MPU International Competition – Winning poem

John Jenkins has very kindly allowed us to publish his beautiful winning poem here. Thanks John, and congratulations!

When he read the poem in the room above the stairs


When he read the poem in the room above the stairs,

the walls had been repainted, and a new skylight put in.

As he looked to see that his pages were in order,

noticed old photographs of people – older poets

he had once known – had been removed,

and a glass-topped bench with vases on it.

You approach from the lane. A mirror still on the stairs,

and when he glanced, had hardly recognised himself.

As he began to read, the poem had stayed

exactly the same as always, not a comma or character

or pause had ever been replaced. And, as his voice

rose to meet it, he realised how little ever changed.

He was still himself, for better or worse. As always,

the audience sat courteously, still listening, and fragile.

Whether full or empty, the room was just a room.




When he read the poem in the room above the stairs,

he imagined it was full of blind people, and it was hard

to read their expressions. So many dark glasses, black

as the shiny coffee served here. He rubbed his eyes.

He knew he’d have to discard a poem he once thought balanced

and complete, and continued in a brave, quiet panic.

At which point the room filled with light, which dazzled

off the walls and lit up cups. It shot sharp lances

from the sides of things, so intense it made his eyes well

with tears. He thanked the room, which had shrunk in the glare

to the size of a pinhole. Putting the thought away, he smiled.



When he read the poem in the room above the stairs

people felt they could hear things they had forgotten.

As he read, and they listened, his voice reached out

across the space, or was suspended in the air. Beyond

the room, he remembered wind and rain, sighs shot through

with longing, sounds climbing like some impossibly high staircase

of emotion, that was not his and seemed to belong to no one.

The audience, in contrast, heard sounds of journeys never made.

As he read, all these things could slip away, back into silence:

they were accounted for, and finally done. The poem returned

to absence where words had been, a listening without regret.

So he raised his voice, and looked down where a girl

was doodling the word more in a cold winter’s morning.

But it was summer now, and the room flashed past, shuddering,

as if at speed, merging into other words not yet written.

He read until the poem was entirely given away. At the end

of this, he knew it was not raining outside, and could not be.

He would always be in this room. Had always been, forever.

Beside him, another self sat and wondered. At last, he sipped

his coffee, sailed out, still listening carefully. Below the stairs,

out in the air, found the marvellous street and sun.



One thought on “MPU International Competition – Winning poem”

  1. Loved this poem. Shifting shutters, things changing and staying the same, the poet as a reader of his own work and how he feels! Beautiful poem, John Jenkins!

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