Watch me awkwardly read my poem, which didn’t win the National Poetry Competition 2021

Uvita River Dirt

I wrote this in March 2020 🙂 I’ve also, embarrassingly, recorded myself reading my failed National Poetry Competition entry out loud, in case you’d rather watch me stumble over my words than read it yourself.

Disclaimer: I’m wearing an inappropriately see-through leopardskin leotard because this is my lockdown uniform. It’s not something I’d wear in public, probably, but I bought it in a brief moment of whimsy. It’s so soft and stretchy and it makes me feel like an aerobics instructor from the ’80s (as long as I don’t look in the mirror).

Three weeks out of three decades – that’s how long we were together.

And when I say together, I just mean in the same vicinity,

Treading the same earth for the first time in our lives. 


He grew up in a flat place five-thousand miles away

In a strange, dangerous state with alligators in the pool 

And fanatical racists in the suburbs.  

Where I’m from nature doesn’t bite but people still fight in an insipid, cowardly way

From inside their cars and computers

A nation of bored sycophants crawling up ladders

To own job titles and properties. 


I think even though we are different, a white Brit and a black Yankee,

He still feels the same as me — he’s also trying to break free

And find something pure, and worthy.

I could feel it sitting with him on the riverbank in Uvita that day 

It was good to connect, finally, and laugh genuinely. 

It was a subtle thing, a kind of magnetic energy.


My time there ended abruptly and I made him promise to visit,

Knowing he may not; feeling the pull of my real life 

Reeling me in, unable to stop anything. 

And now once more we live divided by ten hours of sea

And time does strange things: it distorts reality

And I’m afraid of never seeing him again — even more afraid that he’ll

Remember me wrong, and in real life find me lacking, somehow

Better by the river to how I am now.


I came home to an empty city; face masked citizens not looking at me

But I didn’t mind all that, I don’t mind the change

I danced alone a lot in my living room to R&B from the nineties.

Dancing so I don’t get beaten down by the sadness 

From the failed marriage from before — for which there is no cure

Because it lives inside me exclusively. 

I know I must carry it with me, but I think we all do. 

We are everything we’ve ever been and it’s not about 

Chopping off limbs or shedding skin, but learning to live with

What we keep within. 

I don’t know what will happen, if the American will ever be… standing in front of me. 

I suppose the point is to let life unfurl 

Curl by extraordinary curl, because there is beauty in mystery and

Not knowing everything and I guess it was enough 

To have the river that day, and him, a real thing, with life and humour

And a body to keep it in.