1st, Open Category 2005 - Alan Franks

The Engaging of Professionals

Right from our early, amateur rounds,
Back before we'd even drawn
Each other's blood, let alone gone down

And taken a count, even then we swung
Ourselves round this very ring
Like heavy bags set loose for slanging,

All uncultured shoulder shots,
Elbow half-blocked grazing knocks,
Eventually learning how to spot

Some opening in the free-for-all,
Then haul up and release free-fall
The barely padded wrecking ball

Of us. As for the referee,
We took one look and saw that he
had recognised in you and me

A pair who had no time for laws.
He ducked out through the ropes. The scores,
He said, were level, and what's more,

Would always be. He left us to
The roar of ringside relatives who
Then bawled for me or bawled for you

And flung the chairs about whenever
One of us was taking heavy
Blows, and winced to see the leathering

Of familiar faces. One
Well-meaning aunt declared the fun
Was over, time to cut and run.

We told them to go hang themselves
And carried on so that the welts
And weals and bruises from the belts,

Which only we two had the skill,
The dedication and the will
To trade, grew even greater till

We'd lost each other's eyes behind
The swollen brows which still confine
Them deep as love and twice as blind.

2nd, Open Category 2005 - Andrew Proudfoot

Open Letter

This is to all of you

To the blonde twin sisters
Boarding the 9:15 to Waterloo
Last Thursday
Who smiled in unison
When I pretended I wasn't looking,

And to the Sisters of Mercy
Of the Holy Order
Of Our Lady of Redemption,
In Chiswick.

To the girl on page twelve
Of the Winter 2004 edition
Of Sainsbury's magazine,
Which I have kept
And framed,

And to the girl in the TV ad
For Stumpy's Cake Decoration Emporium,
Which I have recorded
And watch on 'Repeat'.

To the woman
In the 'Play With My Puppies' T-shirt
In Pets-R-Us
On Friday,

And to the woman
Behind the fruit and veg counter
Of Allsop's Family Grocer,
Who always wore her hair
In bunches.

To the lady in the business suit
On the bus to Wigan,
Who crossed her stockinged legs
37 times in 12 minutes,

And to the lady in the changing rooms
Of Lacey's Department Store,
Who, by an unfortunate coincidence of mirrors,
Caused such a stir
In the Men's Trouser Department.

To all of you,
And to countless others,
I am truly sorry.

3rd, Open Category 2005 - Doreen Hinchcliffe

The Regular

They set their watches by him. On the stroke
of eight he came in every night for years
returning from a job he never spoke
much of, to do with people in arrears.

He'd lean against the bar, reserved, withdrawn
but never rude. His wit was dry, sardonic,
delivered with a smile, his humour born
of insight, just as clever and ironic

as that of a philosopher or scholar,
Guiness in hand, he'd stop and hesitate,
gazing at contours in its creamy collar
as if, like tea leaves, they could tell his fate.

The details of his personal life stayed grey,
devoid of any colour, like his clothes.
he had a wife, a teenage son, he'd say,
the rest he was reluctant to disclose.

He'd drink for hours, motionless, at the borders
of unconsciousness, ignored, unseen,
till, roused by cries of time now please, last orders
he'd take his pint and play the fruit machine.

That Friday he struck lucky, heard the clatter
of chaotic jackpot coins spewed forth
above the froth and buzz of drunken chatter
and strains of Abba floating from the hearth

Cupped hands heaped scattered coins, then scraped the pile
inside a plastic bag that someone gave.
He left with just a flicker of a smile,
the customary farewell nod and wave.

Next day they found him (didn't find a note)
stretched out behind a disused railway shed;
the windfall coins still weighing down his coat,
the windfall plastic bag upon his head.