Hampshire Cultural Trust

Shaun Aquilina - Poet for 2010

Shaun Aquilina has won a competition to find the 'Hampshire Poet 2010'.

Shaun Aquilina

Shaun Aquilina, from Eastleigh, is an active member of two writers groups in the county. Throughout his year as local laureate he put the words on his application into practice; "I hope I can communicate my love of reading and writing to others. Reading is one of the most pleasureable and edifying activities that you can be engaged in, whether it makes you smile, or laugh, or jump with horror, or cry… I hope I could write poems that would move people and inspire them to invite poetry into their lives more often." The role included commissions to celebrate aspects of Hampshire County Council's cultural life, with these poems reproduced in creative ways to reach many readers. Shaun also initiated the Poetry Café at Winchester Discovery Centre during his tenure.

Hampshire poets were invited to submit two poems from their portfolio and a personal statement about what they could bring to and gain from the role. The competition was inspired by the success of Alison Orlowska as our 'Hampshire Poet for the National Year of Reading' in 2008. Alison became one of the judges this time round, alongside Stephanie Norgate, published poet and senior lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. As Stephanie commented "The challenge was to give equal attention to the poems and the statement, to weigh up the merits of appointing a new writer or an experienced poet, and to analyse what each entrant said they could offer to the post and the prospective commissions. We both valued a stated love of reading as well as writing and some sense of generosity in the poet's approach."

The sixty submissions were reduced to a shortlist of four. The other shortlisted poets were Phil Powley from Lymington, Ben Lister from Fareham and Maggie Sawkins from Southsea, employed at South Downs College.

If you would like to find out more about the Hampshire Poet role contact Angela Hicken, Literature Development Officer, on 01962 846018


In celebration of Eastleigh Library reopening April 2010

Celebration postcard with poem

Choosing a book

An empty reader, blood stilled,
Statued in the library. The shelved lines,
The minds muscled into paperback spines,
Waiting for a partner to hold them.
Someone else has thumbed these books,
They’ve turned under another’s looks,
Yet do not scold them:
Before you part they may leave your heart fulfilled.


I had walked by the river for an hour,
maybe more. The path’s start
I found by luck, among the trees
at the far end of a playing field.

The dry and narrow soil was barely
a foot from the water; in places
shaded from the heat, still mud.
Elderflower grew at the path’s sides

and wild, green bushes.
Small bridges crossed the water
and rope-swings dangled languidly.
The river glided in the opposite direction

to me. Inside an aqueduct bridge
it lapped and slurped in the black.
The path tracked the railway in places
and an industrial park where the corrugated

sides of shipping containers peaked
over the hedgerow. At last
I came to an orchard,
a memorial where each tree

was dedicated: alder for Ray,
silver birch for Eunice.
Tired, I lay down, half
in the shade of a yew. I dozed

and listened to fragments of talk,
the leaves rustled by the breeze.
Thoughts skipped one after the other
like the bright and dim light

of the sun behind a procession of clouds.
I don’t know how long I stayed
but the air began to cool
and I stood up and began my way back.

The river ran the same way as me now.

The light faded under the thick trees,
sky turning pink over the railway.
Across the playing field (a glance back

to remember the entrance),
through the town, and to my front door.
I turned the key and stepped inside.
The river, the soil, the trees

slipped in behind me.


Elegy for a Father

We buried you under the oak in Bosham Harbour;
Left you, just as you wanted, decomposing beneath
The scratchy, tickly grass, by the stream with its sloshing
Water wheel, turning and turning, and nearer the pub
Than the church. That was winter, and the oak had branches
Like ink trickling over the paper sky, and all the Cherubs and gargoyles of St Mark’s shivered together,
While Lovers and Little Ones walked closer step by step.

I remember you trudging from the garage blackened
By oil. The odour of engine-grease covered your skin,
Tiny cuts laced your fingers, from gears, discs,
All the hard machinery of your day; it didn’t matter:
In a moment I was jumping onto the trunk of your big stomach,
Hanging off your arms, crawling over your shoulders,
While you, rooted to the ground, shook with laughter.

I return to you in the sunshine of a new spring.
Your oak has blossomed in uncountable leaves, shaking
In the seaweed breeze. A dozen kids clamber across
The branches: climb, swing, jump down to mums and dads.
And now I understand your final wish! You chose
This place to carry on, to lie, like a
Sleeping, smiling mandrake, in the roots of the tree,
To hurl your atoms through bark and branch and acorn,
To scatter yourself to a thousand new lives.


Big Uncle Karmanu

Walks like a tympani,
Tent-bellied and powerful,
A mask of sweat,
Plum cheeks grinning.

Is the cork-spitting host
Brimming your wine glass
And chucking the bottle
Like it was all the cares in the world.

Is a clown
Chattering with false teeth at children,
Skewing his glasses like
The Mediterranean’s Eric Morecambe.

Is a clear-eyed counsellor
Plucking his advice
Like ripe oranges from the tree
And handing it down to savour.

Turns his back on the jealousy
Of mean and petty sisters,
Flicks the crickets away
To go chirping in the dust.

And one hard night
With the winds whipping shouts
Of parents breaking apart,
Pulled me close,

Let me lean on that belly
Till the shouting stopped.
Is my big uncle,
Plum cheeks and chattering teeth.