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National Poetry Competition First Prize, Patricia McCarthy
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by [Nia ]

2013-04-13  |     | 







A poem inspired by her late mother's stories of the first world war, which has drawn comparisons with Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, has won the poetry journal Agenda's editor Patricia McCarthy the National Poetry Competition (out of 13,041 poems entered for this year’s award)

McCarthy said winning the Ł5,000 prize was "just extraordinary". "I've never even won a raffle. I don't go in for competitions – the only other time I did was decades back, when I got runner-up," she said. "But I'm really down on my finances – I edit Agenda, and was really struggling, and thought this was probably better than a gamble on the horses. I'm just delighted ... I am very honoured to win with this particular poem as it is a small part of our oral history, transcribed here into a poem – which will now live on."


Clothes that escaped the Great War



Not the familiar ghosts: the shaggy dog of Thorne Waste
that appeared only to children, the chains clanking
from the Gyme seat, nor the black barge at Waterside.

These were the most scary, my mother recalled: clothes
piled high on the wobbly cart, their wearers gone.
Overalls caked in dung, shirts torn from the muscle strain

of heavy hemp sacks, socks matted with cow-cake
from yards nearby, and the old horse plodding, on the nod.
Its uneven gait never varied whether coming from farms

where lads were collected like milk churns, or going back
with its harvest of dungarees scented by first fags,
notes in pockets to sweethearts; boots with laces undone,

jerseys knitted – purl, plain – around coke fires.
And the plod, plod, quadruple time. Then the catch
in the plod from the clank of loose shoes, from windgalls

on the fetlocks of the horse, each missed beat on the lane
a missed beat in a heart. As a small girl she could see –
at their windows – the mothers pressing memories

too young for mothballs into lavender bags, staring out
propaganda posters, dreading the shouts of telegraph boys
from lines of defence and attack. As the harness creaked

and the faithful old horse clopped forward and back,
the lads were new-dressed in the years never to be had,
piled higher than high over the shafts of the buckling cart.





Patricia McCarthy is the editor of Agenda poetry journal. She is half Irish and half English. She was born in Cornwall, and brought up mainly in Ireland. After Trinity College, Dublin, she lived in Washington D.C., Paris, Bangladesh, Nepal and Mexico. She has been settled for a long time now in the countryside in East Sussex. She taught at a famous girls’ school there for fifteen years. Her work has won prizes and been widely anthologised. A small collection, Survival, was published in the US and A Second Skin came out from Peterloo Poets in 1985. A substantial collection, Rodin’s Shadow (Clutag Press/Agenda Editions) came out in October 2012. Another collection, Around the Mulberry Bush is due from Waterloo Press in 2013, as well as a pamphlet, Trodden Before.

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