VOTING HAS NOW CLOSED.

WATCH THIS SPACE TO DISCOVER THE DECEMBER 2020 PICK OF THE MONTH.

New year, new web site and a final vote for Pick of the Month for 2020. And it was a dark December in more ways than one. Will you choose Lucien Linwood‘s gut wrenching ‘Things They Tell You’, Kashiana Singh‘s beautiful sorrowful ‘Origami’ Haiku sequence or wait with William Doreski in his uneasy potent ‘Sunday Before the Hurricane’. Is it flickers of hope, or the illusion of these, from several of our superb ’12 Days of…’ poems that draw you in – Anna Blasiak‘s ‘The Evolution of Christmas’ or ‘Mister Bloody Christmas’ by Joanne Key – or would you prefer to embrace the wickedly full-blown cynicism of Jack Houston‘s ‘Merry Christmas!’

Yes, December was dark but the poetry was fantastic!

All six of the shortlist have been chosen by Helen, Kate and Memoona or received the most attention on social media. They can be found below

For the coronavirus period, our normal Pick ‘prize’ of £10 towards the (ideally) UK charity of your choice or a National Book Token will rise to £30*. Charities and booksellers, both, have been hit hard by the shutdown and we wanted to make a (admittedly very small) gesture of support.

 

*Book tokens can only be used within the UK and will be divided between £20 for the winning writer and a £10 token for the person of their choice. Sadly, we are unable to find suitable cost-effective alternatives outside the UK.

 


THE DECEMBER 2020 SHORTLIST

 

 

Mister Bloody Christmas by Joanne Key

Mam taught me to send his name
up the chimney,

let it draw away

before clawing it back
through embers and ash,

or to simply stand for hours
in the kitchen, peeling, raw

hands plunged into a bowl
of sorrow, thinking of him.

Cleaning the White Swan,
she pocketed the lost and forgotten,

conjured money
from under the bar stools
and pool table, dropped it in her purse

and murmured
a curse on Mister Bloody Christmas

and all his shitty wishes,
his glittering eyes
and megawatt smile,

his fancy suit
lined with midnight blue.

I sharpened my pencils and left
the shavings on a plate for him to use
as fingernails, a handful of tinsel hair.

The landlady left a glass of whisky
out on the bar. A big gold star.

How could we compete?

Wait and see, Mam said,
bundling me off to bed.

And the night before Christmas,
I trudged home through the snow
to the moonlit cottage,

and found her making him
comfortable in the big chair,

kitchen dressed with silver garlands
of breath, mistletoe everywhere.


Joanne Key won 2nd prize in the 2014 National Poetry Competition, and first prize in the 2018 Hippocrates Open Prize. She was the winner of the 2018 Mslexia Short Story Competition.

 

Merry Christmas! by Jack Houston

with a nod to Keith Douglas

So, these are our new though unacknowledged rulers:
the mysterious illness just this year appeared,
the floods, the storms, the shortages of toilet paper,
the worry what’s been ripped asunder won’t reshape as
a weather satellite crashes through the atmosphere
that might have revealed the heat has cooled off

enough for us to forgive booking that cheeky flight
to Bordeaux. Certainly never the twenty-four thousand
or so individuals that will starve to death today.
Poor, mostly young; queued up, watch them snake
all the way to the next postal code like some bland
charity mail-out featuring a too-slight crying child.

Pop it in the bin. The sun is up and the day too fine
to care about such unfortunates. The sky is clear,
not a cloud in it, and there’s the fresh perfume
of apple-blossom or whatever that is. You
are a precious cargo. Don’t let anyone else near.
Except me, of course. Are you opening that wine?


Jack Houston runs a free, online poetry workshop with Hackney Libraries, but you don’t have to live in Hackney or even have one of our library cards to join! For more details email: jack.houston@hackney.gov.uk

 

Sunday Before the Hurricane by William Doreski

The sky looks wary. The trees
confer in muffled rustlings.
I should start my generator,
make sure it’s willing to cough
enough power to support me
through a rush of wind and rain.

Hardy knew about wind and rain,
his landscapes metrical enough
to swagger through the little fears
that render humans legless.
If he saw my worried expression
he would laugh into his hat.

I wish I didn’t clench like this
when distance abruptly telescopes
to shovel the tropics north.
I’d rather stand upright weeping
in the airflow, my deep convictions
that much more convincing.

The local churches remain closed
in honor of pandemic. Organs
crouch dusty and petulant as clouds
skim over the village waving
various flags and pennants
like troops of ironic angels.

Maybe I’ll stock up armloads
of groceries in case real life
continues after the hurricane.
Canned goods, boxes of pasta,
bottled water, crackers, cookies,
dry cereal, whatever’s on sale.

For now, a blueberry muffin
and a dose of oily coffee
from the only open bakery
will anchor me deep in myself
so I can face whatever’s coming
with a fixed if mealy façade.


William Doreski has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in many print and online journals. He has taught at Emerson College, Goddard College, Boston University, and Keene State College. His most recent book is Stirring the Soup.  williamdoreski.blogspot.com ; twitter: @wdoreski

 

The Evolution of Christmas by Anna Blasiak

Wigilia no. 1

Jezus malusieńki leży wśród stajenki. Five months old. We couldn’t go back home that night. Too much snow. My baby blue pram’s wheels shivered and refused to turn into skis. Cold.

Wigilia no. 5

Płacze z zimna, nie dała mu matula sukienki. Waiting for the first star. Breaking opłatek wafer with all relatives, careful not to eat it myself. Always karp amongst twelve dishes. Had to taste them all. Singing kolędy, aunts’ harmonies. This uncle or that dressed as Santa. Presents. Midnight mass. Frost.

Wigilia no. 12

Nie ma kolebeczki, ani poduszeczki. Score in front of me, but not looking, I forgot The Silent Night halfway through, my violin suddenly going silent, the night staring at me through the eyes of the crowd gathered in the church. Black ice.

Wigilia no. 17

We żłobie mu położyła sianka pod główeczki. All that food, that despicable karp! What is Santa actually called? Święty Mikołaj? Gwiazdor? Or perhaps Dziadek Mróz? Just let go of me, I don’t belong, I’ve forgotten how to be part. Snowdrifts.

Wigilia no. 29

Dashing through the snow. There is no Wigilia, really, in THIS country. Presents, impatient till Christmas Day. Christmas Day not being a night, too bright, too day- like, too full of turkey or goose, or other roast, or Queen’s speech. Overcast.

Wigilia no. 34

In a one horse open sleigh. I have never gone back home for Christmas since moving home. I have never gone back home for Christmas since coming here. I have never gone back home for Christmas since coming out. I keep missing it. I don’t belong to THIS Christmas, to Christmas and Boxing Day. Windy.

Wigilia no. 44

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Christmas Eve dinner with pierogi and barszcz. Opłatek also. Half of the presents. The other half on the Christmas Day, in  pyjamas, champagne, cigar. Christmas lunch: vegan roast and Queen’s speech. Sometimes Christmas tree. Warm.


Anna Blasiak is a poet and translator between Polish and English. Her bilingual collection Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime is out from Holland House Books. More at annablasiak.com.

 

5 Haiku by Kashiana Singh

Origami

cradle songs
on the drive home…
my empty womb

*

my mother’s
knitted sweaters-
I unravel knots

*

tears-
water raining into
an empty cup

*

drifting snowflakes-
I restore the fragile lace
of my wedding veil

*

encounters-
his world is shaped
by her pirouettes

Kashiana Singh lives in Chicago and embodies her TEDx talk theme of Work as Worship into her everyday. Her first collection is Shelling Peanuts and Stringing Words. Her chapbook Crushed Anthills is a journey through 10 cities. She serves as an Assistant Poetry Editor for Poets Reading the News. Twitter:@Kashianasingh

 

Things They Tell You by Lucien Linwood

your mom tells you
when you’re six years old
that if one person says something is wrong with you
get a second opinion
but if two people say the same thing
consider that they might be right
she tells you
people can see inside of you
they’ll figure you out if you let them

your uncle tells you
seven years old
if you weren’t his niece
he could tell you how pretty you are
and you think
at least he keeps it in his head

your cousins
out on the farm
don’t tell you they want to fuck you
they just show you
cornering you alone in the trailer
and fighting each other over who gets to sit beside you

if one person says something is wrong with you
maybe not
but if every man you meet
sees you as something ripe and ready
maybe there’s something wrong with you after all

your dad tells you
he needs you to sleep in his bed
he talks in private to your rapist
so it’s hardly surprising what happens
he tells you you liked it
he tells you to make sure nobody finds out

your rapist tells you
you’re the only nice thing in his life
your rapist tells you how good you are
he tells you
you’re doing it right

your best friend at the time
thirteen years old
tells you she knows exactly what you’re going through
she almost had it happen
one time
with a boy who babysat
and she’s offended, wounded
when you say it’s not the same at all

your mom tells you
its okay to be angry
you deserve it
and she laughs and says
as long as you’re not mad at me
(please don’t be mad at me
please tell me you don’t blame
me for the things I knew
and did nothing to stop)

your councilor
because of course they make you see one
now that everyone knows
tells you that you’re just a child
and you don’t know your own feelings, yet
that’s okay!
she so brightly tells you
we’ll figure them out together!

your dad tells you
five years later
after he’s broken your nose the second time
and you’re being picked up after trying to
walk fifteen miles in the rain
that he was raped too
one time at boarding school
you’re not that special
and you need to stop acting
like this anger is necessary

your heart tells you
what your mother told you:
it’s okay to be angry
but be careful, Lucien


Lucien Linwood is a thirty-year-old trans cripple who enjoys the act of writing and fears being known by his words.