American poet Eric Berlin's 'Night Errand' wins National Poetry Competition
An American freelance editor living near Syracuse in New York has won the £5,000 National Poetry Competition. Eric Berlin’s poem ‘Night Errand’ was praised by judges Sarah Howe, Esther Morgan, and David Wheatley, who said that it “wouldn’t let you move on, but demanded a pause to dwell and recoup, followed by the compulsion to read it again. This is poetry that can somehow, magically, fill a cafeteria napkin dispenser with emotion … ‘Night Errand’ dramatises a cry of pain at the damage we’re capable of doing to others. "
The winning poem explores a sleep-deprived father making a dash to the shops on a mundane errand, a flash of anger, and the shame that follows. The setting is a mall in upstate New York.
Berlin said: "Receiving such interest in this poem about a lonely moment of overwhelm – a moment so uneventful I almost didn’t give it a second thought – reminds me to trust turning inward as a way of reaching others, not just being understood but also understanding that others have endured uncertainties too. In that bleary first year after the birth of our baby, a baby we’d tried for years to conceive, and who only came after we’d given up hope, mourning and laughter have both been important as ways of getting close to each other.”
Second in the competition was David Hawkins, a writer, journalist, editor and ecologist from Bristol, for his poem 'Long Distance Relationship with a Mountain'; and third was Carolyn Oxley, from Longmont, Colorado, a freelance writer for the Boulder Weekly, with her poem, ‘Biracial’. Seven other commended poets were Mara Adamitz Scrupe ('Arillus'), Geraldine Clarkson ('St Rose of Lima's Revenge'), Simon Jenner ('Peter Philips' Part Book Speaks to Brueghel'), Afra Kingdon ('Tabasco'), Zaffar Kunial( 'Six'), Howard Laughton ('Six Easy Calculations'), and Fran Lock (Gentleman Caller'). You can also find the longlisted poets here
Here is the winning poem:
by Eric Berlin
O, Great Northern Mall, you dwindling oracle
of upstate New York, your colossal lot
of frost-heaved spaces so vacant I could cut
straight through while blinking and keep my eyes
shut, I’ve come like the flies that give up the ghost
at the papered fronts of your defunct stores,
through the food court where napkins, unused
to touch, are packed too tight to be dispensed,
past the pimpled kid manning the register
who stares at the buttons and wipes his palms.
If I press my eyes until checkers rise
from the dark – that’s how the overheads glower
in home essentials as I roam through Sears,
seeking assistance. I know you’re here.
For this window crank I brought, you show me
a muted wall of TVs where Jeff Goldblum
picks his way through the splintered remains
of a dinosaur crate. There must be fifty
of him, hunching over mud to inspect
the three-toed prints. I almost didn’t
come in here at all, driving the opposite
of victory laps, and waiting as I hoped
for the red to leave my eyes, but my urgency
smacked of your nothingness. I did it again –
I screamed at the woman I love, and in front
of our one-year-old, who covered his ears.