The results are in for our 2020 Reemergence Prize. We are happy to announce the winner is Susan Shepherd, you can read Susan’s poem, ‘The Flodden Horses’, followed by the judges’ report below. The judges also drew up a long list and those poets are listed in the report.
Susan Shepherd lives in the Scottish border town of Coldstream, where she works as a freelance journalist. Her first pamphlet, Wood End, was published by Shoestring Press in 2019 and her poems have appeared in The Interpreter’s House and The Poets’ Republic. She recently completed an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University. With her passion for history and a reporter’s eye, she often seeks to re-tell a story, or re-imagine events, through poetry.
The Flodden Horses
No one had drunk himself foolish in the Newcastle Arms that year.
Bad weather on Cheviot
did not concern the Men’s Shed crew
who had not spent the first Sunday in August
threading the lampposts of the border town with bunting.
trailers did not cram the taped-off meadows of the Lees;
only Shorty McCann, in plastered overalls, walking to his builder’s van, stopped
to film an otter in the Leet Water.
And Sally Moffatt, returning from the night shift at Morrison’s
weighted with carriers
paused to look
but could see nothing.
By eleven o’clock, rain had arrived and the undiverted traffic
thundered on to Edinburgh.
Afterwards, those who witnessed it would say:
it began where the poplars had stood
until Foreman the butcher – newly retired to Orchard Cottage – felled them
to improve his view.
First came the Destriers, prized by knights, easy to train for war.
Then the Rouncers and the Coursers, flanks built for speed,
and the agile Palfreys men-at-arms prefer.
Next the Jennets and the Ambling horses, good for long distance.
And bringing up the rear, one Powys pony,
of gentle temperament, hardy and calm.
And all were riderless, none burnt or scarred.
And every ear of every mare and gelding
twitched intact in the shimmering air;
and no flesh was pierced by an English bill.
Score by shadowy score, they streamed across McGregor’s fields
forded the Tweed at a long-forgotten crossing point
(which Geoff from Calico House later said
had been popular for picnics
in his grandfather’s day)
and were last seen entering an alder grove on the Cornhill side
on a track below Branxton Moor,
not yet spoils of battle; the Welsh pony keeping up
with a flick of his fine, grey tail.
You can watch Susan reading ‘The Flodden Horses’ on our YouTube channel:
Thank you to all those who entered our Poets & Players 2020 Prize on the theme of ‘Reemergence’. There was a fantastic response, which made our job as judges both difficult and rewarding. The number of poems and the breadth of subject matter were both surprising, and even more gratifying was the quality. We certainly had enough to fill a magazine, and it was hard choosing a winner. That said, the poem we have chosen won by a clear head.
We’re pleased then to announce that the prize goes to ‘The Flodden Horses’ by Susan Shepherd. This poem is powered by the sheer delight of its inundation of ghostly horses set among the normalities of life in the Borders. It delighted us by the skill of its timing, its lightness of touch, its humorous tone and the assurance of its animating detail. However, it does invite us to think, and be grateful that the horrors of that battle, hinted at in the third to last stanza, have become so distant.
We originally aimed to name no names other than the winner but the response was too strong. We decided it would be wrong not to highlight other authors whose poems came close at the finish. In alphabetical order these are:
Christopher M James
We don’t mention titles so as to leave them free for anonymous submission elsewhere.