2014 winner

Rhossili Triptych:

Sea, Sand, Sky by Helen Woods

Poem: I

The Sea refuses to be a Sonnet

In daytime the sea is in love with the sky; each wave

Is reaching out to touch its blue-grey face

The sea smooths gold in a blink and leaves it cold

On the sand as a piece of twisted wood.

The sea eats the ugliness of aeroplanes

And spits out gannets, albatrosses, gulls

The sea reads the words written on the beach

And sings them to the sky, who rains them down

On the rolling waves in high disdain.

At night the sea blows breath of fire and lights

The yellow moon, then eats its supper off it.

It cries over life and the living, embraces the dead.

No poet can tame it; it will not be a sonnet.




the line

the border between:

the sea, the land

the roof of sky

the rim



the sun’s hot stare

the white seagulls

need no passport


Your feet


a million closed eyes

a million tiny worlds

the scratch of a million fragments of ancient

pieces of the world

from almost before

the sunfirst opened its




An abundance of emptiness.

I am all the water the droughts don’t think they need.

I am the promise in a falling seed

I am your emptiness, blank and white


I am the admin office for all your hopes and dreams

I am a blue tablecloth spattered with stains

I am a robin’s egg, with a green yolk of the world


I am the strings that hang up the stars

I am the puppet-strings which keep your head above your heart

I am the wind in the prayer-flags that releases the mantra


I am the eye that is blinded with sight

I am the darkness that is brighter than light

I am the magpie’s infinite nest of all things beautiful


I am the turning wheel of water, the wheel of life

I am the gap between ideas, the space in your happiness

I am the breath from your lips and the sharp disappearance of oxygen.


I am ice

I am flight

I am the roof that pins you down

I am the helium that lifts you free

I am life and lack of life

So full of everything, so, so empty

The sky.


© Helen Woods, 2014

"Line 4 is brilliant: ‘The sea smooths gold in a blink and leaves it cold’. When I finished reading that line remained in my mind, and will remain for its sound and its layered meaning. A line that stays in the mind is a crucial test for poetry. The writer makes common phrases new: ‘in a blink’, ‘leaves it cold’. This is very Carol Ann Duffy! This is a real poet, not just a clever child-poet. The poem is ambitious for someone so young. The second poem moves like a walk along the sea’s edge. Part 3 is rich with imagery, using several rhythms, but all musical."

GILLIAN CLARKE, 2014 judge

Copyright © 2019 Betjeman Poetry Prize   |  All Rights Reserved

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