“Underneath a Car on the Highroad Between Abergavenny and Blaenarvon” by Alexander James

Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2016: Artist’s Choice


Painting by Catherine Edmunds
Painting: “Castlerigg” by Catherine Edmunds. “Underneath a Car …” was written by Alexander James for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2016, and selected by Edmunds as the Artist’s Choice winner.

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Alexander James


The car broke down                 five miles from
home,                                 no-one in sight.

I stooped, cheek an                 inch from the wet
earth                                     and craned to look

underneath like                 I could spot the
fault,                                 try to fix it.

A snapped axle                 frames a blade of
green                                 engulfed by rust

verdant, rotting,                 speckled with cairns
hurled                               by nameless gods

in their gambles.                 Fronds shaggy, un-
trimmed,                           giving way

only to sheep,                         straggling, black eyes
glazed,                                 watching with all

the slack interest                 of those who have
never                                 considered death.

It’s the first time                 anyone has
ever                                 seen this, I say

to myself, before                 I begin to
hike                                 down the cliff side.

Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2016
Artist’s Choice Winner


Comment from the artist, Catherine Edmunds, on her selection: “The best poems took my painting as a prompt and sprang off in unexpected directions rather than simply describing in words what I had painted anyway. I know what I painted! I wanted to find out where it took you, the poet. The top ten took me all over the place, both geographically and emotionally, and I despaired of picking just one entry to win, but after dozens of reads, one poem emerged as the one I most looked forward to re-reading each time, and that felt like a perfectly valid reason for declaring it the winner. This poem transports Castlerigg from Cumbria to Wales and plonks it down underneath a car; then tells a gloriously vivid tale of what happened—and does so in a tight, poetic form that transports me straight to that Welsh hillside, along with its straggly slack-eyed sheep. I can smell the rain in this poem. It had to win.” (website)

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