The Haddon Library

Poetry competitions

The Haddon Library arranged poetry competitions to mark its own 70th anniversary in 2006 and the University’s 800th in 2009.  Here are the winners from the 2009 competition.  We might yet organise another…

Winning Poems

1st prize: `His eightieth’ (Roger Elkin)

2nd prize: `The story of 800′ (Mary Courtney)

3rd prize: `Sleepover at the Museum’ (Caroline Gill)

His Eightieth

Imagined I’d surprise him ringing early —
so at 8.00, exactly, dialled… No pick-up.
Again dialled… And, yes, he was in. And breathless.
Staking sunflowers. ID God, how they’ve grown.
Should see them. But you’re early….


I doled him birthday wishes, and See you later.
Dead on at noonWon’t be late, Dad.

But hadn’t reckoned on the roadworks. Late.
You’re late.
Looking at his Timex. – 12.09 –
and managing his concern – Thought you weren’t
coming, son
– his drawn face breaking into wreaths
of smile. Only later did I recall his rickety walk
and that attempt to mask the pain eating at his chest.
Just see those blooms, his extended arms taking in
their leggy ranks, top-heavy heads like clocks,
and leaves so many lagging flags. Best ever.
Reckon they’ll outgrow the both of us.

Saw him later again that day. Not planned this time.
Just Dad lying wracked, his heart wrecked,
the funeral-parlour clock logging 20.09,
and, in his garden, daylight quietly sliding away,
those shattered sunflowers – sad clowns now,
stems angled and snagged, stakes splintered, snapped
where he’d fallen, spinning down, too early,
clutching at his might-have-beens.

The story of 800

Out of the blankness of nothing came four zeros.
Eyes in flying saucers of bewilderment.
And they looked ’round, but couldn’t see, until two
became spectacled and two monocled.

And they adjusted their view. But after a while
became accustomed and no longer saw anything new.
And so zeros became telescopes. And the sun
and the moon and shooting stars enveloped them.

And as the far drew near they became accustomed
and no longer saw anything new.
So they turned then to eyes of a microscope and
the near changed; into a most curious stranger.

And they saw cells and the nucleus of cells and all
the circles we are made of. With eyes refreshed, zeros
were everywhere. In straggles of hair and sticks of chalk.
In transverse section, bronchioles, for air to talk.

In rolls of papyrus, neurones and old bones. In oak
trees, battered coins, bath-pipes and tins of peas.
And the zeros glimpsed their arc of possibility. And
two tried seeing themselves new. One balanced on top

of the other, to become an infinity. A figure of eight.
The dance of perpetual quest.
And the other two grew, in the knowledge of infinite
possibility. And this is how the story of 800 began.

Sleepover at the museum
Downing Street, Cambridge, 15 May 2009

The clock no longer stands at ten to three:
the fenland sun has floated down the Cam.
Who dares to loiter in our lofty halls
while scholars burn their midnight oil at home?
Turn up with great excitement in your pack:
those bright nocturnal eyes must not look back

along the well worn road that led you here.
The double stars above are shining down
upon this place where art and science blend,
as anthropologists sort bead and bone.
Don’t touch. Lie down and clasp your safety thread:
it will unravel as you rest your head

inside your mask. Curl up, sleep tight, don’t scream:
our monster cat could strike with open jaw.
It’s 12.09 and midnight’s gone, so try
to cradle your canoe and start to row:
two headless frogs will croak their lullaby.
Take heart, dear child, I know you’ll wonder why

you chose to come, when grown-ups took one look
and begged to stay away. Who was the star
attraction of your show? The cases glint:
their shadow worlds collide then disappear.
Time drags its heels as empty rattles shake.
Chin up: enjoy your novel weekend break.