Student’s prize winning poetry captures Coventry’s essence
English and Creative Writing student, Raef Boylan, has won the inaugural Fred Holland Poetry Collection Award, named in honour of the late poet and one of the city’s best loved voices.
The university’s Coventry Words magazine and blog, which offer students the opportunity to hone their writing skills, established the competition this year as a further creative outlet for their talents.
Hundreds of students entered the contest but Raef emerged the winner, impressing the panel of judges – including poet Adam Steiner from Here Comes Everyone magazine – with his trio of poems which offer an affectionate but sometimes scathing portrayal of his home city.
Raef, who had one of his short stories nominated for The Big Issue in the North New Writing Award last year, collected the £1000 top prize provided by competition sponsor David Smith, trustee of the Frederick Holland Trust.
Audiences will have the opportunity to enjoy Raef’s writing as excerpts from his poetry are being incorporated into the Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s speech at next week’s university graduation ceremonies in Coventry.
Raef said: ‘To be the first winner of the Fred Holland Poetry Collection Award is a real honour. Fred was a talented poet and well-loved by people in Coventry so I’m glad that the judges felt my poems did a good job of representing our city. It’s also important for new writers to build up a reputation within their communities so on a personal level this award is very important to me, especially as I’m Coventry born and bred.’
Alyson Morris, executive editor of Coventry Words and course director for the university’s English and Creative Writing degree said: ‘The judging panel enjoyed all of the poems that were submitted – the quality of work was exceptional – but Raef’s bittersweet and highly personal work really stood out. He was a worthy winner of the award. Competitions like this really enhance the student experience. This year’s contest was a great success and thanks to the generous support of our sponsor we are now looking to run the award as an annual event.’
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.