Friday, July 04, 2008

June Prize Poem

I made a shortlist of 3 poems this month:

Alyss Dye – What’s Happening in This Picture?
Caroline M Davies – The Night Café
Linda W – Last Drink

Alyss’s poem builds tension and drama with its title question, the refrain of ‘Look again’ and its stanza progression. Although we expect the worst, the last stanza is worse that we wanted to imagine. This is a powerful poem of witness.

There’s a similarity to Caroline’s and Linda’s poems – they both work with images of light and dark (concrete and figurative) and explore the experience of a solitary drinker. I really liked the rhymes that Linda creates at the beginning of the poem – cools/tables, street/feet – and felt a little disappointed when they didn’t continue (sorry, Linda!), so that tipped me in favour of Caroline’s poem, which I’ve chosen for June’s Prize Poem.

While the poem might have been inspired by the Van Gogh painting, it also successfully stands alone on the page. The images are vibrant and specific – I can see and hear the café in my imagination – and the shift from the upbeat mood to the reality of loneliness is subtly handled at the end of the second stanza: but outside/ the night waits down the street.

The use of the imperatives in the last stanza, and the stress they add to the line openings (Call/Chuck/Lean back/Put off), reinforces the sense of need here. It’s unclear if the narrator is also the person who is alone in the dark, but the poem can be read like that so it avoids any sense of judgement, of the narrator being separate from the scene. Or we can read the commands as instructions to us, as readers, and even if we haven’t had the experience of sitting alone in a French café at night, most of us would still be able to identify with the desire to stay in the light, where life and people are, and avoid the lonely dark.

Congratulations, Caroline. If you email me with your postal address ( I’ll put your prize in the post next week.

The Night Café

How the lights shine out
bright yellow on the terrace of the café.
See the face of the waitress
smiling. The shadows
cast by sunlight
banished for these night hours.

The table tops gleam with a green sheen.
The constant chink of glasses
and the hubbub of conversation
suggest conviviality.
All is bright but outside
the night waits down the street.

Call for another beer.
Chuck another franc to the guitar player
to make him play on.
Lean back against the wooden
embrace of the chair.
Put off for a few moments longer
the pain of stumbling out
alone into the dark.

Caroline M Davies

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