by Steve Parker
The Critical Poet
Third Place, January 2007
Judged by Pascale Petit

I had this meet, see,
with Sam Beckett’s ghost,
I was trying very hard
to survive,
to make something work,
trying to be well.

The river sent telegraphs,
black things that fizzed at nightfall,
that sat outside

(They were going to kill me:
that was all pretty obvious.)

That turkey with no head
rode out across the clifftops
towards Dun Laoghaire,
but we paid him no attention.
All day we shuffled
on the Liffy bridges
looking keen,
grunting through our cans.
Nightfall we drifted
down the antique hoardings,
feeling the gut
welling in our barrels,
doing the tour –
the poets, the Provos,
Easter 1916, a gun cache
in a wardrobe…

me invisible to myself,
Sam a gaunt hawk
like some other
Max Ernst-birdhead-Loplop,
as though
to remind all people
of the violation of childhood,
make them look,
make them look away.

That tower out there
past the bay (a Joyce-dish
filled with foam)
collapsed into the sea,
and we both went running
after John stuck on the train
his face full of alarm
waving under the bridges.

I was trying to ask the right questions
very carefully and slowly,
see past it all, what it was really.
Trying to stand alone
in the dark
with my omens,
with my stuff.

No one got a light?
No one?
Fucking disaster
of a place.

The voice in "untitled" pulled me in straightaway. I empathised with the main character and his or her struggle to survive, to be well. That authentic voice is further reinforced by the questing tone of "I was trying to ask the right questions / very carefully and slowly, / see past it all, what it was really." This poem is attempting to get to the nub of what it's like to be alive in a bleak emotional landscape in Dublin, "black things that fizzed." The lean freeform stanzas add to the desolate atmosphere conjured by the sinuous language. The gritty realism subtly shifts into surrealism through images of urban disintegration. Max Ernst's Loplop even puts in an appearance as Samuel Beckett. --Pascale Petit