Poems by Supriya Finch, Nick Henry, Ellie Watson, and Ellora Sutton
Updated: Aug 27
Content warning: grief, calorie-counting
Here's another bucketful of honourably-mentioned beauties from The Magdalena Young Poets' Prize. Today's catch includes a summer that rains like the angels are trying to put the fires out, thoughts split open against chalk during a walk along a sea wall during a gale, an abstract, heartrending conversation with Alexa, and someone who will love you with the heat of a carpet burn in a rundown Butlins chalet. Grab a drink of your choice and enjoy!
Entry from Noah’s Diary
This summer it rains like the angels are trying to put the fires out and I keep searching for omens but the omens are all drowned and
put two of every animal onto the ark
and I said
aren't you concerned about what you stand to lose?
and He said
my child, the fisherman must be disconnected from the reality of the fish.
The last lion alive is pacing the deck. He used to put his paws up on the railing and roar out to sea but he gave it up upon realising that there is no one left alive to understand him. He is both a whole and a hole: he is an ever-present disappearance. He could eat an entire species in one bite and barely feel it go down. I’m writing about myself. The lion lay down three weeks ago and hasn’t got up since.
When I say:
PLEASE, LET ME MAKE THINGS HAPPEN,
how many magpies are on board? one for sorrow, two for joy.
by Supriya Finch, aged 17, from Sussex
Supriya says: Writing ‘Entry from Noah’s Diary’ was an unusual process compared to my other poetry. I have a terrible memory so I tend to forget all my ideas and then get annoyed at myself, so I keep an increasingly nonsensical document full of single lines and concepts, often riddled with typos and delirious gibberish. Noah’s diary was almost entirely comprised of these ideas- the fisherman line was written on a boat in the middle of Loch Shiel in the Western Highlands, the last lion alive was scribbled down at 2am in between dreams, the idea of the diary entry itself came during a socially distanced date as we counted magpies, inspiring the last line. In this way, the poem became a kind of scramble of 2020, not only in that it was written at several junctures in the year but also in the (admittedly melodramatic) exploration of the weird, frantic monotony of waiting for a crisis to end.
“Was this what it all meant — utter separateness, obscured by the heat of living?”
— D. H. Lawrence, ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’
These days I have spent walking the sea-wall,
Where the wind smash wave smash wall smash wall,
Where the at-once-gale upflings my thoughts
And splits them open against the chalk;
And I wish the tide were deep-end rolled,
And water were stilled in paddling folds,
And I was along the shore outleant,
Calm and one and treading severance …
This is a harsh wind, it grips with brine
As it madly slings the binding grey,
And I wonder if ever it could have sent
A café zephyr: rushed croissants and jam;
And I wonder that if the wind ever
Smashed me up dead against the cliff
So only blood remained to smear the chalk,
Would people see the livid cross and say
This is England?
by Nick Henry, aged 18, from Gloucestershire
Nick says: During this most recent lockdown, writing poetry has become a significant part of my life, giving me the time to dedicate the hours to the imitation of my favourite writers, such as T. S. Eliot, Jane Austen and James Merrill. It has become the focal point of my day, providing an aim to which my thoughts and energies lead, and thus structuring the hours against an overarching purpose. ‘Samphire Hoe’ is a poem that has been instrumental to this development because it was the first time I had started a poem and then actually finished it! Since then, I have completed quite a few more poems, with ‘Samphire Hoe’ always serving as a reminder that despite how big the mess is that I’ve written myself into, I am able to — somehow — satisfactorily complete the expression of my ideas.
be honest. Do you think I’m too greedy with grief?
Alexa, remind me at 11am to scrub my toothpaste freckles off the bathroom mirror.
Add raspberries to the shopping list while you’re at it. I’d like to lick sticky lips and peel away the bedding from the belly of the punnet. I’ll tenderly tuck the pips underneath.
Alexa, what’s the traffic like today? Dad always said that, whenever I cried, my nose changed colour like traffic lights. I would savour the taste of salty snot, sunken into my cupid’s bow.
Alexa, do you reckon you’d cry if you could?
Alexa, order another bottle of his spicy aftershave. The one that smells like soggy bark blended with aloe vera. Use the gift card from Christmas.
Alexa, does aloe vera soothe sunburnt memories too?
Alexa, tell me the weather forecast. I want to walk by the river and feel acorns crunch like cereal beneath my wellies. I’ll grind my teeth and tell the cocky trees to piss off with all their bravery and stamina and wisdom and roots, held so sturdily together.
Alexa, remind me of Dad’s face. Not knee-deep in his grave or with a breathing tube latched on like a stubborn octopus. Show me his eyebrows holding hands above the bridge of his nose, the corner of his mouth chipped with chalk like the tips of silky waves.
Alexa, do you remember the story he used to tell about the frog, the bat and the squirrel?
Alexa, would you mind narrating it tonight?
by Ellie Watson, aged 22, from Norwich
Ellie says: I'm a 22-year-old philosophy student from Norwich, with wider interests in gender studies and creative writing. I’ve been writing short stories and poetry since I was 12, but I've written more than ever over the past year - particularly following the sudden death of my father. I wrote ‘Alexa’ in lockdown, asking the rhetorical questions at the forefront of my mind, and incorporating the precious memories I had with my dad. I’m inspired by poets such as Emily Berry and Denise Riley - two incredibly influential women who confront grief frankly and beautifully.
I sob fishhooks. They snag my cheeks so I am sobbing chunks of bait also. I cry myself bare, I cry myself flayed. I will love you with the heat of a carpet burn in a rundown Butlins chalet. I want to jellyfish off and fill my misery guts with Bags-for-Life so when I breathe I am fifty lungs and a well-acknowledged tragedy. [Girl as a hundred barnacles on a beached rust-bucket.] I have never once slept. [Girl as lobster pot.] I have never once slept; I am queen raven. I am an unkindness and melodrama. I would smoke but I am terrified of cancer. I would scream your name in the rain but I am busy. I am busy choking on a snake choking on an apple. I am a scooped-out appendix, a lopped-off tonsil. [Girl as scalpel waiting to be sterilised.] Kiss, deep. Deep breath, breathe. Breathe in sea air but all you get is a rotsweet snog of sewage. [Girl as stick of rock with a polyester fishnet centre.] Let’s go crabbing! Watch those sharp bastards jump off the quayside to escape our conglomerate shadow and me, Christ, holding onto the children by their little shoulders. I pour almond milk into coffee and watch it separate, Googling: how many calories does crying hysterically burn; how many calories does crying burn, hysterically; historically, how does hysterically burn?
by Ellora Sutton, aged 24, from Hampshire
Ellora says: My favourite poets and influences include Sylvia Plath, Carol Ann Duffy, Liz Berry, Pascale Petit, Andrew McMillan, Ocean Vuong, Rachel Long, Natalie Diaz, Caroline Bird, Ella Frears, Phoebe Stuckes, Danez Smith, and Chen Chen – but this is very much an abridged list! At the moment I’m working on a manuscript considering mental health, especially historical attitudes towards women’s mental health, and ‘Misery Guts’ came from that. I wanted to write a poem that was unapologetically miserable – too often, I think, we’re forced into a false state of excessive positivity that does more harm than good. I’m currently studying a part-time MA in creative writing with the Open University, which has been massively helpful in encouraging me to try new things, such as prose poems like ‘Misery Guts’. My debut chapbook, All the Shades of Grief,was published last year by Nightingale & Sparrow and I tweet @ellora_Sutton.