2021 Winners

We are proud to present the winners of the inaugural Dead Cat Poetry Prize.
A huge thank you to everyone who entered and made our decisions so difficult.

First Prize

Félicette and the Lightning by Eleanor Conlon

Félicette was a Paris street cat sent into space in 1963. She was killed after her successful space flight so scientists could examine the electrodes implanted in her brain.

A flash, a white streak through
Black singed nose hairs
Chasing tail, sweet rat scent
Burning through the carrot tops behind the bins
Wrapped up in myself
Strolling through the alleys easy as
Cloud to air.
Parlour-calm, the facility opens for
C341, best of the bunch
Wires crawl spider-like
Electrodes prickle, burrs
Glued to my foreleg and
Lodged stone-like in my skull
Cocooned in canvas, I first taste it
The lightning
White and veined, blue cheese
Filched from a mousetrap
Its volts a melting stink
Carrying me sizzling
Cloud to cloud.
Ice bright Kodak lights my face for history
I could be anybody’s favourite pet
If volts didn’t frog-leap up inside me
Or straps hide the gripping of my claws.
Forty-two blistering seconds
Burn the rocket’s engine, nose cone
Nudges, shoves, carries me to weightlessness
Petrol in my fur when the lightning crackles
Bone deep, igniting me
Without breath, I am a storm
Of nine lives lived in one.
Afterwards, the jagged fall
Cloud to ground.
Jerking, a bird pinned under a paw
My heart struggles
A blooming trophy
And in my quivering eyes
The image of the endless.


Second Prize

We Met You as a Dead Thing by Beth Davies

A hit and run on the road outside our house.
While I stood there useless, my friend
was already googling 24-hour vets. I loved her
for how tenderly she wrapped you in her coat. 

I held you in my arms as she searched for a box.
You weren’t quite stiff yet. When you shifted
with the rise and fall of my chest, I mistook my breath
for yours – the foolish necromancy of hope. 

In the passenger seat, you lay curled in my lap.
I clutched the sides of your cardboard coffin,
trying to still the journey’s juddering.
We turned on the radio but didn’t sing along. 

The vet found your microchip; we weren’t sure
whether to be relieved or saddened,
knowing for certain that someone loved you
enough to want to find you again. 

Later we learnt your name.
In the photo your owners sent,
you looked so alive
I barely recognised you.


Third Prize 
[content warning: infant loss]

I’m sorry by Emily Gildea

You tell me
That it was traumatic – 
        the late-night trip to the out-of-hours vet.
And I picture –
the only death-scene I have ever known – 
the stark lights of a hospital ward, reflected
in the blindness of a pane of glass,
car park beyond.
I listen and imagine
your kitten cradled in your arms,
babe-like, soft – newborn at the edge of death.

But when the image flickers, what I see is
that drizzly September seared white-hot,
        that woven casket, Moses-basket small,
        my friend’s god-barren, tear-contorted face.
Carrying his son
like I did mine, upstairs for milk.

And I suppose it’s good
that your grief is mirror to your love
But my mind has no basket
in which to bear your loss.



Commended


Cat Sanctuary by Juliet Wilson

The colour of her eyes reflected in the bodywork,
her feline grace echoed in the rounded lines
though rather than the car itself she had a taste 
for the shady place of safety
beneath its handsome shape.

Rainstorms or heat-waves 
or the times her slaves 
seemed somehow angry
she would quickly hide away
in that secret den. 

She did not foresee
this stark betrayal
the engine's warm hum 
seemed so comforting.

Startled 
by acceleration
she leapt to escape
but tail-caught
failed. 

-

Dead Cat Poem by Roseanagh Burke

I don’t want to write
I d o n o t want to write
A poem about a **** ***.

My cat is at home. He winks at me lazily 
Through catnip-flavoured clouds 
He wraps his tail around my brain as
We lament the loves and losses
Of my roaring twenties.

I have only two cat facts:
First one: house cats share over 95 per cent
Of their genetic makeup with
Tigers and secondly,
(this next fact concerns death)
Ancient Egyptians would
Outwardly display their 
Collective grief for their 
**** ***
By shaving their eyebrows off

Personally, I’ve shaved my eyebrows off
For a lot less
Than pet loss.

A bar, New York, 1944:
I was drunkenly
Recalling our first
Kiss to Salvador Dalí, and he had
Ascertained from my tale something of a 
dreamlike quality in
Our outward display of collective love
Something like:

Two tigers jumping together
From the throats of two
Yelloweye rockfish.

We are the complete opposite of a 
**** ***. 

The Great Pyramids, modern-day Cairo, 2500 B.C:
Where is Dalí? Reach for a spoon to
Quantify myself, I am upside down
In this silver compelled to skin away sweat and sinew.
I have shaved off more than my eyebrows
This time. My brains are all over my face and there is a 
**** ***
On the floor. 

(For my dear friends, Snoop Lebowski and Quinn 
Lebowski. It sucks that you aren’t here anymore.) 

-

Now You Are Gone by Rachael Clyne

I will find you in the stars’ cradle
your mouth-fur stilled.  
Your choice to not eat,
your quiet fade 
into transparency.

Your no longer 
tip-paw, tightrope walk, 
kicking each back foot, 
as if to shake off drops 
of water you licked. 

Outside, a milk-bowl moon 
searchlights grass. 
In the hollow of your bed,
pheromone molecules 
cling to its folds, 
then vanish into night.

-

Everyone in Edinburgh’s Cats Are Dead by Corin Allison

Ten years ago; I deliberately forget my PE kit to skive, but Ms Torbett senses passivity in
the face of confrontation, and makes me borrow a twelve-year-old boys’ kit from lost
property.

“Your cats are a bit dead” says my friend Karina. I don’t have a cat.

Eight years ago; My friend Danielle’s boyfriend Melville, who is four years older than us,
tweets “Everyone in Edinburghs cats are dead”.

Twenty-two retweets, sixty-four likes. No replies.

Six years ago; I am studying in Australia and visit Melbourne. A girl on the train, a year or
two younger than me, is loudly talking about the vintage Manchester United soccer top she
is wearing.

I don’t know why, but I suspect that everyone in Melbourne's cats are dead in the same way
that everyone in Edinburgh's cats are dead.

Four years ago; I am on a checkout in Homebase. My work friend Jay comes in to pick up
my work friend Hannah, dressed for a date.

Our manager Vicky shouts to him “Jay, your budgies are deid”. He laughs.

Two years ago; I listen to a podcast where the co-host asks “Is it a Newcastle thing to say
that your cats are dead?”.

They agree yes, and move on.

Half an hour ago; I howl into the abyss “What does your cats are dead mean?”
Urban Dictionary says: “Cats are deid, yer”

“Exclamation (Scottish) used offensively towards people whose trousers are clearly too
short for their legs. Derived from the resemblance to a flag flying at half-mast,
speculatively in honour of the wearer's dead felines.”

-

Fat-Cat by D.J. Greenwood
 
She was savaged to death  
By a pack of dogs 
Not much was left to bury  

But we did 
We buried her in the back garden 
Under a stunted palm-tree  

I was six of seven years old  
And after a few months I begged my   
mother  
To let me exhume her corpse  

To see how much she had rotted.  
I was not allowed.  

Years later, when our puppy had grown 
And the stunted palm had become brown   
and brittle 
The now dog began digging  

He brought her up showing her chalky   
bones to the sun  
Then, crunching them between his   
teeth  
Finished the job his distant brothers started.  

We all looked on 

Quite bored

-

Humphrey's Biscuits by Lisette Abrahams

I was cutting the hedge when I heard my neighbour Fred 
Shuffle slowly in slippers down his path and approach.
It put me on edge. I didn’t want to see old Fred.  
I knew his cat had died a week or two ago. 

A week or two ago, the creak of back door stopped.
No more man and cat on twilight rounds round the garden.
Stopped too, Fred’s early plodding tread on squeaky stair,
And rattle of cat biscuits heard through too thin walls.

I didn’t want to see Fred’s filmy eyes fill, then spill 
His grief for that scabby cat. It embarrassed me.  
Too late. Fred’s shaking hand appeared, he coughed, then pushed 
An old tin through hedge, its colours pale and fading.
“I wonder if your Gilbert would like Humphrey’s biscuits?”

Late that evening, I tip the biscuits in my cat’s bowl. 
He saunters in. Sniffs bowl, darts dirty look my way
Then gets stuck in. Makes short work of the legacy. 
Watching Gilbert’s indifferent guzzling, I start to hope
He absorbs more of Humphrey than his leftover biscuits. 

-

Missing (A Found Poem) by George Parker

All words were taken from the missing pets section on gumtree for South East London 

Ginger almost coffee coloured 
White with darker stripes 
Distinct blonde patch under chin
Yellow/pale green eyes. 

Neutered, neutered, chipped, neutered, chipped, pregnant, deaf.

I pray she has found a good home and if 
you have taken her in please tell me because 
I don’t mind if you keep her at all as long as 
she is safe.

Gone 
Went 
Been 
Missing.

Terribly
Very
Really
Missed.

Cupcake
Gary
DJ
Misty.

Please help me find my cat
She is unwell and needs special care
He went out in the night and still hasn't come back.
Please check your garages and let me know if she is hiding there.

-

return of the birds by Jonathan Kinsman
                      for wookie
 
if a distance is greater than she will travel,
why should it matter? here is a good spot,
beneath the neighbour’s bird feeder,
where she can await their return with the light.
from a cat’s perspective, nothing is higher
than birds in flight passing back and forth
overhead across that great blue ceiling —
beautiful like a jewel still earthed, like buds
unblossomed, like a fruit yet to be picked;
her greatest wonder, where exactly they go
after sunset, from whence the night things emerge.
and here she will sit to confirm her suspicion:
that they escape through those pinpricks
that mottle our darkness into some other place.
 
she is old enough. it is time to learn,
when the dawn breaks and she slips a paw
under that door left so slightly ajar,
 
if it really is full of birds.

-

T. S. Eliot Misses His Cat Jellylorum by Christian Ward

I was only telepathic with my calico Jellylorum, 
never dogs. We scheduled one another better 
than the trains at King's Cross, always knowing 
the time to eat or sleep or even breathe. I enjoyed 
taking her down to Brighton to watch seagulls 
dance like marionettes at the sight of fish and chips. 
We played hide and seek at the Royal Pavilion, 
ate afternoon tea at the local Lyons tearoom
and hunted rats together in the Lanes. 
She was more human than Prufrock, who hid 
himself away like the Lindisfarne monks, 
and was always surprised to see the tide 
wrapped around his ankles. Jellylorum, instead, 
wrapped herself around me like a stole 
while I wrote, sleeping on my shoulders 
until the dark crept out. She liked to chase 
gangs of mice at night, form new and beautiful 
constellations out of their splayed bodies. 
Perhaps she's among the stars now, 
while I watch the days shut like mousetraps. 


-----


The judges' decision is final. All entries were anonymised and read 'blind' by all three judges. All work appears here by permission of the poets and must not be reproduced without permission.

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