'Mum with Sword' won third prize in the 2020 National Poetry Competition.

From the judges: "In ‘Mum with Sword’ a child’s transforming imagination becomes at the same time the poet’s power to turn things into metaphors. The speaker of this obsessively playful, multi-layered poem turns what may be the mother’s plastic yellow birdseed scoop into what may be a four-foot long ‘bastard sword’ inexplicably held by the mother as she walks about the garden and the house. It exists as a sword in the poem for as long as the childlike speaker and the poet tells us it is a sword, but the poet knows that ‘you may terminate my contract / if you choose’, through disbelief, whereupon this poem will cease to exist as a poem, ‘which is why I have doodled a sword on a soggy, salty napkin’, the drawing remaining as a reminder, the only tangible evidence that the sword (or scoop) was once a sword. ‘My mum’s sword was drawn, crudely…’: is it drawn in reality, as a wielded sword, or drawn on paper, in the poem? ‘It looked like a sword. I looked at it and I wrote sword'.”

Mum with Sword

by Jack Nicholls

My mum carries a sword now. You misunderstand me. My mum
carries a sword now. My mum has a long, solemn sword

swinging behind her when she turns to put the birdseed
in the feeder. It is very strange seeing my mum on the settee

holding her four-foot bastard sword. I don’t want to talk
about the pheasants stalking round the garden singing for grapes.

I am still getting used to my mum’s new sword. If I am truthful,
I am not ready to be addressing my mum’s sword

in a poem. Currently, I am not fit for work, and though I can self-certify
for a few poems, soon I will have to have a proper, proper chat with myself.

You might wonder what my mum’s new sword looks like,
or if there is medieval detailing on the scabbard

that a healthy poem would illuminate. Picturing my mum as a
lovely woman with cool specs and smart dyed hair,

as she is, you might wonder how she bears the weight of the thing.
Is she struggling? Are veins cording her biceps? Will her cardie snag

and balled tissues come tumbling from the sleeve? You might wonder
why, when I’m wholly aware that I must satisfy you of my health, my capacity

to perform my duties, when I know that you may terminate my contract
if you choose, why I have doodled a sword on a soggy, salty napkin.

Friends, I couldn’t stop shouting in the garden.
This isn’t easy for you either. Stick to the rules:

you’re allowed to now pronounce me arsehole out of earshot
and I’m allowed to trail long smears of cold cream on the castle walls,

and blink like an alien into a tall Gothic mirror, and feel as empty as
a plastic yellow birdseed scoop. My mum poured it

into my hand and the pheasants came running, and, though wild
and wanting other things, they ate, just like she said they would,

they fed from the flat of my hand. My mum’s sword was drawn, crudely,
and lay amongst the daisies. It looked solemn. It looked long.

It looked like a sword. I looked at it and I wrote sword. Friends,
take me tightly in both hands and swing.

The Poetry Society was founded in 1909 to promote “a more general recognition and appreciation of poetry”.  Since then, it has grown into one of Britain’s most dynamic arts organisations, representing British poetry both nationally and internationally.  Today it has more than 5,000 members worldwide and publishes The Poetry Review.

With innovative education and commissioning programmes and a packed calendar of performances, readings and competitions, The Poetry Society champions poetry for all ages.

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test Twitter Media - New writing and discussion guide from @NatBolderston to accompany National Poetry Competition 2021 features poems dealing w "the shifting, haunting nature of memory" by @LouisaAdjoa and Momtaza Mehri @RuffneckRefugee https://t.co/3nyQErqIbC #npc2021 #writingprompts https://t.co/wEdQVHOJ15
test Twitter Media - New writing and discussion guide from @NatBolderston to accompany National Poetry Competition 2021 features poems dealing w "the shifting, haunting nature of memory" by @LouisaAdjoa and Momtaza Mehri @RuffneckRefugee https://t.co/3nyQErqIbC #npc2021 #writingprompts https://t.co/wEdQVHOJ15

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'My gym, my sea, my poetry script' - poet @Sharenaleesatti reflects on the importance of the Leeds to Liverpool canal to her, over on the Waterlines blog waterlines.org.uk/blog/my-gym-my… @CanalRiverTrust #LifesBetterByWater Retweeted by The Poetry Society

Tonight! Free online reading with fab new poets from the North West - Amina Atiq, Jack Nicholls, Saiqa Khushnood with Malika Booker @fakenicholls @AminaAtiqpoetry @Malikabooker as part of Poetry Society Peggy Poole programme twitter.com/PoetrySociety/… Retweeted by The Poetry Society