News and events

Proms poem named number one

26 September 2012

Rachel Atkinson

UCLan lecturer wins BBC Radio 3 competition

A lecturer’s love of Johann Sebastian Bach has led to her winning a national poetry competition.

University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) lecturer Elizabeth Burns was named the over 18 category winner of BBC Radio 3’s 2012 Proms poetry contest.

Her prizewinning work, called Listening to Bach’s B Minor Mass in the kitchen, was read out on national radio during the interval of the Proms.

Elizabeth, who teaches on the MA Children’s Writing course, said: “Winning this competition was a huge honour. It was great to have the poem read so beautifully on air and to know it would be listened to by thousands of people.

“Winning this competition was a huge honour”

“I'd never tried writing about music before, and it felt a challenge to try and capture something of the piece in words, but hopefully the poem succeeded in doing that.”

Presenter Ian McMillan and poet Wendy Cope both praised Elizabeth’s literary skills.

Ian said: “It was a clear winner for me. What I liked was the specific language.”

Wendy added: “I loved the way the rhythm flowed. The way it takes off and comes to an end is great. I’m really impressed by it.”

Elizabeth, whose favourite composer is Bach, has taught various creative writing modules at UCLan since 2003.

“It was a clear winner for me. What I liked was the specific language”

Read her winning poem, Listening to Bach’s B Minor Mass in the kitchen, below.

Finally, I’m done with the phone calls and everything else
and when I switch on the radio it feels like lying in salt water –
all I need to do is breathe: Bach will keep me afloat.
I’m mixing yeast into flour, making rolls for my daughter’s
birthday breakfast in the morning, kneading and kneading
the dough then setting it to rise; arranging in a glass
the last of the tiny pink roses with a sprig of green,
finding the blue candles and ironing the tablecloth,
the one my granny embroidered, sweeping the floor,
thinking about the hot August night of the birth,
and about the people we met on Westray last week,
and the presents I still need to wrap, and Bach himself
who is like a mountain covered in wildflowers,
and the singers in the Albert Hall who, the conductor says,
get close to godliness through this performance;
and I’m wondering, as all those voices fill my kitchen
with the Mass, if this is what he means: the sense
of time and place dissolving, so what divides us
from the past and elsewhere, and from each other,
falls away, and everything’s connected and we are all
drops of water in this enormous breaking wave.