Headington Poetry
Competition 2004:
Adult Winners


Eighteen adults entered the Headington Poetry Competition 2004.
The poems were judged by the poet Bernard O’Donoghue,
who is Fellow in English at Wadham College, Oxford. Here are the winners:


Headington Carfax (Susanna Reece)

The Issue man stands outside
Budgens; people head for work,
Longing to be home again.

Doris and Jean stop to chat.
“Such a pity,” says Doris, “that
The Issue man stands outside.”

Students text their mates, or look
For part-time jobs in Iceland, some
Longing to be home again.

The woman from Sudan dreams
Of life without fear. She, like
The Issue man, stands outside.

A streetwise Barton Mum spews
A rebuke at her son, who’s not
Longing to be home again.

Jack, face scarred by whips on the
Burma Road, enters Budgens.
The Issue man stands outside,
Longing to be home again.


Mirrored memories (Janet Stansfeld)

A year spent away from home
Body travelling, mind intermittently returning.
October: in the hot wet heat of India
My feet recall the cool damp crunch of beech nuts
November monsoons are syncopated with images of the last conkers tumbling down
The treasured hoard ungathered by my family this year.

Familiar seasonal changes of Bury Knowle park
Become a touchstone for home.
Christmas day in Australia: a trek through sibilant eucalypts
Summons ghostly shapes of cedars standing silent.
In March, as New Zealand’s skies greyen and nature starts to close in
I connect to the scents of earth newly crumbling open; daffodils.
June brings me the grandeur of California’s scorched dun landscape
On a dimly-glimpsed backdrop of horse-chestnuts canopied with thick green.

Finally, home. The pleasure of mind and body reunited,
Walking in this remembered park.
But now the memories flow and eddy in a different direction.
Lingering on the path brings a distant scent of jasmine.
Gathering conkers, I suddenly see my son proudly picking lemons from a tall tree.
Beyond the drone of buses a voice, “this time last year…
… I hear a far-off jostle of rickshaw horns.

And deep inside these recollections, a memory of remembering
The present moment ricocheting through a hall of mirrors.


Bonfire (Ralph Lewin)

Dead-headed roses, cleavers, Queen Anne’s lace,
With trimming from the honey-suckle wall
And other weeds from some neglected place
Where bramble arms invaded since the fall.

Slim hazel saplings, groundsel, feverfew,
With raked-up grass, a raggle-taggle thatch:
A twist of Sunday Times, the Sports Review,
And finally the consummating match.

A wisp of smoke and feeble flames appear;
Then steam gives way to smoke, white tinged to brown,
And now the fire begins to roar and sear
The twigs and branches as they settle down.

Leaves wilt and wither in the torrid heat,
Our garden robin, hungry if not tame,
Hops bravely close beside my booted feet,
To catch small beetles fleeing from the flame.

A column from the immolating dead
Rises to join our overhanging cloud.
(A ’plane may see it, flying overhead,
But, here today, such burning is allowed.)

Then, in an hour, the hungry flames subside,
And what was earlier a blazing fire,
Crackling and hissing, now has waned and died
Until there is no longer any pyre.

Only a heap of snowy ash remains
Where, earlier this morning, there had been
Roses that blossomed in the late spring rains –
Just white and grey, where once was pink and green.


Confessions of a Headington Quarry morris man (Richard Jeffery)

The mother-in-law came to lunch yesterday,
The turkey and trimmin’s was all put away.
“I’ll stay ‘til the new year,” I ’ears ’er yell,
As I dig out me ’ankie and bells.

Me ’ankie and bells is the uniform
I puts on to perform
Morris dancing and mummers play,
Around the Quarry each Boxing Day.

’Cos I’m a morris man, you see,
Like my father, and grandfather ’fore he;
And as far as I can tell
Me son will learn to dance as well.

Do you feel a fool, I ’ears you say,
Goin’ out dancing on Boxing Day?
No! It’s ’istory, tradition, come rain or come snow,
And the best excuse for a pub crawl I know.


Winter (Mary Parke)

When skies are grey and days are short but bleak
My eyes begin to seek and ears to hear
Those signs of winter life that are unique.

The friendly robin’s song is extra clear,
Assuring us he will not let the snow
Prevent him singing when the new year’s here.

The hellebore will keep her head down low
As though afraid to show her winter face:
Then suddenly her beauty steals the show.

Where leafy branches gave a shady place
In summer, autumn winds have stripped them bare:
Their silhouettes create a sense of space.
There is a winter magic in the air.


Uncontrollable Zone (A. J. Miller)

Quarry Roughs – that’s what they used to call us,
Perhaps because we chose to make our home
Squatting in amongst the humps and hollows
Like Tommies in the trenches at the Somme.

Names will never hurt you, so they say,
And yet, we must confess, we made no bones
About persuading strangers not to stray
By chasing them away with sticks and stones.

So, the other day when a traffic planner
Was sent up by the council to explain
In his smooth and eco-friendly manner
Why they thought we should not park again

Outside our own front door or in the street
Where double yellow lines would soon appear,
One by one, we all leapt to our feet
To voice our opposition, loud and clear. 

Only words flew through the air that evening
But these were strong and violent enough
To send the traffic expert home reflecting
Upon the risks of crossing Quarry Roughs.

Towards the end of June 2004, the Traffic Implementation Committee agreed that no further action should be taken to introduce a Controlled Parking Zone in the Quarry Village part of the Quarry Zone.


Signs (Stephen Tall)

He died at 84, a good age. Perhaps –
But she had long since gone,
And, with her, his hope:
It’s a sign, you see.

The neighbours had known. How could they not –
An empty bottle, its spirits spent,
Smeared windows, grubby nets:
It’s a sign, you see.

The nephew is here. Who else –
But not for long. I see a tear in his eye,
Or is it a gleam:
It’s a sign, you see.

Ten days it takes. Well, why wait –
A “For Sale” board staked into wasteland,
Which once had won a prize:
It’s a sign, you see.

Word soon gets round. What did you expect –
Developers flex tape measures,
Sizing up their spoils:
It’s a sign, you see.

Then there’s just rubble. Is that all –
A thousand fragments, a century’s history,
Waiting to be rebuilt:
It’s a sign, you see.

They’ve all moved in now. Who are they –
Past visions, future memories,
Of lives yet to be lived:
It’s a sign, you see.

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