Picador Poetry Prize shortlist

Read a poem from each of the ten poets on the Picador Poetry Prize shortlist.

Mir Mahfuz Ali - Midnight, Dhaka, 25 March 1971

I am a hardened camera clicking at midnight.

I have caught it all - the screeching tanks
pounding the city under the massy heat,
searchlights dicing the streets like bayonets.
Kalashnikovs mowing down rickshaw pullers,
vendor sellers, beggars on the pavements.
I click on, despite the dry and bitter dust
scratched on the lake-black water of my Nikon eye,
at a Bedford truck waiting by the roadside,
at two soldiers holding the dead by their hands and legs,
throwing them into the back, hurling
them one upon another until the floor
is loaded to the sky's armpits. The corpses stare
at our star's succulent whiteness
with their arms flung out as if to bridge a nation.
Their bodies shake when the lorry chugs.
I click as the soldiers laugh at the billboard on the bulkhead:


Gill Andrews - The man who paints the bridge

His left hand holds a can
          of dark red oxide paint. His right hand
lowers and lifts the cradle,
          slides it along to the next diagonal.
People on Battery Road
           set their clocks by him, They measure his beard
to know how long they've slept.
          He understands the character of paint:
how the fluid adopts the outer
           shape of what it protects, then sets
to a solid, becoming skin.
         How it barnacles unevenly,
how its colour degrades. And the claws
        within salt, the sugar in rain. He knows
why teals and swans migrate,
       and the happiness of steel at the hugeness of trains.
Kaddy Benyon - Maman (i.m. Louise Bourgeois)
Your veined hands slap marble
buttocks, cup stone scrotums smooth
as eggs. You fondle a jacaranda pod
trace its cleft as you speak of the dead
husband, son, faithless father.
The bent spiders of your fingers work skeins
that span a near-century of rage.
You catch the watery eye of the camera
and say: It is difficult to be a woman

and be likeable. Beneath sapped breasts
you sigh, as though this whole grown world
is but a memory in red. A wound left open.
A wound left open, Maman.
Alan Buckley - Spanish Practices
We are less honest than them, in terms of the heart,
dissembling with those catch-all words we say.
But te quiero expresses both love, and want,
that drive to keep cold loneliness at bay.
Only a few relinquish the need to possess.
After a tear-filled night, the sift of talk,
they'll offer their restless lover a final kiss;
whisper te amo, and then let them walk.
Beatrice Garland - Metamorphosis
The man I love is turning into a wolf.
I have said nothing to anyone so far.
I try not to stare, but seen from the back, the shelf
of his shoulders is matted with springy hair,
the muscular columns flanking his prominent spine
are covered in lichen, wiry curls that glisten
with sweat, then dry to a crackly sheen.
He covers great distances out in the sun
running in company over the forested miles.
His legs grow narrower, columns of steely bone,
driving the belt of the tracks past his curving nails -
and he slows to a lope to circle the not-yet-known.
I think I have always liked wolves.
His diamond teeth close round the back of my neck
in a steadying grip and I enter his ravenous dreams,
carnivorous heat. I am taken for miles in the dark.
I bury my nose in his stink, ride sounder
for feeling those sinews under his rough-cast fur.
For knowing he's keeping one luminous eye
on the shapes in the trees, the lie of the Northern star.
Edward Mackay - Unwound
They counted her minutes down;
her neck flickered light in her throat
to the beat of a clock. He sat, nursing his distress,
waiting, spinning out her tight-wound tale,
against a final word already fully formed.
She lost time, their frail childhoods dandling
in her spindling arms, then he watched that window fade,
starless against hope as the evening purpled out.
In the garden, cleaned sheets fly forgetful of her shape,
unrolled and dancing their surrender as snowdrops
break open freckled hearts. The room
quietly empties itself of her smell as the awkward clock
grows useful and rewound: forget with the hours,
forget with the minutes, remember the seconds, forget.
Richard Meier - Winter morning
Shyly coated in greys, blacks, browns -
to keep us out of sight of the cold -
we weren't expecting this this morning: sun
and shadows, like a summer's evening, like summer
teasing. And not quite under the shelter on
the northbound platform, an old man, the sun
behind him, just his crown ablaze; and heading
southbound, a woman inching ever nearer
the platform edge, the light a tear
across her midriff, ribcage, shoulders, closer
and closer that dearest thing, completeness,
all her darkness light at the one time.
Helen Mort
As if a single cord of wind
blewe through your ribcage,
looped around your heart,
the photo catches you.
From now, your movement
is a kite's: you have the sky
and yet you're tethered
to a man below, an ancestor
who looks on plaintively
as if from an old print:
your face in his, or his in yours.
Even when he yields the string,
he's set your course. The breeze
may interfere, but you're directed
by a subtler thread, like all the living,
anchored by the dead.
Andrew Sclater - Fly Fishing
This fly will die. A fish
moves silently, and rises
in an inch of sky.
The air above Loch Urr
is smaller, by one hum -
the water, greater.
Catch the fish on the fly,
on the line, on the reel,
in the net, in the sky,
bludgeon it on the gunnel.
The fisherman who stands in his boat,
gloating on the gluttony of trout,
while casting feels a tightening at the throat.
The wind turns morally to beat his face.
All murders here spawn murderers.
And thus, with subtle grace,
the dry fly butchers the eye of the thane.
Entangled in wet catgut and Ardalanish
tweed, he slips, then flounders with the fish.
And they feel no pain.
Ben Wilkinson - Bearing
Watching him that spring-spilled-into-summer,
sat among Algar Seco's jagged rocks,
steadfast with rod, tub of bait,
water, hunk of bread,
still and magisterial as a stork in its nest
settled above the walls of Silves,
I recovered what it was to wait -
content, not out of hope or faith
but for the catch that always comes;
a clutch of silver by dusk just as
us, stumbling onto the beach one night,
finding that added depth in each other's eyes.