“Owl-light” Ekphrastic Competition – Shortlist
Rare Swan Press ran a brief Ekphrastic competition over five days as part of our hugely successful collaboration with visual artist Sarah-Jane Crowson. We published “Stories from the eyes of an owl” on December 1st and literally sold out the initial 25/25 limited edition. We found Sarah-Jane’s visual poems so magical we wanted to give an opportunity for others to respond directly to her work.
We received a wonderful selection of poems, which were judged anonymously. The entries range from the fantastical, to the Anthropocene to the romantic. Sarah-Jane and Marcelle thoroughly enjoyed each of the poems, regarding the opportunity to read them and discuss their intricacies, a privilege.
The six shortlisted poems can be read below. Sarah-Jane is delighted to be sending her work to the winners, who will be announced on social media on Monday 20th December 2021.
Some thoughts from Sarah-Jane Crowson
All the longlist entries were breathtaking and it was a huge honour and privilege for me, as a collage artist/poet to see how fellow poets transformed the image into something extraordinary and magical. I can’t thank Rare Swan enough for providing this opportunity for creative dialogue.Sarah-Jane Crowson
What is it that you saw?
I’m labyrinth and core,
I was once me,
I had it together,
treasured my dreams.
I wished for you.
My gaze frayed a little
because in your eyes a sorrow
left my heart unfixable.
Spinning into creation, roses
in a rush bloom with their scent
of cranberries, biscuits, and warm
milk. They too will fade.
Unlike me, owl-eyed mammals stare
deep to puncture holes in the universe.
I hope, just like the moon, things only appear
to disappear, but the essence of a thing,
is always there.
From Stage Left
After ‘Stories from the eyes of an owl’
The owl sees the ocean bound by books,
their spines gilded by moonlight,
straight pillars holding up the curtains
of the dying world’s stage.
The owls sees a stranger, staggering
from the right wing in a dyed dress,
accessorised with flaming umbrella.
Her antlers, antennae for the audiences’ cries.
The owls sees a ruby rose, unblemished,
not a single petal lost. A miracle, as snow
is swirling while he is walking on waves,
on four dear legs; wondering what it all means.
The philtre was first made from flowers, they told me.
A seed to marry the head, the loft that strains to lift away
in night’s updraft, with the body, terrified to breathe
without direction from above. I was a small and shaky beast
when they laid the stamen on my tongue. The frisson of the wind
dropped within hours, this crown of feathers no longer yearned
for the promise of up, away. Do we ever know the echo we hear
is the hoot of the world, until it fades? They did not say: after we pluck
the flower the whole plant dies from the root – they did not say
in the shadow of this monstrous petal, the stars will cease to mewl.
They did not say the sea would freeze in mid-arpeggio.
They never said there’s a compass inside the head of a bird
that cradles the notion of flight, they did not say it was never
about the wings, the hoof, the claw. They said it wouldn’t hurt.
The sky is a spill of oil and no-one, nothing, comes clean.
Mapping the secret chord
We slipped past each other, a kiss of orbits.
At touchpoint, our spheres float their motes,
brief with music. You, morning’s silver chime,
dusting arch-dark; me, a nightbird’s weird horn,
pinned mute at any tongue-tremble
of day. No talisman has ever been unburied
to ward either dark or dawn away. We are known
to seek when it’s futile. I dip my feet in the salt crush
of rosin, cleave new seas for you, frozen between tick
and trip. Like us, the terrain is neither one thing
nor another, and you follow me out deep, far, we are
the flip of falling coins, slid on well past any wish.
Light comes keening from the unnameable source.
At curtain, a bird’s clever eyes see what wraiths
from a quick-cut stem – how it haunts the whole show
even as colour flees a body. My steps leave arrows
across the boards: one moment red, the next clearing,
clear. The first one to follow them breathes
on the mirror, writes the note
no human audience can bear to hear.
Stars of Tabula Rasa
From this owl-light,
stars – make me a spell,
take from me this stage
with the earth’s weight,
bring forth the rose
from silk lantern tides,
hold it out –
by night’s ethereal myth,
veil thorns to sun’s dust –
petals, gothic tassels,
this dress, once
a moth made from glass,
our faces, nothing more
than an offering
The Enquiry of Owl-light
If starlight was as easy to crush as petals
it would give up its fragrance to any
low-water heart, let loose its lick
upon whatever is frozen
to embolden a voyage that risks break-up.
The darkness left in the pestled sky
would serve to remind of the moment
the world was at your feet –
when all that mattered
was to forge a new star
fresh from the grey grains
of Earth’s grounded dust.
As publisher of Rare Swan Press, I’d like to congratulate all the participants on their excellent work and to thank both Sarah-Jane Crowson and Rare Swan Press’s Managing Editor, Marcelle Newbold, for their time and expertise in running such a flawless competition. I hope this is the first of many and that it might grow into an annual festive tradition. The winner and runners-up placings will be announced on Monday December 20th 2021.
ALL shortlisted poems, as well as the winning poem, will be hosted online by Rare Swan Press, in a dedicated feature as part of the Stories of from the eyes of an owl project.
Prize: Stories from the eyes of an owl
The first place prize is a concertina booklet with six 148mm x 148mm colour-printed reproductions of collages (originals made using a mixture of analogue and digital methods) and an A5 art print on Perlino Cotton 300 gsm paper.
Stories From The Eyes of an Owl
STORIES FROM THE EYES OF AN OWL is a special limited edition collaboration between Sarah-Jane Crowson and Rare Swan Press. A second print run will be offered by Rare Swan Press and in total, only 100/100 copies of this limited edition will ever be published. Be sure you don’t miss out.
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