Jean Yeates Writing Prize Winner

Posted on October 17, 2019

Congratulations to Amelia Neylon for winning this year’s Jean Yeates Writing Prize with her passionate poem “The History of Fire”.
The Jean Yeates Writing Prize is named after long-serving staff member Jean Yeates, who is remembered for her passion for the English Language and her devotion to education.
Thank you to our judge, Poet Sarah Day, and to all our students who submitted some truly amazing work for consideration.

Here is her winning poem in full:

History of Burning
by Amelia Neylon

Faggot: A derogative term used against homosexuals, believed to be derived from the word ‘Fagot ‘meaning bundle of sticks’, as it is believed that accused homosexuals were historically burnt as fuel for accused witches’ pyres.

Fire changes a landscape.
It kills and continues,
and leaves reminders in black stripes, and trees regrowing from the trunk up
and we all run from it.

History changes a landscape
it kills and continues
and we leave reminders in disfigured stones, and numbers rounding down
and we all run from it,

and if fire is history…

cigarette butts into leaf litter is what happens
after we forget the danger it holds
because all we remember is how it looks
domesticated in our homes for long flickering evenings

but you can’t talk
or kiss with a mouth full of ash
if the history that burnt up my bloodline
and left embers in my lungs isn’t put out
how am I meant to choke out the words?
when you won’t see me through the smoke
and smoke can’t blind already closed eyes,
just sting noses.

heat is the warning to your spine
which saves your hand, which saves your heart,
and I’ve been pressing the back of my hand to doors and book covers
before I open them
Because I keep breathing in sentences that taste like choking

and arson is what happens
after we tell each other that we can avoid tragedies,
by starting them ourselves

But when fires burn hot and bright and fast
They say you can wait it out
in your house with a wet towel over your head
Make sure no photos even crinkle

It’s the door mat
The important thing to remember is the door mat

That’s how a house catches fire
The welcome path to sparks like kisses on cheeks

an invitation to blaze, and soon the eaves drip

houses burn down because of the invitation
the permission we forgot we give

If the fires come
I will wait in my house
with the doors open
and my door mat gone
And kisses keeping tasting like ash in the heat of other’s gazes

So, when the fire come
I will hold my door open to it
let it rage through my wooden frame
that keeps the rain out.
I will wait with the notebooks – I should burn for – held tight to my chest
I won’t let them even crinkle
in the heat of this resurrected, worn-out, mob.
there will be no doors for them to beat on
While I think, maybe there’s another way to do this.

There is a word: Budawa
which means ‘I warm my hands at the fire and take your hands in mine to warm them’

and if history is fire

there is another way to do it
that lets me open my door when the fire knocks