The Blue Nib Chapbook 4

The Blue Nib Chapbook Contest 4 CoverThis chapbook features the three winning poem sequences chosen by Judge Helen Mort. Entries are open to new, emerging and established poets and consist of eight poems not previously published in The Blue Nib.

Helen Mort writes in the introduction, “Trying to choose between poetry pamphlets is very different from choosing between individual poems… Judging pamphlets feels like a much slower, fuller process – to extend my tortuous and inappropriate analogy, it’s the fifth or sixth or seventh date. As I read and re-read these submissions, I found I was getting to know them like characters, like people. It’s a cliché to say it, but this was a difficult task. All the entries felt substantive and engaged with an impressive breadth of material. I was stuck by how outward-looking all the collections of poems were, how they refused insularity, self-pity and narrow focus. The entries which I gravitated to all had a searching intelligence to them, all showed a commitment to using poetry as a way of interrogating and understanding the world.”

Pat Anthony took First Prize, “Place and people are inextricably linked in this evocative collection of poems. They bristle with observational details that a less skillful writer might miss – a man pedals night into day, the moon is scrawled with the arpeggios of an accordion player. Each voice here is convincing and urgent. Memorable, exact and compelling.”

Extract from “Along the Manzanares”,

“the night air of Madrid wrapping
around our shoulders with
dusky blues until we are

that lover caught up in his
serenade, singing his adoration
to the Lady of Spain even as
he contends with the bowing
and scraping of violins
across the water

where orchestras play a cadence
to his pining accordion and
notes lodge in the diamonds
of the hurricane fence hanging
bubbles too delicate to pop”

Mike Farren took Second Prize, “From the first poem in this collection, I was intrigued and hooked by the strange confidence of the work… The pieces that follow are richly sensory – ‘summer smells of money’, the body is a quarry. Alert and attentive writing, poems suffused with an original language for memory.”

Extract from “Antlers”,
have the equipment

“Find them on the forest floor:
they are necessary,
they are sufficient,
they are yours.

Clamp them to your temples.
Then speak.”

Sharon Flynn took Third Prize, “From the first, these poems feel like recipes, full of rich details and imperatives. In one piece, surgery before pain relief is described with a clarity that makes the reader shudder. Visceral and haunting, unabashed and sharply observed, full of found material curated with skill and emotion, which is no mean feat.”

Extract from “Recipe for the Somniferous Sponge of Ugone de Lucca”

.“                                   Mix in a brazen vessel.
Place in it a sponge, seized from the ocean,
and boil the whole as long as the sun shines
in the dog-star-days or until the sponge
hath consumed it all.
.                                       Make the sea-sponge damp
and hot. Apply to the nostrils. When sleep
has been inhaled, let surgery commence.”

The Blue Nib Chapbook Contest 4 is available from The Blue Nib



About a Deer: Poetry and Plagiarism

Write a poem about deer.

OK, you don’t have to actually write a poem, but think about the processes involved in writing a poem on a specified topic. Brainstorm and scribble a few phrases about:

  • A deer’s appearance, its most striking features and colouring
  • Its habitat
  • Other wildlife that share a deer’s habitat
  • Personal memories of encountering deer or the management of deer herds
  • Using the deer or its habitat as a metaphor

First thoughts tend to focus on the immediately obvious. For a deer’s appearance that’s the fur, the soft eyes, hard hooves and possibly antlers with a colour palette based around brown. Its habitat is a forest where it lives alongside typical British wildlife. Personal memories might involve a walk through a forest, walking in the grounds of a stately home, witnessing or participating in a hunt or a childhood memory of watching an adult’s reaction to the deer. Perhaps you’ve scribbled some remembered phrases from reading about deer in the past.

All of these initial thoughts now require further exploration. This might involve researching images and facts about deer, reading up on British countryside and wildlife. Or scouring poetry collections, anthologies and magazines for poems about deer for inspiration.

Perhaps your keep copies of poems you particularly like and type them up so you can refer to them easily or to try to deconstruct successful poems to work out what makes them successful. If you are in the habit of doing this, include the poet’s name so you (and others looking through your notebooks and computer files) know who the original poet is.

It is entirely probable that among your notes you’ve included a line or phrase from someone else’s work. Even if you can’t place its source, you’ll know it’s not yours. Poets who read poetry will both consciously and sub-consciously pick up imagery and phrasing that strikes them and find themselves borrowing someone else’s phrase in the process of drafting a poem until a new, more personal image or phrase is found which does a better job.

Writing out someone else’s poem to use as source text for inspiration is not plagiarism, providing the resulting poem is new and recognisably in the voice of the poet writing the new poem. Taking a source text, making a few changes such as altering the location, changing the gender of a person mentioned within and altering a couple of phrases so the new poem is still recognisably based on the source text is plagiarism.

Recently the organisers of the Hope Bourne Poetry Prize found the poem their judges had selected as the prize-winner was in fact a close copy of a poem by Helen Mort, “The Deer”, which had won the Café Writers Open Poetry Competition in 2009. Both original poem and copy can be read on Matt Merritt’s blog (scroll down to the comments section). The copyist has apologised, but only after “This is Cornwall” published the story.

With plagiarism, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. Having your poem stolen by someone else is not flattering. Saying so is akin to telling a burglary victim they should be flattered someone thought their house was worth breaking into or that their possessions must have been worth stealing. That more people have now read the original poem isn’t much comfort either unless those people start buying books and magazines featuring the poet.

If anything positive has come from this situation, it’s the resulting discussion and awareness raised about the issue of plagiarism, both what it is and the fact that no one should benefit from it.


“a pint for the ghost” Helen Mort (tall lighthouse) – poetry review

Helen Mort A Pint for the Ghost book cover

This pamphlet is a companion to a live show where ghosts arrive in a shabby pub after closing time to introduce themselves.  There are ghosts of miners, workers, a hospital ghost, a teacher and a student who died after getting stuck in a shaft whilst climbing the Derbyshire Peaks. 

That hospital ghost lurks in the x-ray machine and extrapolates lives from x-rays,

“…his femur hides the slender penknife

he once held against a woman’s throat, half-cut
on brandy, joking
that his hand might slip, while she stood trembling
against the wall.

Don’t panic, love. It were a joke. I’ve had a few,
that’s all.”

That final couplet rhyme is the only one in the poem.  There’s no dramatic tension either.  Why not, “his femur hides the slender penknife/ he held once. Don’t panic, love. It were a joke. I’ve had a few,/ that’s all./ She stood trembling against a wall, / knife at her throat./ Blaming the brandy as he joked/ his hand might slip”?

This contrasts with “a chaser for miss heath” (yes all poems have cutesy lower case titles) where the narrator is a former, reluctant ballet pupil puzzled at the teacher never making the stage until,

“in shoes that pinch my toes
until they bleed, my back
held ballerina straight,

I wait as she did, too afraid
to walk into a bar
where everyone’s a stranger…”

A ghost that might have lived instead of one reported.  Maybe it needs the live show as not all the poems came alive off the page, but Miss Heath did and that’s enough for me to keep an eye out for future poems from Helen Mort.