2017 Winning Poems

1st Prize. Derek Coyle,

The Charred Boots

Even the poet’s wife,

Mary Shelley kept his heart

wrapped in a poem

for thirty years

after his death. Just like

my mother, how the memory

of me burned like ice

day and night through her dreams,

my old boots under the bed.

She never took them out

but she knew they were there.

Even as each moment

is an answer to the last,

an object from the past

speaks eloquently – so often –

to the present. And that’s why

I prefer to contemplate

the skipping rope – the hours

of pleasure in the garden

by the swing. My father

always busy about that yard,

and I was like a Seville orange

on a cold December table,

a late joy in that poor man’s life.

He would hammer away

at fences and doors, his measuring tape

in his hand, a piece of twine

hanging from his pocket. Always

busy, but watchful. I never knew

what it was to be a parent,

but there’s no Sundays

in that job. If my mother’s

relic was the boots, my father’s

was the old statue of the young

girl with a baby in her arms

—it lost its lustre over many winters,

gradually greying, returning slowly,

imperceptibly to the clay

from which it was made.

2nd Prize Eoin Hegarty

Rites of Passage

The classroom air is hushed

as the pencils rush back

and forth, whispering

of chestnut leaves,

sycamore masks, the curls

of an oak or a copper birch –


a paper-thin equinox,

dog-eared copies, and school bags

full of bread crumbs

and autumnal skies.

As if to press an old grief – understand

its familiar shape

in rubbings of soft lead,

the images bleed through

the course paper –

a ghost outline, veins

like cracks in the glass. Each leaf

and its own flaring halo.

3rd Prize. Nessa O Mahony

The hollow woman at St. Enda’s


The hollow woman, or soon to be,
goes for her morning walk,

lets the dog’s nose direct
the regular route past shrubs,
over stone bridge, playing fields.
She is cavalier with the sun.

This hollowing, or soon to be,

makes her risk UV rays;
real beauty is deeper
than skin, she knows.

Winter has taken its toll;

she sees torsoes of wood
brandishing new scars
from the tree-surgeon’s cut.
Preventative, it seems.
She wonders if each tree
feels each ghost limb
shivering in the breeze,

or her fingered caress
of each scalpeled node,
heart-shaped,  ovate?

Highly Commended

House to Let: Delgany

He made for an unlikely Mother Teresa,
his suit more Armani than Albania,
a hint, perhaps, in his blue and white striped tie,
tanned skin, smile-lines.
A numbers man, spread-sheets, trends,
the market, his daily trade.
Brochures, contracts, zipped alphabetically
in his buff leather briefcase.

The house was proud, straight-backed,
she wore her age as a badge of honour.
Distressed oak floorboards, faint echoes
of a grand piano in the ballroom.
Doors spoke of ladies taking tea,
cobwebs waved their lace dresses,
walls whispered myths, how locals
stole Cromwell’s warhorse – kept it

as a pet in the orchard where it grew fat
on apples, forgot about battle.
In the nursery, a boy’s toy soldier
lay where he fell, forgotten in retreat.
Outside – wildness, broken steps,
an up-ended henhouse, an empty kennel
waiting for a hound to return from the hunt,
the orchard, tired, choked with briars.

Maybe the estate agent thought my story
didn’t quite add up but chose to believe.
Maybe it was something in my face or voice
put him in mind of someone else.
Maybe he once heard his mother cry
for want of a kindness or he recalled
his grandfather’s refusal to remove a nest
from the eaves till hatchlings had fledged.

Maybe, long ago, his brother fell, got left behind.
Maybe he knew it wasn’t just a key he placed in my hand.


After Mount Usher Gardens, Ireland

Dagmaar Seeland

Mighty, ancient, tall,

the group of trees

entwine their foliage

like green fingers.

Old friends,

they’ve grown comfortable

in each others’ company.


They’d had time

to do so:

brought here by Victorians

who’d scoured continents

for their seeds,

they were never meant

to be together.


Now the Chilean Myrtle

hugs the Thuya

from California.

The Chinese Bamboo Oak

inhales the fragrance

of the Incense Cedar

from North America.

Together they protect

the Cashmiri Cypress,

a rare specimen

never known

to grow this tall

outside of Asia.


They don’t know

what divides them,

so nothing does.

Who are we

to tell them

where they belong?

Derek Coyle

Carlow Poem #83

The good people of Ballinabrana

thought he’d finally gone mad.

Watt had abandoned shoes,

sandals, sneakers,

and taken to traipsing

the village and its surrounds

in his bare feet, regardless

of glass, tarmacadam

and chewing gum.

And what’s more,

there were the rumours

of his trance-like trudging

through the woods

at any and all hours.

His talk of sylphs stirring

the wheat fields,

his talk of spirit people moving

through the clothes hanging

on their washing lines,

the ghosts who rattled their doors.

And, then, the tale

of the startled teenager

who came upon him embracing

and kissing the huge hazel

at the centre of the woods,

his love poem to its dryad,

his care for this creature of the earth.

The undiscovered letter to Kafka- Jo Burns

For Felice


As we sip our Veltliner at the marketplace Brauhaus,

two ravens on the steeple split the Alp massif––

the morning’s summit now rusty, a hinge on horizon.


As one shifts to study us, her mate soars to crags,

to updrafts while I claw at the parallels between our ilk

and theirs. You stand up and declare Let’s explore.


It’s scenes like this that always seem to split us.

When I’m building nests for us both in my head,

you crave the swoop, the rush and the throng.


The female and I hold each other’s beady eyes,

as the bordello red sky fades to granite, to neutral.

The male raven lands back in the lull of his mate.


The crowd returns you to me, after circling

the cathedral. In the stretch of liminal from your unrest

to my head, we’ve left each other so many times.


But when the ballast casts off, in this littoral,

there are more ways in which we’ve observed then followed.

Liebling, my omens elude you when I ossify and collapse,


facing inward yet bound to the radius of you.

Dämmerung, dawn— as close to love as we’ll get.

Your plume spread in geist, me a hollow boned totem.

Brian Kirk

The Couple


Terribly self-conscious most of the time,

she tried to be like all the other wives

who only held opinions that would chime

with husbands who lived honest, busy lives.

But she was brighter than the others knew,

a liberated woman who held sway.

He understood her love was something few

would ever know, and fewer could repay.

A gentleness belied her force of mind

which he was grateful for in times of stress

when he could give himself and be entwined

with her and find his better self. And yes,

they stole strength from each other as they went,

a lifetime’s give and take, some discontent.