting at times, but full-bodied at others – just like the speaker’s experiences.
I feel like I personally understand and relate, and it is beautifully written.
I love how the author manages to capture both numbing isolation and intense emotions in one poem, incredibly moving
Beautiful and haunting
The phrasing really grabs your attention.
It employs a very striking extended metaphor and clever transformation of images in the last two lines (“move out/move on/move to be a checkmate/checking/check out”) which stuck in my mind in a way I didn’t experience with the other poems. I can very much empathise as someone who has also spent six years in six different houses and felt the same ghostlike feeling when moving in or out.
I think this poem is beautiful. It speaks to me of feeling unsettled, both in the body and in the world. It gives me shivers when I read it.
So vivid and really resonates
On so many levels, this poem speaks of haunting. Of the separation of the person into fractals of themselves, their relationships, their timelines, their viewpoints. It is therefore universal and yet intimate, a glimpse into the otherness of self. I love this poem, even though (especially because) it haunts me.
It’s the strangest
This beautiful poem stayed in my mind long after I read it. The poet captured the feelings wonderfully well.
I love the use of vocabulary and mood
Speaks to my experience of leaving parts of myself in the spaces where I was traumatised or healed
It flows so beautifully and gives me chills
wonderfully captures the pathos of the tragic situation
For me it was this one or The Farmer’s Prayer – both touched me on an emotional rather than intellectual level, the way a poem can, sometimes. For me, To the Occupier was more personally relatable, though.
I really liked the melancholy reflections it inspired on life’s passage, its events and memories, and what we leave behind…
As a renter, I like the way it subtly criticises how people are forced to move from place to place.
This transitory existence moving from house to house when you rent is a common experience for many young people, and this captures something of this perfectly.
THE REST OF THE APRIL 2020 SHORTLIST
Tenant by Nisha Bhakoo
Tides rise as I sleep.
I wake up to
a desert mouth and
the sound of drilling.
Panic shooting up spine.
The scaffolding holding
the building together
usually blocks out
the feeble Berlin,
But a ray reaches
my forehead today.
The warmth says:
Keep it together.
The same words
etched on my tongue.
When you say:
It’s a constant battle
against the landlord.
The sky has been
the colour of concrete
for six months.
I listen for the sound of Spanish
rising through the hole
in the floorboards.
Our neighbour below
has not yet been evicted.
I have forgotten what
It is like to feel safe.
I feel the walls vibrate
and I breathe in
the dancing mould.
The only thing holding
is the ethereal thread
between our pasty bodies.
Nisha Bhakoo is a British poet, living in Berlin. She has had two poetry collections published You found a beating heart (The Onslaught Press, 2016) and Black & White Dream (Broken Sleep Books, 2018). She edited Contemporary Gothic Verse for The Emma Press in 2019. She is currently a British and American Literature PhD candidate at Humboldt University, Berlin.
Skunk by Z.D. Dicks
I am a creature of urges
that longs/ to sidle underside
tail to nose/ press into you/
cup chin in my paws
pierce sharp eyes through
nuzzling my snout flat
to merge/ our foreheads/
together/ as a bone heart/
I want to tilt your head/ run
my whiskers up/ push down
blackened lips/ to the crease
of your hair/ inhale each
and every pore/ gasp amid
drip chatter/ of street night/
clamber/ into high brickwork/
watch your shadowed strip
and share our stink/
to a roll of applause/ from bin lids
Z. D. Dicks has been accepted by Obsessed with Pipework, Sarasvati, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Fresh Air Poetry, As it Ought to Be, I am not a silent poet, The Hedgehog Poetry Press and described as ‘a gothic Seamus Heaney’ by Anna Saunders.
Blue by Sam Wilson Fletcher
We roll up our trousers and wade
into the city river, down a sloping bank
of cool mud which soothes our cracked feet,
the water now up to our waists,
now over our heads, down
into a valley of silt
like the hull of a giant wrecked boat
littered with all kinds of junk,
and sit in our shopping trolleys
cosy with ropes and nets like nests;
as the barges drift overhead like clouds
we sip hot cod liver oil from our thermoses
and close our eyes, and listen
as the engines churn up the water
and the seagulls splash and fight over chips
and the sewer pipes flush;
the sun rolls into place
between the waterfront offices and apartment blocks
like an avenue of standing stones, and shoots into the water
a low-angle shaft of light
which slowly sweeps the bottom
—we turn our heads like flowers
and smile as the sun-shaft beams
through our closed eyelids, glazing our brains;
and when the sun sets
behind the tower blocks, the barge-men
empty their rubbish bins into the water
and half-full cans of lager
and bits of useless metal
rain down around us, landing with puffs of silt,
and the cast-iron lamps switch on;
and while the buses rumble by, and party boats
strung with coloured bulbs
thump overhead, and blurry silhouettes
slide along the stone railings,
the light behind our eyelids
burns bright blue.
Sam Wilson Fletcher : Lewisham, 1991 : Wimbledon Park Primary Wimbledon Chase Horndean Technology College Gordano Sixth Form Oxford Harvard German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) : Ink, Sweat and Tears The Dawntreader M58 : Berlin
The Farmer’s Prayer by Zannah Kearns
He lies across the cow’s prone side and prays for healing.
Smooths her flank, half-expecting some bright heat,
a glowing surge to match his prayer,
a vision of angels, a chorus of song.
Beside them lies her calf, warm and slick,
already dead, perfect head on blood-stained straw.
In the yard, rain drips from asbestos roofs,
floods every trench,
falls between cracks above his head
tapping relentlessly his tightened back.
She was his best cow. He’d raised her on a bottle,
and ever since she’d run to him —
even lately, lumbering on inflamed feet, hauling that old pregnant womb,
to blow grass-sweetened blessings into his hands.
Now she’s dead. The vet will come,
test the herd — they’re all infected.
How many pyres must one man see in his lifetime?
Black smoke billowing like oil spills set ablaze.
How many gallons of disinfectant — desperate washing
to ward off the disease that bursts from blisters,
floats its spores, places them like wafers
into the mouths of all living creatures,
interleaving infections between each strand of straw,
layer upon layer, like peat bog over millennia.
This lowly stable. Made for nothing now
except the laying out of calf and cow.
Zannah Kearns works as a freelance copywriter, and also reviews poetry pamphlets for Sphinx. Her poems can be found in Poetry Birmingham Journal, and Under the Radar. Twitter:@zannahkearns
Faceless extinctions by Anna Kisby
A moth arrives like a small hand passing over my face
and when I open my eyes a heartbeat thuds against my
bedside shade. Leave your window ajar and your lamp lit –
why, that’s an invitation, says he. White ermine, little prince.
It was all my fault. No sooner had he nested than I requested
him gone. My insides spun him a silk cocoon, simple to sweep.
He had no face. A moth is a butterfly as a weed is a flower
alighting in the wrong place. Garden tiger, he grew.
A moth arrives like tinnitus, but listen and he stills his wings.
He only begins again on his own terms. Tell me my name?
he asks and won’t stop, like I am a light-trap and he is stunning
himself. Blood-vein, a lost boy looking for his shadow.
It was a hospital bed in strip-light. How uselessly we witness
the faceless. Our windscreens are clean of winged-reminders
of what is lost. In each of my hands, a small hand of the living.
Notice these night-thoughts and let them go. V-moths, thinning.
Anna Kisby is a Devon-based poet, archivist and author of the pamphlet All the Naked Daughters (Against the Grain Press, 2017). She won the Binsted Arts prize 2019, BBC Proms Poetry competition 2016, and was commended in Faber’s New Poets Scheme. In 2019 she collaborated on the project Creative Histories of Witchcraft and is subsequently working on a collection exploring historical magical practitioners.
Note: White ermines, Garden tigers, Blood-veins and V-moths are British moths on the verge of extinction.