19 July 2020


Cheryl Pearson

My Mother’s Hands

A mouse was the first death I touched. Soft apostrophe cupped
from grass and carried to my mother’s scream. She scrubbed

my palms until they pulsed, one heartbeat each. Now I watch her
cup the room where love and death sit nose to nose: her father

shrunk to wires and lights, his hands in hers. She urges oil
to each dry crease. His knuckles gnarled as root ginger. Hers

bright with grease. I think of the fevers I weathered young,
tossed on a hot sea of sheets. Always there: my mother’s murmur,

kind hands. Cool on a cheek. The yellowed pads I liked
that smelt of smoke. The raw flakes under her wedding ring.

I never wanted teething-beads to gum, the kiss of plasters
on a cut. I wanted hands and gentling, the way you’d stroke

a horse who’d spook. The way how here she tucks him in,
fits the clear straw to the drooped lip. I sit with her. With him.

We watch him dwindle for a week. And when his light goes out,
I hold her as she shakes and weeps. She cannot still. Her hands

mill the air, two birds disturbed. She has no parents now. How
old she looks. How thin. I take her hands in mine. I take her in.

‘My Mother’s Hands’ by Cheryl Pearson won 1st Prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (March/April 2020) judged by Mandy Pannett.


What Is Poetry?

The hoary old question that’s been asked a zillion times in the past, and will no doubt be asked a zillion times in the future: what makes a piece of writing a ‘poem’?

Here’s the Collins English Dictionary definition…

“poem: a composition in verse, usually characterised by concentrated and heightened language in which words are chosen for their sound and suggestive power as well as for their sense, and using such techniques as metre, rhyme, and alliteration.”

Dictionaries reflect the more traditional view of poetry, but there’s also
modernist poetry (Yeats, Frost, Pound, Eliot, Stevens, etc) – which broadly defines a poem as an autonomous object that may or may not represent the real world but is created in language made distinctive by its complex web of references – and postmodernist poetry (Prynne, Ashbery, Koch, Ginsberg, etc) – and a whole raft of fads in-between, such as Symbolism, Vorticism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Classicism, Neo-romanticism, proletarian writing, Postmodernism, magic realism, ad infinitum. There’s also nonconformists, poets such as Hardy and Hopkins, who didn’t fit in with any of the literary movements of their time.

Which still leaves the question hanging in the air: what is poetry? Well, the truth of the matter is that no one really knows. For some of us, this is what makes poetry such fun. There are no assured definitions of poetry, and there are no recipes for what makes a good poem, or any kind of agreement about excellence. It’s all subjective, and largely comes down to aesthetics; and as the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

So what about published poetry? I hear you ask. Well, perhaps one thing that can be agreed upon when it comes to poetry is that it’s all about fashions and trends. Much of what is published today is marginal to the interests of the informed reading public, drawing its approbation from one or other small clique of self-serving practitioners. In a general sense no one reads poetry, no one buys poetry and no one wants poetry. It’s a very small market, fed mostly by the poets themselves and their family and friends. It is perhaps ironic that many modern poets whinge about the fact that they can’t earn a living from their poetry, yet at the same time they fight tooth and nail to keep their craft exclusive by carving out intellectual ghettos for themselves.

Poetry. It’s a funny old game, isn’t it?

‘What is poetry?’ by Rob Godfrey was published in Sentinel Poetry (Online) January 2003


Terry Jones

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (July 2020)
Closing Date: 31 July 2020
Judge: Terry Jones
For original, previously unpublished poems in English Language, on any subject, in any style, up to 50 lines long. Poets of all nationalities living anywhere in the world are eligible to enter.
Learn more and enter online now at https://sentinelquarterly.com/competitions/poetry

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