2nd, Open Category 2006 - Josephine Haslam


Pond life

One black fish among the orange
will take the bad luck from the house

so we bring home a black speckled
koi to add to our eight red-gold
shubunkin, chuchen-cin, kingyo,
that flicker life in to the pool.
But our eyes are drawn to the black
packed with its load of ill-fortune -

How can it take in so much? river
soaked up, night sky and fields,
this one absorbs and absorbs;
lightning rod, healed wound,
coal dense as the anchor of black
in Matisse's Snail - its weight
makes the red fish more red, night sky
lit with blue, house bright as fortune.

Judge's comments

This was a terrific poem to read too. A carefully wrought sonnet-like poem that develops a single image with lyric intensity and careful attention paid to the musicality of language. The epigrammatic note at the head of the poem supplies us with the idea that a black goldfish absorbs all the bad luck from a house. From there, the poet simply explores that rich, metaphysical superstition, using direct, rich language. The phrasing is perfectly weighted, and the division of the poem into the sonnet’s traditional sestet and octet with a shift in perspective between the two is deftly handled. The careful embodying of the big ideas in the concrete sequence of images is profound. The list of names adds a delicate, musical touch, counterbalanced by the lyric intensity of the image; that black fish ‘packed with its load of ill-fortune’. The poet goes on to wonder at the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the black fish, ending on the delightfully up-beat conclusion that the black makes the red fish ‘more red’; makes the night sky shine more-so, ‘lit with blue’ and – here’s the beautiful human crux of all this – makes the ‘house bright as fortune’. This is deceptively simple poetry presented in exactly the right Zen-like register, with just the right balance of naturalness, exquisite image and profound idea.

Andy Brown