You as voters could not call it and, on reflection, neither could we, so for the first time since when we began our Picks of the Month in 2013, we have joint winners, a poem and a work of micro fiction both spare, both powerful. But while Sanah Ahsan’s ‘fresher’ is raw and ‘packs a punch’, is a ‘lived experience’ and relatable to so many, ‘The Forest’ by Meg Pokrass haunts ‘in a provocative way’, is ‘wild, yet familiar, and plaintive’.

Both writers will be offered the choice of a £20 book gift card or the equivalent donation to their chosen charity.

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Sanah Ahsan is an award-winning poet, a HCPC registered clinical psychologist, a presenter, speaker and educator. Her work is centred on compassion, troubling our colonial understandings of mental health and embracing each other’s madness. Her practice is shaped by liberation psychology, and draws on therapeutics, poetics, spirituality, and post-activism as interconnected practices to support racialised and marginalised people. Her published research is on the deconstruction of whiteness within UK clinical psychology.

Sanah won the Outspoken Poetry Performance Prize. She recently had a portfolio of poems shortlisted for The White Review, two poems shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and longlisted for the National Poetry Competition and Frontier Poetry Prize 2021. Sanah’s poetry has been published in Wasafiri, The White Review, Stillpoint and several anthologies, and has been featured on Channel 4 and BBC 2. The Guardian described her poetry as “an exhilarating declaration of love and an invocation to bare the soul.”  Sanah is currently writing her debut poetry collection with support from Arts Council England, and mentorship from Mary Jean Chan and Rachel Long. She was recently poet and lyricist for the theatre adaptation of The Jungle Book.

 

fresher 

At the freshers week party bodies pack sweaty into free-floating
balloons. A chorus of down it from thirst you almost know. You unwillingly gulp
the cold. Mum worked Saturdays to afford you here. Puke crawls up the back of your
throat. Swallow it like that other secret. A crescendo of cheers. Celebration makes a boy
face-plant latex on a table’s edge. The climate turns blood. Crazed grin greets you red hello
poo. 
You laugh so quickly you shock yourself. The name sticks. You never resist or insist
that you are anything  but.

 

Voters comments included:

This is an extraordinary poem full of insight and lived experience of the way racism, class and whiteness plays out for so many people at university.

Sanah’s poetic style and stark message are beautifully interwoven in this peace. They really convey the strong mix of feelings of being a fresher

Sanah’s poems combine lived experience with lived reality in a way that speaks to many

How many queer Muslim writers do you know? How many queer Muslim voices get the recognition they deserve? How many other poems have you heard or read that are similar? This one is important. Sanah is important.

I love the nostalgic language used and how that nostalgia plays with a sense of light and darkness at the same time

It encapsulates feeling of freshers well and the imagery is incredible65-14

Her writing is so inspired…. ❤️ 

knocked me for six, stunning poem 

So many layers involved in such a short share. Some jarring elements which linger. Makes you think doesn’t it?

It’s beautiful and cutting

Radical poem with a soft and gentle core, an emotional punch to the gut. Definitely gets my vote !

It’s fire!

It’s a powerful poem that packs a punch in so few words

They are such a brilliant activist and an inspiring voice.

This poem stands out as the strongest! How it says ‘swallow it like that other secret’ leaves me with thoughts on being closeted and repression, and how much we have to swallow or do to ‘assimilate’ as queer people of colour. Such a great poem!!44-14

Originality of content

love how this poem look at fresher’s experience as a queer person

This poem gave me a real visceral reaction of discomfort

A topic not often talked about in the U.K. The pace and phonetics of the words feel just as violent

It’s unpredictable, uncomfortable and raw

It has the pulse of the subject it’s wrapped up in. It beats to its rhythm, embodies its character and flexes every sinew of muscle that shapes the framework of the subject. More importantly, it’s oh so raw and real–very very alive in what it has to say!

There’s a particular line in this piece that I find so powerful ‘Mum worked Saturdays to afford you here’ and overall speaks volumes on the darker experience of being a young adult trying to fit in

beautifully captures feelings of unbelonging by class and racism 

I think because when I read it, something about it drew me back to the heady conflict I felt when I was at Uni.

 

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Meg Pokrass is the author of 8 flash fiction collections and 2 flash novellas, including Spinning to Mars (Blue Light Book Award, 2021) and The Loss Detector (Bamboo Dart Press, 2020). Her work has appeared in over 900 literary journals and has been anthologized in 3 Norton anthologies of flash: Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015), New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction (W.W. Norton, 2018), and Flash Fiction America (W. W. Norton & Co., 2023). She is the Series Co-Editor of Best Microfiction.

 

The Forest 

This has something to do with the adoption of that unwanted animal, right there in the living room. Her husband watching telly, drinking beer, not looking at the animal dancing around. The animal gazing into her eyes, finding her interesting and rare. Later, she makes a list of things she cannot do to please him. Increasingly she falls asleep in the forest next to the animal. His sharp nose against her throat, his wet, dark breath becoming her own.

 

Voters comments included:

I loved the emotion and atmosphere that comes across through the poem. The beautiful, simple prose ‘unwanted animal…interesting and rare…sharp nose.’ I loved the contrast between the woman’s distant relationship with her husband versus the close sensory connection she has with the animal. Wonderful!

This piece stayed with me. Haunting in a provocative way. So much said in so few words.

The Forest has the feel of a fairy tale of the transformation type: a woman metamorphosis into her fiercer, animal self. I love the specificity and the mysterious Ness of it.

It’s poetic and a story. No unnecessary language, no over writing. Pitch perfect.

I love the animal “finding her interesting and rare” – unlike her husband, it seems! 

I really like the ending, the way the animal and the subject become one.

I like that the animal is not named but you can feel it anyway!

Specific in its non-specificity and feels so emotionally true 

Very tightly written, great sense of mystery

The fable-like mystery that dissolves in the human condition. 

so full of surprises -unbelievable yet seems true 

Crisp, startling, real. 

Hints at loneliness, … tentatively exploring a hidden world, a strange lover.

Beautifully strange, love the longing in this piece.

Because it is wild, yet familiar, and plaintive.

I have never seen a story about our universal need for love being told so beautifully and sparingly.

Love this sentence: ‘His sharp nose against her throat, his wet, dark breath becoming her own.’ Escape, wildness and danger in this all speak to me.

Intense, mysterious, and tight, this micro nailed it.

That story–in so few words–elegantly describes an entire life. Brava! 

I admire the disjunction of the language, and the arc.

Powerfully written, short and to the point.

So much said by being unsaid. The closing image memorable.

This story has the perfect blend of beauty and humor and sadness, with a fairytale feel. So much with so few words.

I liked that the animal wasn’t named, and that so much was said, in so few words, about the couple’s difficult relationship.

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THE REST OF THE JUNE 2022 SHORTLIST

 

The Village by Shaniqua Benjamin
after Ryan Calais Cameron

A child not embraced by the village
will burn it down to feel its warmth,
skank around flickering amber hues
that singe eyelashes
of a soul cracked and popped,
barely a speck of him
to sign-point that he was there
and he was beautiful,
even when mirrors hid his reflection
in prisms of shattered colours
that made him more
than how he’s surface seen,
though it is him too

 

Shaniqua Benjamin is Croydon’s first Poet Laureate. She wrote lyrics for the London Mozart Players’ Anthem for Peace and performed in Apples & Snakes’ spoken word show, Rallying Cry. Shaniqua has facilitated workshops for Spread The Word and Central St Martins.

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I want/do not want my daddy by Andrew Blair

He is screaming and crying and wants
Me and doesn’t
Want me
And is not sore and does not want medicine
But does not want to stay
In bed or get out of bed or go
Downstairs or to the window
And wants me to go away and come back
And doesn’t want carried but doesn’t want down but wants
To wriggle free and I sing
I sing increasingly tenuous verses
Of Wheels on the bus
And try to keep my voice calm
Unbroken
And I sing
And list things we can see
And he tells mummy to go away
And I sing
And his cries feel less like failing and we know
He could shatter at any minute
And our hearts race
And we will never ever know the reasons he was screaming

 

Andrew Blair is a writer and performer based in Edinburgh. He co-produced Poetry Shows and podcasts with Ross McCleary under the name ‘Poetry as Fuck’. His pamphlet The R-Pattz Fact 2020’was published by Speculative Books.

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Golden Shovel after Gwendolyn Brooks ‘We real coolby Anne Symons
A tribute to Khadija Saye 1992 – 2017
Gambian-British artist and photographer

She bubbles laughter and we
are captivated, caught by real
joy in her happiness. So cool –
I’m an artist! Rock my blessings.
We
watch images emerge, rituals left
behind, corn-row crowns at school.
Dwelling in this space we
breathe.
Shadows lurk
in liquid and form too late
for us to understand. We
cannot ask her now. From strike
to blaze the fire burned straight
through twenty floors. We
watch destruction. Sing
our sadness, talk of sin
and retribution: thin
lipped councillors who drink their gin
and give no answers when we
ask, Why did Khadija die? Jazz
notes echo in a blackened June
Pray for me, it’s in my room. We
watch her promise die
too soon.

 

Anne Symons began writing poetry in 2015 at the age of 70. Her work has appeared in a range of poetry publications, both online and print. She has recently completed an MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University and the Poetry School in London.

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Alanis Morissette by Jake Wild Hall

small dark speck on the window
looks at me says you are lonely
small dark speck on the window
laughs says you are surrounded by joy
small dark speck on the window
stares at me how it stares
small dark speck on the window refuses to go away
although i scrub yes i scrub tell my hands bleed
small dark speck becomes smudge
small dark smudge on the window
small dark smudge becomes smear
small dark smear on the window
small dark smear becomes window
small dark window
small dark window becomes house
small dark house
small dark house becomes me
small dark me in the corner
tea goes cold on the window sill
i ask Alanis Morissette the meaning of irony
haha she says and disappears
i turn my phone on and immediately hate myself
i turn it off no thats a lie
i have fallen down the hole like Alice
i am drink me size in my stomach

 

Jake Wild Hall is one half of Bad Betty Press, the founder of OOIPP fest, one fifth of Boomerang Club and winner of the PBH 2016 Spirit Of The Free Fringe Award. He has performed on BBC Radio and at festivals and literary events across the UK, including touring his debut pamphlet Solomon’s World—longlisted for Best Pamphlet in the 2018 Saboteur Awards. He co-edited anthologies The Dizziness of Freedom and Alter Egos (Bad Betty Press, 2018 and 2019). He is a multiple slam champion and his work has been published in magazines, anthologies and online journals. His second pamphlet was published in 2019 and he is currently working on his first collection..