Award-winning Poetry Collection by Raef Boylan

This is the award-winning poetry collection from the Fred Holland Poetry Collection Award 2014, including Catherdral Lanes at 19.30 on a Sunday, Letter to My Home Town, Postponement and ‘Coventriert’.

Cathedral Lanes at 19.30 on a Sunday


Call it a miracle

or call it grotesque

but size zero trees

spring forth from paving

in Primark’s forecourt,

adorned with fairy lights

that belie the lack of festivity.

CCTV surrounds like a prison wall,

capturing skateboarders and the

world’s most optimistic busker,

wailing to nobody but darkened

window displays. A few cigarette butts

have evaded the street-sweepers

and mar the image of clean living

like cancerous moles blemishing a body.

Cold creeps in; most of the benches

are deserted, arm-rests dictating

that we should travel in packs of three

only, and offering no peace to those

without bed or home. Some pink

thick-shake slithers McSlowly

down the side of a shiny waste-bin;

rejected like the rest, left to loiter

here. Godiva sits patiently, transfixed

in a staring contest with Starbucks,

while a Hen Party totters past with almost

as much flesh on display as she.

Tasteless adverts roll like film credits,

signalling The End of everything.


The busker plays on.



Letter to My Home Town


Dear Coventry, I love you, although I know not why

On days when the washed-out greys of tower blocks

Blend in with the haggard sky.


There are times, Coventry, I would gladly see you burn –

Mornings when smiles at passing strangers raise just

Hostility in return.


Yes, it can feel like Germany had the right idea,

But brick by brick you scraped your way back, carving

New horizons out of fear.


Your streets aren’t paved with gold, instead studded with gum chewed

For pigeons to peck at disappointedly,

Then move on to what’s been spewed.


Stare into the River Sherbourne; if I had one wish

I’d replace the litter and shopping trolleys

With hundreds of happy fish.


I am no Larkin; I will not disown this city.

It’s too deeply seeded in my nature, the

Roots of my family tree.


From Hamilton up north, and Dublin overseas

My whole gene pool travelled to benefit from

Your new, thriving industries.


Thus, you fed and clothed my kin for three generations;

To jump ship without giving anything back

Would call for explanation.


Coventry, I bear witness to the efforts you make.

Wanting tourist admiration, induces

Scenic changes for their sake.


You’re like pretty women, who haven’t yet realised

Their best assets are not enhanced curves, and keep

The intelligence disguised –


Sure, a coffee franchise here and there pleases the crowd,

But don’t forget historic significance

Is of what we should be proud.


Spires punch the sky in triumph; cathedral walls stand tall;

Buildings, both medieval and Tudor, prove the

Luftwaffe couldn’t take it all.


There are no goose bumps on Godiva; she is too strong

To let winters spoil her ride, the legend.

A proud city proves me wrong.


Dear Coventry, I love you, and know exactly why –

The same fondness reserved for parents and pets:

I am yours and you are mine.





In this building –

Morris manufactured engines

Grandma built bombs

Taxes were sliced off wages

And now I sit inside this building

Half-listening to a lecture

On the prospects for my future


They want me in motion

Exploding with ambition

Paying my share of the burden


I asked Grandma how it felt

To hold death in your hands

To be a cog in the killing machine

She told me –

We didn’t think of it like that

People back then just got on with it


I think people still do


I’ve sleep-walked through shifts

Pressed buttons like a trained monkey

Filled up Excel sheets and paper cups

Conscripted into the nine to five


And now I’m dodging the draft

Running back to the trenches to hide

Tunnelling out escape routes

That could well lead nowhere


Some would call this cowardice

But it’s only a tactical retreat

Reloading before I go over the top


To battle again with reality




The spirit of Coventry rose from the ashes.

Its feathers a bit charred,

Beak slightly mangled;

Talons caked in blood and soot.

The bird commanded respect

But wasn’t a pretty sight –

Squawking racist views,

And seeking confrontation

On Saturday nights.


A phoenix has purity,

Born of fiery sacrifice.


A pigeon will defecate

Where it eats and lives.


On closer inspection,

What had arisen

Turned out to be –


Not quite a phoenix.