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Poetry Competition adult runner up and highly commended

James NcNally. Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

Adult category Runner up

The Age of Invisible Monsters

by James McNally

That the Earth is getting warmer, tawnier,
arid and acrid; that icecaps and asphalt melt,
seas surge, and skies become stormier,
does not preclude those pleasant days felt
in more temperate times and climes.
Still, we amble over bramble-buried warning signs.

The tree-topped sweetness of bird-sung melody
secretes a second tune; of the silent ever-spring
in which all song should disappear, a harmony
growling and growing, until loud nothing rings
out and all around a bud-less grove.
Where once was roving nature, is over nature roved.

Two years have passed We think ourselves at the end
of sublime calamity. We watched as a sneeze breezed
its way around the world in weeks. We saw it upend
every institution in which we still believed.
Now, after so much lost, we think we're winning.
Optimism is contagious too -this is only the beginning.

For the story remains the same: we know not what we do.
Though the stakes have changed -the rough beast differs –
each man is an island, soon to be swallowed by the blue
depths, in which dwell yet more unfathomable creatures,
those quiet titans, invisible monsters
too grand for two hands, or one mind, to conquer,

but for one vast coalition of the species,
along with all the other species -
a coming-together of familiar places
with those across the globe's farthest reaches -
that should stand side by side and cry unified, 'No.'
It is not too late. We can change. Together, we can grow.

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“Climate change has recently acquired a prominence and profile as a news item which makes it impossible to ignore. The Glasgow summit reflects this process which has, at long last, been recognised as the deadliest threat to our planet. James’ five six-lined stanzas convey a mature insight into how climate change, the seas warming up, storms regularly lashing our cities and shores, infection running amok, are transforming our perception of nature and highlighting our responsibility for maintaining a healthy ecosystem, which depends heavily on us to flourish and thrive. A brilliant line, ‘we watched as a sneeze/breezed its way around the world in weeks,’ succinctly sums up the speed and havoc with which Covid-19 and other airborne infections wrought death and despair. Individually we can do little to reverse the headlong plunge into entropy or degeneration. However, ‘a coalition of the species’ still has a chance to postpone the catastrophe and even make it change course. James has shown a commendable awareness of the global issues involved and the need for concerted action to save our wonderful planet from man-made destruction.”

Adult category Highly Commended

The Eye of the Work

by James McNally

When I was young
I'd quite typical tastes:
Eliot not outdone
In his lyrical grace;

Joyce was unrivalled
In crafting the novel,
Ulysses my bridle,
all other books, drivel;

I'd seen the Old Masters –
Cranach, Bruegel, Titian –
There was nothing after
That hadn't been done.

I thought myself cultured
applauding high art;
I was more like the vulture
Picking old bones apart.

Now the years have gone by;
And strangely I see
Certain works catch my eye –
For they look back at me!

My belly's protruding
My hair's getting thin
I'm frequently musing
On what might have been;
The signs are off-putting
There's no use denying
That one can't be living
If one isn't dying.

School poems I'd hated
By Larkin and Yeats
Were all along fated
To reflect my state,

Once the right time had come:
Oh, how time changes things
How the dull work becomes
Pregnant with new meanings.

But I've learned to move on
And I won't try to hide;
At least I've companions
As I take the long slide.

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“This poem is a brilliant meditation for eggheads and culture addicts. In a highly literary poem, studded with learned references to modernist writers like Eliot and Joyce, the speaker looks at himself deprecatingly, with signs of premature ageing a reminder that life is a preparation for death. There is a refreshing dash of humour as the speaker sees himself scrutinized by the very art works he used to admire. No longer a callow schoolboy, he now confesses his failure to appreciate the full import of poems by Larkin and Yeats. Now they make ‘pregnant’ comments on his life experiences. At present the speaker seems to be in ‘the eye of the work’, the quiet centre in a raging storm, a time to reconsider and re-evaluate life, with the help of ‘companions’ (the poets he has mentioned?) as he takes ‘the long slide’. A very clever, witty and amusing poem.”

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