National Poetry Day: The Lost Art of Staring into Fires

6 Oct 2022
Group of students holding the poetry anthology at the launch event

In celebration of National Poetry Day today (6 October 2022), our blog is sharing poetry written by some of our talented students and alumni.

These poems feature in the University of Winchester collection The Lost Art of Staring into Fires (Valley Press, 2022), the first collection from the University's vibrant poetry scene. Edited by Glenn Fosbraey, it's available to buy here.

The following poems are by Georgia Hilton. Georgia is a poet and fiction writer with an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester. Her writing has appeared in various magazines and anthologies in the UK, the US, Ireland and Australia. Georgia has two books of poetry, I went up the lane quite cheerful (2018) and Swing (2020), both published by Dempsey and Windle. Most recently, her collaborative pamphlet Sea Between Us (2022) was published by Nine Pens Press. Georgia's poem, Dark-Haired Hilda Replies to Patrick Kavanagh, won the Brian Dempsey Memorial Prize (2018) and her short poem The Lost Art of Staring into Fires was a runner-up in the Briefly Write Poetry Prize (2021). Georgia lives in Winchester with her husband and three children.

Salmon of Knowledge

In the dingy attic
where we took those pills,
I had a moment
of perfect knowledge
as if I had eaten the Salmon
itself, and I knew then
that all my troubles
could have been averted
had I been American.

Had I been American,
I think it's no exaggeration
to say I would have been
more wholesome
and at the same time
more assertive - a certain
rough and tumble dynamism
being much admired
in the American girl.

I might even have played
Little League
with my baseball cap
turned fetchingly backwards.
Or been Best Friends
with an Alien Life Form.
I would have drunk
all the Pepsi Cola I wanted,
and my teeth
would still be brilliant.

How inconsiderate then
of my ancestors, not to have
emigrated, but instead
to have stuck it out,
miserably, through famine,
occupation, the chill hand
of the church. Now I am
almost an old woman,
with nothing left to me
but my daily habits -
my black tea, my hearth,
my porridge, television.

When We Were Young

We ate the road,
miles and miles of it
like liquorice string
into nights made liquid
by cats' eyes
and brake lights.

Never did I believe
the stars could be
until that one night,
when an eighty kilometre
sign outside Athlone
met us like the moon
at high tide - radiant,
impassive -

not the sun's light
but our own headlamps,
making us
the agents of waking,
as we tumbled
urgent, thoughtless.

We must have startled
badgers in the ditches
when overnight we scratched
the spine of half
the country, how it
twitched and shuddered
beneath our wheels,

The Lost Art of Staring into Fires

When we were kids, we practised this:
the lost art of staring into fires.

There was no need to break the silence -
no one said, 'hey kid, what you up to?'

it was obvious we were staring into fires.
Watching coals collapsing into embers

is the only lesson in mortality I ever needed.

The following poems are by Gabrielle O'Connell. Gabrielle is Creative Writing graduate, poet and photographer living on Dartmoor in the heart of Devon. Her writing comes from the time she spends walking the moors and woodlands of her home and her experience of managing chronic pain with wild swimming. Gabrielle has an Instagram blog about love for nature, life with chronic-illness, and all things water here: @gabrielle_felicity

To Be Unbuttoned

Bones, once spotless, are now pages darkening, shedding
nude brilliance. I am chapters and foliage,
twig-fingers demanding release from cupboard-keeping
and the steep curve of dusk-dusted silence.
A winged key to the invisible
and I am opening like a faucet,
becoming the shiver puff burst
of animal
the hot breath of the runner and the hunter
where ankle-to-ankle speaks of hoof and horn
limbs close to the ground, eating earth.

For Her Son

It's there in the walls she builds,
boundaries enforced with veins of iron and teeth
that smite, burn, bite any hand planting violence
in her gentle son.

It's there when she cradles his secret tears,
quietly giving him back their language.
Every day she begins her work again;
the edges of her flame-tongue and quick fingers
turn sharper still as she picks words out of his heart
like threads from a mangled weave
undone by careless cruelties.

It's there in the stillness of her body,
conductor's hands unconsciously counting the beat
as the flow of his song breaks onto her cheeks;
words a sea against her hearing aids.

She stands too close, toes to the stage,
looking adoringly into his face.
The spotlight hitting her back
turns wispy orange hair into a halo of fire.
In the surging mass of drum and bass grinders
she's all alone, an island of love.

Photo above and on Press Office landing page shows students and alumni at the launch of the poetry anthology at P &b G Wells Bookshop on 27 May 2022.

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