Jubilee Pool, Penzance; Poetry competition winning entries

Monday, 23 October 2017

I found myself with a spare day on my hands last Friday, and a desire to beat the southward bound half-term traffic. So I made an early start and whistled down to Penzance for the day, determined to have an autumnal swim before they close their doors at the end of October.

The swim was a mixed bag. The water was 14c, pretty much my favourite temperature, and I had the pool entirely to myself. Maybe I should worry about why the half a dozen or so swimmers who were there got out when they saw me coming...

But despite the rare treat of a solitary 'rock star' swim in such grandly inspiring surroundings I just couldn't enjoy the actual swimming. I haven't swum much lately and I sincerely felt as though I had forgotten how. My catch was all wrong (even more wrong than usual, anyway), my timing was all over the place, my hips didn't want to do what my brain was telling them to do and I very near drank half the pool. So after 4 lengths I rolled over and floated on my back, looking at the sky. I could feel the tips of Storm Brian's fingers beginning to stroke my wet skin, and the seagulls above me inscibed a juggler's arc. 

I got out feeling curiously flat on the inside, if briskly glowing on the outside.

It was a particular pleasure, then, to be able to sit in the cafe with Angie after my swim. We looked over some of the 35 or so entries she had for the poetry competion. Such fine work. The judge's jobs must have been very difficult. I feel very honoured, and more than a little floored, to have taken second place; I've never entered a poetry competition before. 

I am very grateful to Angie, who organised the competition on behalf of the pool, for allowing me to reproduce the top three entries here for you, our pledgers. I know a lot of you are interested in how pools and the arts come together, so I hope you'll enjoy these.

There is still lots going on at Jubilee pool in this final week of their season, including a photography competiton. So do go and lend them some support.

FIRST PLACE:

The Shallow End of Civic Pools by Abigail Elizabeth Rowland

In East End parks I paddled at

the shallow end of civic pools

while Nana Tilly held my hand

and Grandpa teased and played the fool.

These days shine clear in memory
as bright as any jewel.

 

The shallow end of civic pools,

edged round with urban greenery.

While Grandpa smoked a stinky pipe

and Nana poured a flask of tea,

knee-deep in dreams I danced and sang

my song of simple glee.

 

While Nana Tilly held my hand

my world was sure as worlds can be.

No hurt or doubt could seek me out

or shake my utter certainty.

My fortress and my keep stood still:

no harm could come to me.

 

And Grandpa teased and played the fool.

He'd make a monster's face.

His trousers rolled up past his knees

he'd roar and then give chase.

Then, catching me, he'd wrap me

in his peppermint embrace.

 

Such days shine clear in memory

though they were humble, humdrum then.

How happy those grey ghosts would be

to know I hitched my heart to them

and days spent down by civic pools

which if I could I'd live again.

 

As bright as any jewel

they hang before me and behind

to comfort and encourage me,

though viewed through mists of time:

blue, sparkling days at civic pools.

What happiness was mine.

 

SECOND PLACE:

After That Saturday by Emma Pusill

A rare two mug morning starts laced with sunshine and biscuits.

Hours pass in which I gather the colour of clouds

Sleet grey by the time the nurse points, her face saying what her words won't.

 

I find the bed and touch her arm, my hands still wet from the alcohol rubbing

Ritual that offers no protection against what is already here.

She doesn't wake. I sit. I look.

 

Fresh dressings and bruises. A face both hers and not.

Her chest rises like a soft summer swell

The solitary, rhythmic sign of a life that clings. 

 

I remember her rising and falling in the swell behind Burgh Island.

That face was all hers then, bright and wide and thrilled to be alive.

Our territorial laughter put up the gulls.

 

When she wakes I put blueberries into her open mouth. 

One by one. 

Soft, sweet memories nourishing us both.

 

Running back to the car my knees are weak under the burden of wanting her to die.

I deserve the beating the rain gives me. The dark hope in my heart resists the punishment.

It will only get worse. 

 

South to a granite house where the past lies behind closed doors.

Swimming to the future, in a rough Minnack sea,

Saturday closes out like the windblown surf.

 

After that Saturday I lack the exuberance to dive

Into the pool’s brilliant, white strength.

I descend gradually, water tenderly climbing my legs. 

 

When it takes me by the waist and pulls me in I capitulate. 

I want to be carried away on the shoulders of a Cornish giant,

To a place where lives are lived together and death comes at the right time.

 

Floating on my back the crisp shadows and bright light pick me up.

Cool water settles into my bones as I swim, lazily bisecting the triangle.

I think of her again. 

 

Each lap brings me closer to the end.

 

THIRD PLACE:

Saffron Cake and Stargazy Pie - i.m. Douglas Tregenza (1894-1996) by Vivienne Tregenza

Each Sunday afternoon I walked those miles

to see him, bringing saffron cake

to his cottage on the hill

where I’d find him in his dressing gown

boiling fish or eggs on the rickety stove,

slippered feet unsteady on the kitchen floor.

 

Half-blind and swaying on the old slate floor,

he’d wait at the end of my Sunday miles                       

and I’d turn down the gas on the rusty stove,   

lay a tray for tea, cut the freshly-made cake

into slices. Warmly wrapped in his woollen gown,

he’d savour the saffron I brought up the hill.                                                                                                                                                     

As the sun went down behind the hill,

its last rays slanting across the floor,

he’d ask me to help take off his dressing gown

and snug in his bed, he’d tell of the miles                     

they walked to school each day (piece of cake!)

coming home to pasties warm on the stove

 

at his mother’s hearth. What a stove!

An aga fit for kings in the house on the hill

where she’d bake stargazy pie and hevva cake.

Saturdays, six children playing on the kitchen floor:

older ones tired from walking a mile

to swim in the sea; little ones at the hem of her gown.

 

When the saucepan set fire to his dressing gown

they came and took away his stove,                                   

sent him to a home sixty miles

away. Away from his cottage on the hill

with the evening sun lighting up the floor

of the kitchen, empty even of saffron cake                                   

 

though the taste of the cake

went with him, and the feel of his mother’s gown.    

The sun still streams across the floor                                                     

of his kitchen, bereft of its stove

but home to his heart, this house on the hill                 

he dreams about, sixty miles

 

away. Sixty miles away, where cakes

still rise in a house on a hill. Swish of a gown

sweeping the floor. Stargazy pie in the stove. 

 

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