Mike Barlow was winner of the National Poetry Competition 2006 with his poem The Third Wife. He has previously won First Prize in the Ledbury Poetry Competition 2005, and First prize in the Amnesty International Competition 2002. In 2008, with a folio of five poems, he was a finalist for the Manchester Prize, and his pamphlet, Amicable Numbers, was a winner in the Templar Pamphlet Competition, and later selected as a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. His first collection Living On The Difference was overall winner of the Poetry Business Competition 2004 and subsequently short-listed for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection in 2005. It has been described as a collection with ‘cumulative power, cohesion and a particular, individual voice’ (Gillian Clarke). Reviews have referred to a ‘questing intelligence and… a refusal to accept or offer easy answers’ (Acumen) and ‘free verse so weighed and paced it shows an elegance and care beyond any achieved by formal styles'(Dreamcatcher). His second collection, Another Place, was published by Salt Publishing in October 2007.
Mike lives near Lancaster where, after a career as a probation officer, he now works and exhibits as a visual artist as well as writing. His poems are full of visual detail and draw on both rural and urban life, combining the fictional and autobiographical, often addressing the current of thoughts and emotions that underlie daily events—the undertow as it were—the sense of unease, edginess, transience.
A Long Loss
I lost him overnight, somewhere
between adolescence and the endless
re-adjustments that come next.
I lost him just like that and didn’t know it;
I was miles away, oblivious,
trying to get off with the girl downstairs.
Next morning on the phone
I barely recognised my mother’s voice,
hysteria disguised as flatline calm.
I lost him after that
each time my mother cracked
or a man his age shook my hand.
I don’t remember where I was
when news broke Kennedy was shot
but I lost him then. Watching newsclips
of the Prague crowds chanting
Dubcek, Svoboda, Dubcek, Svoboda,
I lost him when the tanks rolled in.
And in the Registry I lost him
when my hand shook and my wife
of two whole minutes crossed her fingers.
I lost him in Vietnam, the Fastnet Race,
an earthquake in Japan. I lost him
when my struggling son was born,
small blue-browed apostrophe
bundled in an incubator. I lost him
through a long divorce, decades
of sub-Saharan famine, hostage takers, Aids.
I lost him when his younger sister died,
her eighty-year-old memories worn through.
I lost him so often I lost count:
a misheard voice across the room,
a corny joke, Bing Crosby on the radio.