By Eric Berlin

O, Great Northern Mall, you dwindling oracle
of upstate New York, your colossal lot

of frost-heaved spaces so vacant I could cut
straight through while blinking and keep my eyes

shut, I’ve come like the flies that give up the ghost
at the papered fronts of your defunct stores,

through the food court where napkins, unused
to touch, are packed too tight to be dispensed,

past the pimpled kid manning the register
who stares at the buttons and wipes his palms.

If I press my eyes until checkers rise
from the dark – that’s how the overheads glower

in home essentials as I roam through Sears,
seeking assistance. I know you’re here.

For this window crank I brought, you show me
a muted wall of TVs where Jeff Goldblum

picks his way through the splintered remains
of a dinosaur crate. There must be fifty

of him, hunching over mud to inspect
the three-toed prints. I almost didn’t

come in here at all, driving the opposite
of victory laps, and waiting as I hoped

for the red to leave my eyes, but my urgency
smacked of your nothingness. I did it again –

I screamed at the woman I love, and in front
of our one-year-old, who covered his ears.


Eric Berlin's 'Night Errand' was the winner of the 2015 National Poetry Competition. The 2016 competition is now open for entries, submit yours here

Judge Sarah Howe described 'Night Errand' as ‘poetry that can somehow, magically, fill a cafeteria napkin dispenser with emotion, while subtly evoking the psychological need behind that displacement.’

You can catch Eric Berlin at the Poetry in Aldeburgh festival in November, where he will be reading alongside commended poet Geraldine Clarkson and past winner Ian Duhig. And you can listen in to past National Poetry Competition events with Transatlantic Poetry or at Ledbury Poetry Festival for free online.

Established in 1978, the National Poetry Competition is one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious poetry contests. Past winners include the current UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Tony Harrison, Ruth Padel, Jo Shapcott, Colette Bryce and Philip Gross – among many others.

All the entered poems are read by the judges, and the work is judged anonymously, so everyone is in with a chance. There are cash prizes for all 10 winning poets, with a first prize of £5,000. Winning and commended poems will be published in an anthology and on The Poetry Society’s website, reaching thousands of readers from all over the world when the prizes are announced in spring 2017.  

The Poetry Society opens up further opportunities for all winning and commended poets each year, including invitations to read at events and festivals around the UK plus ongoing support and recognition in the years ahead.

The 2016 National Poetry Competition is now open for entries, submit yours here before the deadline of 31 October to be in with a chance of winning. 

Sign up for our Friday poem email to receive a handpicked poem from us each week.