For our latest annual poetry competition, we received dozens of entries. We have decided to publish the judges’ three favourites in print, with three more in this online version.
A beginning, and change, if you dare to look…
‘Beginning,’ He Answered.
The blank look on their faces
let Sisyphus know that they didn’t understand
that the hard part wasn’t
the work of pushing the rock uphill.
That he almost enjoyed the heaviness
of the rock, and the honest
exhausting labor of those long days.
They couldn’t know that momentum started,
carries its own weight.
They only saw the size of the rock,
and the angle of the hill,
and naturally assumed that
that the work they could witness
was the hard part.
No one was there
in the cool mornings
as he stared at his rock
in silence, his feet still,
his hands gently resting
on its curved sides.
No one was there
to hear the unspoken words
shouted to the Gods, pleading
for the strength to bear, not the rock,
but the desperate weight of wondering,
how to begin,
- Gretchen Schmelzer
‘I work with individuals, organisations and communities. I received my doctorate in Counselling Psychology from Northeastern University and am the author of the book Journey Through Trauma (Avery 2018), a trail guide for those recovering from trauma. My mission is to change the conversation about trauma and to provide support for those who are healing from PTSD and repeated trauma. I have written poetry and read poetry as a part of my own healing.’
Judges’ comment: ‘This has a wry originality and for free verse is well crafted… subtle and poetically accomplished.’
A man is saying two words,
Repeated like a mantra.
He’s frozen on cold ground
Beneath the multi-storey.
A solitary chant of two words, again and again:
Any change? Any change?
Not heard, he’s walked over,
At the heated town hall,
At the cushioned magistrates court,
they talk of moving him on.
The man has an empty bowl,
sat beneath the car park.
- Dr Chris Allen
I am a clinical psychologist working in Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead for the NHS. I’ve just had a pilot project funded to help the homeless with mental health problems… I’ll be working with the homeless tomorrow night at John West House, a hostel that was opened following the death of John West, who was homeless in the bottom level of a multi-storey car park in Maidenhead one cold winter night. I had John in mind when I wrote this poem, along with the other homeless people who still live in the bottom of the car parks in our borough and in many others across the UK. We are also infamous as our then council leader (now standing as a Conservative candidate in the general election) suggested that the homeless should be “moved on” so that they did not interfere with the royal wedding between Harry and Meghan at Windsor Castle – another influence for this poem.
In the past few years I have also set up an integrated service with psychology working alongside community nurses for people who are housebound due to long term conditions and psychological problems, and also Maidenhead Men in Sheds (raising £3000 for a shed) to help men with practical interests to counter isolation and depression.
I am in both a reading group and a writing group, but write more short stories than poems. I do this more as a break from writing reports and letters than for publication, and for the fun of trying to write a bit more creatively.’
Judges’ comment: ‘I’m sure Chris would agree, this isn’t the most subtle of poems, but it makes its point strongly. It’s also interesting to see an entry that reflects the Society’s 2020 priority of From Poverty to Flourishing.’
Ode to Emily
When you wrote that you were haunted
By your own ghosts
It made me wonder,
How did you dare to look?
‘Ourself behind ourself, concealed’,
This line gives me chills.
Even 150 years later,
It haunts me.
Not knowing what you would find,
And with no guide,
You left your safe house
And you dared to look.
In the ringing silence
Of that internal encounter,
You found power.
It echoes, still.
Nowadays we invent ever more ways
of keeping ourselves from ourselves.
The very last thing we dare to do
Is to look.
- Eleanor Chatburn, trainee clinical psychologist, University of Bath
‘This poem is a tribute to my favourite poet, the radical 19th century American writer Emily Dickinson. One of her most brilliant poems is called “One need not be a chamber to be haunted”, written in 1862. In it she riffs wittily on the gothic horror trope of the haunted house to describe the introspective experience of encountering her internal ghost – her own true self – in the “corridors” of her mind. Her work on the power of the mind, mental health, grief, and creativity were hugely influential in my decision to change career and move from publishing into clinical psychology. I was lucky to study for a masters degree in poetry studies ten years ago and whilst I love reading others’ poetry, I have always felt nervous about writing my own. For this submission I channelled some of Emily’s courage!’
Judges’ comment: ‘Any admirer of Emily Dickinson should be encouraged! I rather like one of Pete Morton’s songs, “I’m In Love With Emily Dickinson”. Emily had such piercing originality of diction, and Eleanor’s poem makes a good point clearly.’
Thanks to all those who entered, and congratulations to our winners! See also previous years.
Four seasons of a broken heart
First comes winter. The hardest to survive.
Cold and barren; the frost eats you alive.
Branches of hope bare; leaves of love decayed,
Around your heart and soul, you’ve built a barricade.
Next is the spring; winter gone at last.
he time for new life, no longer bound to your past.
Resilience gave you another chance;
You refuse to look back now, not even a glance.
Now the summer, best season of all.
You think you've moved on, standing proud and tall.
Growing and blossoming towards the sky,
Barely remembering the last goodbye.
Darker nights now autumn is here,
Doubts create fog this time of year.
Leaves of joy and fulfilment are furling and falling,
Memories of lost love you just keep recalling.
Then winter strikes again, but not quite as strong,
You wonder why you still haven’t moved on.
Reliving every mistake and regret,
The frost bites your skin. It won’t let you forget.
The seasons repeat until you become winterless,
Your bark has healed, you are finally splinterless,
Life now a lattice of long summer, carefree spring,
But occasionally the autumn may sometimes creep in.
Or so that is what I hear,
But I still have winter as part of my year.
- Rebecca Johnson
'I am 22 years old and am currently working as an assistant psychologist at a residential school for children with autism'.
I know your type
Brexit, text it, tribal hype
Social media, twist the knife
You know my type
‘mainer, moaner, drag heels like
Group of grumblers with a gripe
They know their type
Blue flag, same nag, white cross stripe
Away London, on your bike
In groups, out groups, none between
Chiefs and tribes all tough and mean
Make us choose between the teams
We know our type
Reach out, bring in, the peace pipes
Together share a new light
- Margaret Davies
The power of rhyme
Ah - the power of the rhyme,
how it devours up your time,
in neatly folded, asymmetrical, aesthetically pleasing lines –
in which I can convey the electrical impulses of my mind:
All I have seen and discovered today, to you,
as a treasure left neatly out for you to find.
So here we go –
The basics we all already know:
How the billions of neurones folded neatly in our brains
Are relaying and transferring information day by day by day.
But past the biology, into the deep, dreaded depths of psychology
We’re left with the confusing comprehension of what is the ‘mind’
And what makes each so distinct – why is mine so clearly mine?
Distinct, but connected nonetheless –
as linked as the shared gases of mainly nitrogen that we engulf in each gasping breath.
For how can I hold out my hand to you and know that this hand belongs to me,
And still have your acceptance or denial of this gesture deeply impact my perception of reality?
And past the dualism of me versus other there is the dualism of I versus me –
The brain and the mind, connected through the senses, intertwined eternally.
Yet at times the mind feels as though it is off somewhere else, not entirely grounded to the earth –
As though at any minute it could grab the brain, exclaim ‘no more’: and out it would burst.
Into the realms of the waves it would live day by day by day –
But, of course, the mind could not function without the brain to tell it what it is it needs to say.
So, on the earth I guess, here we go on
Trying to understand the core of society through morality
The not-so-black-and-white difference between right and wrong
And then there's the difference between I and other, and don’t forget the I and me
For those neural connections in my mind, neatly folded, are now firing so I may be
Typing at this laptop – one I assume is as real as it feels
With the slam of my fingers on each square shaped sunken key.
For my mind has decided that this is the time
To present my understanding of the queries of psychology
In neatly folded, asymmetrical, aesthetically pleasing lines
That just so happen to occasionally rhyme.
In free verse – of course – as free as my thoughts would have each verse be-
As a treasure left neatly out for you to find
For whatever happens to be the objective truth of the mind – I know that mine is a treasure to me.
- Sarah Cosgrove
'I am a second year undergraduate psychology student at the University of Bath. I have been writing poetry since I was 14 and have 2 published poems through my previous schools with Young Writers. I tend to write in free verse and as though my poetry were to be performed as spoken word poetry, and I write about various themes. Recently my poetry has been more psychologically based, as my poetry tends to reflect the ideas I think about in day to day life.'
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