GEOFF STEVENS MEMORIAL POETRY PRIZE 2018 IS NOW OPEN
Denise Bennett has an MA in creative writing and has taught this subject for Portsmouth College for twenty five years. She also runs poetry workshops in community settings.
Her work has been widely published in poetry journals. Her first pamphlet collection American Dresses was published by Flarestack in 2000 and her two full length collections, Planting the Snow Queen (2011) and Parachute Silk (2015) were published by Oversteps Books.
In 2004 she was awarded the inaugural Hamish Canham prize by the Poetry Society for her poem Changing Shape and short listed for the prize in 2014 with her poem The Ring. In 2012 she won the Hasting poetry prize with her poem The Foundling Hospital and in 2013 Parachute Silk won the Havant Literary Festival poetry competition.
She has co-edited This Island City, an anthology of poems about Portsmouth and also written a sequence of poems about the loss of The Royal George, which foundered at Spithead in 1782 with the loss of nine hundred lives.
Much of her work has been inspired by local history. In 2005 she was involved in poetry workshops in the National Museum of The Royal Navy and produced a series of poems about the H.M.S. M33, the only surviving gunboat from the Gallipoli Campaign now displayed next to HMS Victory. Water Chits, a poem about the lack of water at Gallipoli is one of a set she wrote in response to a letter written by a bandsman/medic in 1916.
Denise regularly reads her work at Tongues and Grooves poetry and music club at The Square Tower in Portsmouth and continues to teach for Portsmouth College. She also facilitates writing and poetry U3A groups in Havant. In summer 2016 she ran a poetry workshop as part of the Southdowns Poetry Festival.
138 x 216mm
£6.00 + P&P UK
PUB: 6th JANUARY 2017
Water Chits is a compassionate window on the world, which deals with war, love, grief and loss. It embraces art with poems written in response to the work of Marc Chagall, Jacob Epstein and Stanley Spencer and echoes history though words about life on board the Mary Rose.
It also draws on personal experience: rejection as a child and the care of a parent in extreme old age.
“Denise Bennett is one of Portsmouth’s best loved poets. Her gift is the ability to recreate the private and public past with sensibility. These poems, often the result of careful research, teem with vivid detail and rarely fail to hit the spot.”
“Denise Bennett takes us on carefully researched imaginative journeys, where much of the initial interest resides in discovering who is talking and in what situation. Whether it’s Cassandra Austen writing to her dead sister Jane, Edward Thomas writing from the trenches to his wife Helen, or men depicted in Stanley Spencer’s World War 1 paintings, the poems work through dynamic trajectories. Their conclusions are deliberately understated – and poignant.”
I joined the band to play the flute
to chivvy the men to war –
but mostly I was lackey to the medic,
sent out with the water chits;
scraps of paper with the words,
please let the bearer have some drinking water;
sent out to the lighter
to fetch the water shipped from Egypt.
Even in dreams I can hear
the medic’s call –
water, water – we need more water –
as if by magic, I could conjure up
eight kettles of water to wash
the wounded, to cook the meal,
to clean the mess tins,
to give ten dying men a drink.
In all this dust and heat, no one
said we would have to beg for water.
The Sadness of an April Afternoon
for Ada aged 101
the shine of her
forget-me-not blue eyes;
a tumble of burnished
her creamy skin
waving in the lane.
In old age
she folds her spotted
smelling of soap.
I rub honeysuckle
into petal palms,
pin thin wisps of
with a clip,
lift the cup
of water to the closed bud
of her dry mouth.
The Master Carpenter
Found on The Mary Rose
They found him on the orlop deck,
tools next to him,
his dog alongside.
Five foot seven, late thirties, they said –
poor teeth, a muscular man
with arthritic rib and spine.
And from this nest of rag and bone
they saw how he lived below the weather
by the way he’d cut a hole
in the side of the ship to let in the light.
And after they’d dredged him up,
dressed his numbered bones with flesh,
created his face, coloured his hair, his eyes,
they opened his sea chest to find:
a gimlet, a pewter plate, his back gammon set –
and piecing his life together
they boxed him up in glass,
brought him here where I stand
and imagine him holding his precious
pocket sun dial in his strong hands.
Mrs Edward Thomas Speaks
Edward spent most of his life
listening for the thrush in the lane,
the pewit’s cry or watching the tall
nettles grow around the harrow;
talking to the ploughman about the war.
I once caught him up by the barn
counting cherry-blossom petals,
one for each of the dead –
spent blossom of youth, he said.
Then there was that time he fancied
himself a rook, looking down
on the land after snow, watching winter thaw.
When Merfyn was born he bought
me sweet, white violets, laid them
on my pillow. Always his love letters
lifted me to heaven – but
there was a dark side, a time
when he took a gun and went into the woods…
That last Christmas we had was
so unexpectedly wonderful.
I dug a tree from the garden,
bought a new red dress, presents
for the children – we sang Welsh songs
by the fire. He wrote a poem for Myfanwy
about the fallow deer which began
Out into the dark and over the snow.
Those last days, we could not
look at each other, the snow lay deep –
and at our parting, when I let him go,
he went singing into the frosty air.
Fourth Portrait of Leda 1940, Bronze Sculpture of grand daughter – by Jacob Epstein
She’s coming along
from pencilled sketch to shaped clay.
Each day her head grows.
He’s twisted her coxcomb curls,
caught her smile,
captured her fat, milksop cheeks,
the song on her lips.
Tomorrow he’ll pour the molten bronze
into the mould.
When she shrieks Eppy Daddy,
he lifts her from her mother’s arms.
Her soft, petalled limbs
smelling of crushed roses.
Later he’ll show her how to loop
a daisy chain,
blow a dandelion clock
and he’ll sing a Yiddish lullaby
and rock her, rock her.