'The Opened Field' was the winner of the 2017 National Poetry Competition.

From the judges: "‘The Opened Field’ is a neutron star of a poem compressed inside the restraining machinery of a sestina. It’s a dark allegory of six boys in a field, but I did not realise it was a sestina until a second reading, when I started to work out what the boys were up to, and what part the far from passive field was playing in these coming-of-age rituals with their compelling rhythm and mantra-like repetitions. The form is a perfect container for the interlinked themes: an interrogation of unchecked masculinity and our destructive relationship with each other and with the natural world. The barbaric impulses enacted are interwoven to offer us a sombre and precisely wrought fable for our times. That farm animals are involved is significant and points to a visionary eco-poetics. I marvelled at the way I found yet another layer each time I returned to this poem and still thought I had not quite got to the bottom of it. As the weeks passed it would haunt me like a recurring dream. Reading it aloud at our judging meeting, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise. The poem’s mnemonic force and seriousness drew it to the top of the pile, to become our winner.""– Pascale Petit

The Opened Field

by Dom Bury

Six boys, a calf’s tongue each, one task —
to gulp each slick muscle down in turn,
to swallow each vein whole and not give
back a word, a sign, our mothers’ names.
The scab stripped off, the ritual learned —
five boys step out across an empty field.

Five boys step out across an empty field  
to find a fire already made, the task
to dock then brand a single lamb. We learnt
fast how to hold, then cut, then turn  
each tail away, to print in them our names —
our ownership. We dock, we brand, give

iron to the skin until at last their legs give.
Four boys step out across an empty field,
each small child waiting for a name,
our own name to be called, the next task
ours to own, ours to slice into, to turn
each blade, to shear off skin until we learnt

the weight of it. One by one we learnt
the force our bodies hold, the subtle give
our own hands have, how not to turn
our gaze. Three boys stand in a frozen field —
each child stripped and hosed, the next task
not to read the wind but learn the names

we have for snow, each name
we have given to the world. To then unlearn
ourselves, the self, this is — the hardest task.
To have nothing left. No thing but heat to give.
Two boys step out across an empty field.
Still waiting for the call, waiting for our turn,

waiting to become, to dig, to turn
at last our hands into the soil then name
the weakest as an offering — the field
opened to a grave, my last chore not to learn
the ground but taste it closed. I don’t give
back a word, surprise I am the task —

that what the land gives it must then learn
to turn back into soil. One child, a name its task
to steal. Five boys turn from an empty field.

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 4000 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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