Mslexia Poetry Competition 2014: After The Storm - The Story of a Poem

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Back in September - yes, I am woefully slow at reportage, one of many reasons I am a poet, not a journalist - I had a poem published in Mslexia, the UK literary magazine for women who write. The poem, After The Storm, was selected as a finalist in the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2014, judged by poet, Wendy Cope. People often ask where ideas for poems come from and this one I remember quite clearly.

I was in Gothenburg, Sweden, kipping on the sofa of a friend's house-swap - a top floor flat, six flights up, next to a monument on a hill, surrounded by trees. It was early July, thunderous, all the windows flung wide to gather scraps of fresh air.

As I lay there in the darkness, the wind got up and tree shadows scurried across the ceiling, lit by street lamps; it seemed as though they had invaded the room, the hallway, the kitchen, the attic overhead.

Too lazy to get up and search for pen and paper, I fumbled at the coffee table for my phone and by its tepid glow tapped out a draft text: "The trees are children running through the house." Then turned over and went to sleep.

In the morning, I found the text and the seed was planted.

after the storm2_mslexia

My Swedish jaunt was very productive on the poetry front - I came home with the bones of 4 or 5 poems laid down. Sometimes, you just need to step out of familiar surroundings to open the door to new ideas.

The ending was prompted by another poem I'd read - I can't remember the name of the poet or poem, sadly (Reasons I'm Not A Journalist #573) but the image that stayed with me was one of absence, in the dent of a pillow where someone had lain, and it was the sense of emptiness as a concrete presence I wanted to evoke at the end.

Mslexia holds a very special place in my heart, as the first print magazine to publish my work, when I came second in their inaugural Mslexia Short Story competition, in 2009. I can still remember the phone call: I shot out of my chair and performed an arrhythmic celebration in the medium of dance around the kitchen, to the utter disdain of the neighbour's cat, lounging on the window cill.

It's a beautiful journal, with lots of valuable, practical advice for writers and I was delighted when the latest issue hit my doorstep. I've sent work to the poetry competition in the past and this is the first time I've made the cut - one of 20 final poems out of 2000+ entries. Wendy Cope talks of her process for choosing the winning poems on the Mslexia competition page and also provided feedback for all the finalists in the print edition:

"It isn't easy to describe a storm in a poem because it is such a familiar subject; I can't help thinking of Ted Hughes' 'This house has been far out at sea all night'. But Angela T Carr has found her own way of doing it in 'After the Storm' without sounding derivative. This is another poem about bereavement. The quiet after the storm suggests the quiet after the funeral, when the person left behind has to 'fold around' the new emptiness."

Yup, I'll take that. Thank you, Wendy!

After the Storm is included in my debut collection launching in Dublin, next week.