The 35th Frogmore Poetry Prize has been won by Laura Jenner from Whitehouse, County Antrim, for her poem ‘Smoothing’. Adjudicator John Freeman writes: ‘‘Smoothing’ uses rhythm, syntax, discreet rhyme and unfolding webs of imagery to evoke the characters and hard lives of two particular women, and by extension a whole class of women they stand for. There is a controlled explosion, as it were, when the ‘coffin-shape’ of the ironing board in line 2 is detonated in the memorial plaques ‘about the size of an iron’ in the last lines. We’ve been on a rich and varied journey in between, as the poem ‘[brings] the centuries to face each other.’ ‘Smoothing’ is a very worthy winner of this year’s Frogmore Prize.
The first runner-up was Elizabeth Best, an American poet from Louisville, Kentucky, with ‘Veteran Mates’ and the second runner-up was John Lancaster from Totness, with ‘Sussed’. Other poets shortlisted were Sarah Barr (winner of the Prize in 2015), Annie Fisher, Stuart Henson, Neil Martin, Myra Schneider and Rolf Venner. All shortlisted poems will be published in the celebratory 100th edition of The Frogmore Papers in September.
Congratulations to all shortlisted poets, and thanks to all the poets who supported this year’s Frogmore Prize by entering.
Every time I trail out and unfold the ironing board,
the padded, collapsible coffin-shape, I recall how
Belle left school on Friday, starting Monday in the laundry,
recall her iron glide across the cloth, a grey liner bow
as it scythed through the lough, its hissing wake of starchy steam.
She sailed through infirmary bedding, the sheets of hotels.
smoothed the shirts of rich lawyers whose wives did damn all.
She had red hair, she informed me, the colour of rust.
At night, she returned to the drab house beside the Lagan,
and got into the bed she shared with two of her sisters –
the one who smoked Woodbines, the one who was Brethren.
Sundays, she told me, the strolled up past the park, dandering
around Rosetta, stately villas of wealthy spinsters,
fat trees, primped lawns, the higher green world of petty bourgeois.
The quality, she called them, but with irony in it,
dark and tangy she turned it, rich and meaty on her tongue.
The iron has little glamour, but pure functionality.
For this reason, every time I use the thing, I think of
my mother’s bed, whom I nearly did not know,
who bled so badly, they had to chuck out a good mattress,
she told me, after a stillbirth, before an infant death,
after three healthy deliveries, for which she thanked God,
for all mothers then were the poor bloody infantry,
and birth was like war, and some didn’t return, but died in its filth.
She cleaned nights in the Boys’ Home; she smuggled food to those
who had given back cheek, and were put to bed early.
She was soft like that; pure iron is soft really. Decades on,
she named them like a chaplet, burnishing each with her tongue.
Everything she washed by hand, natural fibres scrubbed and wrung.
At some point, my father had to remove her wedding ring
with a blade and liquid ether. She kept it in a drawer –
two halves that faced each other, like a moon both old and young.
I moved them together as I do now, bringing the centuries
to face each other. I walk the fine streets and they are still
gracious, and full of the worthies. And always those women,
occurring abundantly, not considered precious –
who let themselves in to wash floors and press clothes,
and I think of those others, now boxes of ash,
in the marl of the boneyard, beneath a metal plaque
about the size of an iron, bearing their one-word name.