Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Summer Prize Poem

Hello everyone - it feels good to be back, though I’m uneasy about asking if you all had a good ‘summer’ because, as far as I can tell, August has not been the sunniest of months in the UK! I hope some of the Cote d’Azur sunshine finds its way north to you for September.

So many good poems to choose from, among them Charlotte Segaller’s ‘Lost' and Linda W’s ‘Spilling the Salt’. Both of these hold back from revealing the full impulse behind the poem, they suggest and imply and leave room for the reader to enter and make their own ‘story’ from the images and ideas. But the poem I’ve chosen as the Summer Prize Poem is Anne Kenny’s ‘Helen Kongai, Ugandan Farmer, July 2008’.

I like the choice of couplets, the two lines supporting the idea of two lives running parallel. I like the line break at ‘unravelling:/’ which subsequently leads us into Helen Kongai’s story, and again at ‘shudders’ for its ambiguity of meaning –the physical action of milking and the emotional connotations of fear or anxiety. It’s a poem that asks us to reflect on the ease of our western lives but at the same time celebrates this woman’s determination to survive and provide for her family. If I had one suggestion to edit a little, it would be to cut ‘to feed her young’ from the 4th couplet, as we have ‘infants to feed’ in the previous one, and ‘the flesh to reap its milky river’ is such a powerful image that it could well benefit from a line of its own. But the last line of the poem is wonderful – the ordinariness of ‘cowpats and cabbages’ anchors us to the earth that Helen Kongai depends on for her life. I feel I want to applaud her as she ‘spreads her word’.

Congratulations, Anne. If you email me ( with your postal address, I’ll put a ‘prize’ in the post this week.

I’ll post the first of September’s prompts in the next few days. It’s a good one!

Helen Kongai
(Ugandan Farmer, July 2008)

I press clutch, push pedal, move gear,
drive to gather food from heaving shelves.

Her voice travels with me, unravelling:
after his death she’s left with stony soil,

infants to feed, & the gift of a treasured
cow. She wraps hands around udders, shudders

the flesh to reap its milky river, to feed her young.
A barren land, enriched with dung, she swaps

surplus for seeds, conjures pigweed,
sweet-corn, spinach, leaves hunger between

cowpats & cabbages - spreads her word.

Anne Kenny


margaret beston said...

Well done Anne. This really is a lovely poem. So 'spare' and yet so full of impact. Like Lynne, I also like the use of couplets.

anne.kenny said...

Thanks Margaret. I have made one or two changes to improve it. Her story is quite inspiring isn't it.

Caroline M Davies said...

Congratulations Anne. It is a very thought provoking poem.


charlotte segaller said...

Loved it too, Anne!