1st Prize and Highly Commended in Salisbury Writers’ Festival Competition 2016


I heard over the weekend that I was awarded first prize in the open poetry competition at Salisbury Writers’ Festival Writing Competition for my poem “My Father’s Blood”. I also got a highly commended in the short story section for “In the Beginning was the Cliché”.

Two contrasting works: one a serious piece recollecting my late father, and the other a humorous take on the English language.

Both pieces will appear in my upcoming chapbook to be published by Garron Press in the next few weeks.

Here they are:

My Father’s Blood



In the Beginning was the Cliché

  and the cliché was with God and the cliché was God, and oh my God, the cliché was the best thing since sliced bread. And after the false start, when everything in the Garden of Eden was not rosy, what with the sticky patch caused by the low hanging fruit and the snake in the grass, the cliché got the ball rolling again. Everything but the kitchen sink was in the cliché, and through the cliché. And without the cliché there was nothing to write home about.

And God gave the one true cliché to a man who didn’t have a penny to his name, and told him “go forth with this cliché which is the spice of life and the light which shines at the end of the tunnel, and it will overcome the powers of darkness and will make the world go round”. And the one true cliché took the world by storm, though it was a small world, when all is said and done. And the man led the horse to water, and the people followed him to the bitter end. And he said he who comes after me with a cart, will gift you a horse, and he who comes before the horse has bolted must look it in the mouth, but if it is dead, do not flog it nor get back in the saddle.

But the people were young and foolish, and did not stay glued to the one true cliché. The man tried in vain to put the people back on track, but even those that lived in glass houses threw stones at him. They took to false clichés like ducks to water, and the clichés grew like weeds, and were as much like the one true cliché as chalk is like cheese. And so, at his wits’ end, God grabbed the rope that he had given the people enough of, picked up his bat, ball and the one true cliché and went back up the stairway to heaven which echoed with the sound of a fat lady singing.


For Shame of Doing Right

Richard Thompson wrote the song “For Shame of Doing Wrong”. Sandy Denny (in my view one of the greatest ever female singers), turned it into “I wish I was a fool for you again”.

A few of my poet friends have written and talked recently about the feeling of shame, and its involvement in the writing process.

Marianne Musgrove wrote about it on her blog:


Shame can block us from being creative. Being creative exposes us to criticism, reveals our vulnerability, our fear of rejection. A lot of poets I know, especially women it seems, devalue their work and / or don’t like to promote themselves.  Yet to me, they are clearly incredibly talented poets.

Last night I competed in, and won the World Poetry Day Poetry Slam in Adelaide.  I’ve placed in slams before and won minor competitions. But this is the first serious slam I’ve actually won.

I have my lovely niece, Catherine Ford, and her best friend Kate Lang, staying with me for two weeks, visiting from Cambridge, England. They’d never been to a poetry slam before. We’d spent the day cycling, and then rushed into town to catch the slam.

I did everything you’re not meant to do. I didn’t learn my poem. I hardly prepared at all. And then, during the pre-slam announcements, I changed my mind about the poem I would perform. What could possibly go wrong?

I ended up being relaxed and enjoying myself, which of course is how you always want to feel when you’re competing.

The reason I changed poems at the last minute, was that the wonderful M.C., Daniel Watson, mentioned that one of the drivers for slams was that audiences often found poetry boring; that slams are a way of getting audiences more involved in poetry. “Audience Involvement”. Aha! I have a piece called “Selfish Bastards” (written for Tracey Korsten’s “Word Box” event, which also encourages audience participation). I quickly dug out the words for it, from the little spiral bound journal I had with me.  The audience were very participative, and  I quickly had them all shouting “Selfish Bastards!” after every stanza of my poem. It was great fun.

What’s this got to do with shame and Sandy Denny?  Maybe not much, except that I ended up winning the slam. Two of the five judges gave me 10/10.  I won $100.  All for an unrehearsed, unprepared poem that I read from the page.

That’s when a sort of shame feeling can jump out and grab you. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself saying things like: “It was just luck”,”I didn’t deserve to win”, “The judges got it wrong”, “It was a fluke”, “He / She deserved it more than me” etc.

These days I can recognise those voices for what they are, but certainly it’s something to watch out for. My generation was brought up “to be seen not heard”, to not brag or stand out from the crowd. The teachers (mostly priests or ex-priests) at the Catholic Boys’ Grammar school I attended, mostly told us over and over that we would never amount to much. When you’re young and impressionable, those messages can sink deep into your subconscious.

Winning can take some getting used to.

I’m sorry for the things I’ve said, the things I’ve done
I’m sorry for the restless thief I’ve been
Please don’t make me pay for my deceiving heart
Just turn up your lamp and let me in
(Richard Thompson: "For Shame of Doing Wrong")

copyright Mike Hopkins 2013

South Australian State Poetry Slam Final

"Adelaide is ...."

“Adelaide is ….”

The State Slam final was last Friday night (November 2nd 2012), and I was one of 10 finalists, at a packed out Higher Ground, Light Square, Adelaide.

In case you don’t know how a slam works, here’s a quick summary:

– You’ve got 2 minutes only to present your poem.
– 5 Judges are picked at random from the audience. The judges score each poet out of 10, holding up a score card, just like they used to in the Olympics and Come Dancing.
– The top and bottom judge scores are excluded. So you score according to the other 3 judges scores. e.g. if the judges scored you 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 the 9 and the 5 are ignored and you score 6+7+8=21.
– For every 30 seconds or part thereof you go over 2 minutes you lose a point.
– Order of presentation is also random – 10 names go into a hat and the next contestant is picked out of the hat, usually by an audience member.
– the top 2 scorers win $500 and $250 respectively, and an expenses paid trip to compete in the National Final in Sydney in December.

So it’s all about tension and audience involvement and randomness and entertainment.

So on Friday night, I was up against the best in the State. I was convinced I would be picked first out of the hat, but as it turned out I was number 10, so I sat at the back of the packed venue right to the very end, nervously biding my time.

I did a much updated version of my “Adelaide is….” poem, which, in practice, I timed at about 1 minute 50 seconds give or take. I was very pleased with how I did it – definitely my best ever performance. I can’t remember the judges scores, because I was too relieved just to have ‘nailed it’, but there was a 10 in there and a 7.6, and the other scores were, I think in the 8s and 9s. Good scores, very pleasing. I got great audience response, so much so, that I had to wait a few times for the laughter to die down. I’m told that, as a result, I went ONE SECOND over time, which would have cost me a point. My friend Russ reckons I came 3rd overall, but wherever I came, I was up there with the leaders. And the two winners, who are off to Sydney to compete in the Nationals, Gemma Boyd and LaCole Foots, were worthy winners.

Amongst the many people I spoke to afterwards, one young bloke wants me to work with him in setting my poem to music – could be an interesting project.

So a great night, and the whole experience has made me lift my performing skills to a new level.

If you have Facebook, you can see pics at:


and here’s one of all the finalists:

Slam Finalists, Higher Ground, November 2nd 2012

(Photos courtesy, I think, Tanya Jane Brain)

What’s Robert Johnson got to do with Breughel and W.H. Auden? Good Question.

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

I don’t usually give much, if any, of an explanation of my poems before I read them, but I think this one is the exception.  I read it to a group without explanation once, and got a lot of blank looks.

I wrote it specifically for the Adelaide Plains Poetry Competition, run by the lovely Carolyn Cordon. The theme for entries was “Crossroads”.  Crossroads to me brings up images of Robert Johnson, the blues great, singing “I went down to the crossroads”, later covered by bands I used to watch in my teens, like Led Zeppelin and Cream.  Bob Dylan also famously said that he went to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for being able to become a great guitar fingerpicker.

I’d also been toying with the idea of playing with W.H (Wystan Hugh) Auden’s great poem “The Musee de Beaux Arts”, which was apparently written about the famous Breughel painting.  The painting, which hangs in the Musee de Beaux Arts in Brussels,  shows Icarus, in the background, falling into the sea, whilst in the foreground, rural life goes on regardless.   It’s all about how tragedy can befall one person, whilst others carry on their normal routine completely unaware.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

So combining the two ideas, I wondered what might have happened if W.H. Auden, instead of popping into the Musee de Beaux Arts, had carried on walking and dropped into a blues club, to hear the likes of Robert Johnson and other blues greats singing.  The idea of Auden being into blues music is not so fanciful. Another of his famous poems is “Funeral Blues”, which became popular after being misused in the box office hit “Four Weddings and a Funeral” – misused because it was taken literally, rather than with its original ironic intention.

My poem, by the way, was “Commended”, by the judge, John Malone (read his blog, it’s very good), who said:

The most curious poem, also commended, was ‘Wystan Hughes walks past the Musee de Beaux Arts and drops into a nearby blues club’ [after W H Auden] (by Mike Hopkins SA), an accomplished, witty and entertaining piece which Auden would have appreciated.

If you’re still with me, and haven’t read the Auden poem, here it is, followed by my fantasy of Auden getting into the blues.

Musee de Beaux Arts by Wystan Hugh Auden

About suffering they were never wrong, 
The Old Masters; how well, they understood 
Its human position; how it takes place 
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; 
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting 
For the miraculous birth, there always must be 
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating 
On a pond at the edge of the wood: 
They never forgot 
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course 
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot 
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse 
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. 
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away 
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may 
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, 
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone 
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green 
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen 
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, 
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Wystan Hugh walks past the Musee de Beaux Arts and drops into a nearby blues club (after W.H. Auden)

About wooing, they were never wrong

those Old Blues Greats; how well they understood

that if you are going to invite a woman

to go with you up the country

then you make damn sure you have a fallback plan:

her younger, desperate sibling, Lucille

who is only too willing to accept your proposition

in the event of big sister’s refusal

About marriage, they were never wrong

those Old Blues Greats; how well they understood

that the years take their toll; before you know it

the thrill is gone away. You’re free from her spell

and her from yours, but your only friend

is the bartender, scratching his innocent behind

as you drown your sorrows with rounds

of one bourbon, one scotch and one beer

About infidelity, they were never wrong

those Old Blues Greats; how well they understood

what it is to come home after a long day’s work

to find the insurance man rollin’ and tumblin’ with your woman

to realise that yesterday it was the milkman

and before that the postman, knocking more than once

whilst you went blithely about

your working day

About the crossroads they were never wrong

those Old Blues Greats; how well they understood

that sulphur scented crucial point where

at midnight you make your infernal trade with the devil

your soul; to become that demon fingerpicker or

to have all the women and whiskey one man can stand

to be that something amazing which separates you at last

from the humdrum human position

those Old Blues Greats; how well they understood

copyright Mike Hopkins 2012