Best after frost

by Mandy Pannett
The Write Idea
First Place, March 2011
Judged by Kwame Dawes


Mysterious how the medlar ripens,
softens, rots like Camembert – inexorable
in its breakdown, this progress into mould.

A smutty fruit: Shakespearian – seaside picture-
postcard rude, designed to raise a belly
laugh with hints of bums and holes.

Blettir- the word for overripe, for this slimy,
slurpy process – such an aromatic term, so
French this feel of rainfall in Montmartre.

Rain and footfall; blood-red light: A tale where rain
was far-off drumming; louder, thundering, tumbril
wheels; a ripe and rotten group …

or not of blood but garnet-red: a medlar jelly
sweet for Spring’s return. So suck this flesh and luscious
rot: Best after frost, they say.


This is such a wonderfully sensual poem whose tension lies in the pleasure of trying to describe something so physical with word. Just look at the shape of that first stanza—in terms of its syntax, it engages us immediately as if we are in mid-conversation, and then the the construction of the final phrase: “this progress into mould” is rich with contradiction for the progress is towards rot and decay, towards death. The poet happily employs assonance and alliteration through, and yet these do not draw undue attention to themselves. Then the vocabulary—punch, seemingly crude words that puzzle and surprise for their strangeness or marked normalness: “Blettir”, “tumbril” and “bums and holes”. I suppose what most appeals to me about the poem is its sentiment—the idea that we must enjoy this decay even as we observe its inevitability. What a full and fit word “suck” is in the last couple: “so suck this flesh and luscious/ rot: best after frost, they say.” A pleasure to read. --Kwame Dawes

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