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Haverhill writer Christopher James wins Suffolk poetry competition

A trip to an outdoor pool and a chance sighting of a former Archbishop of Canterbury provided an award-winning Haverhill poet with the inspiration to pen another prize-winning poem.

The verse by Chris James (who writes using his full first name of Christopher), titled The Archbishops at the Lido, won him the annual Suffolk Poetry Society Crabbe Poetry Competition, which came with a £600 purse and a silver cup when he collected it last Saturday at Eye Bowls Club.

The poem was inspired by a swim in Jesus Green Lido in Cambridge last summer and a sighting of former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams wandering through the city.

Chris James collects his Suffolk Poetry Society Crabbe Poetry Competition first prize from Dr Tiffany Atkinson. Contributed photo
Chris James collects his Suffolk Poetry Society Crabbe Poetry Competition first prize from Dr Tiffany Atkinson. Contributed photo

“It’s always really nice to win and it’s pretty rare to win. I’ve had a few seconds, I’ve had a few highly commended but it’s pretty self-affirming to win,” said Chris.

The competition was judged by Dr Tiffany Atkinson, lecturer in creative writing at UEA, Norwich.

Chris, a dad of three who lives in Broad Street and works as the Brand and Ambassador Manager at the Scouts, in Chingford, has had quite a summer of success.

He came second in the McLennan Poetry competition with ‘The Milliner of Hudaydah’, and has been shortlisted for the Wells Poetry Competition, with the results announced on October 20.

Chris was also the winner of the National Poetry Competition in 2009 and has written several books, including two Sherlock Holmes mysteries (MX publishing).

Read about his debut Sherlock Holmes mystery HERE.

His most recent poetry collection is The Penguin Diaries, (Templar Poetry), 65 sonnets about the 65 men who travelled to Antarctica on Captain Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition.


Along croziers of sunlight, the archbishops

swim lengths of Jesus Green Lido.

Behind the trees, along the Cam,

the river’s mirror is a font, brimming with sky:

a hundred yards of holy water.

By butterfly, Robert Runcie has reached

the peppermint stripes of the basket room.

Just ahead, Thomas Cranmer executes

a front crawl, as languid as a sinner to confession.

Boniface of Savoy is spotted in Speedos.

This is still early, when the only sounds

are muttered matins, tumble turns

and the flight of a single bird from a branch.

Through the mist, Charles Longley floats

on his back, writing his sermon on a cloud.

George Carey has knotted his cassock

and is slowly inflating it as a life saving device.

He wears a tattoo of the double helix

on one shoulder and an ichthys on the other.

Selling tickets, Thomas Becket sits at the turnstile.

He sips tea and re-reads the short stories

of John Cheever. He has the patience of a saint.

He counts in the early sixteenth century bishops

who wear nose pegs and synchronise

in a flamingo continuous spin. Meanwhile in Latin,

Rowan Williams gently scolds a pair of pigeons

sipping at the shallows. Justin Welby patrols

the water’s edge in black shorts and plimsolls.

A lifebelt in hand, he leaves footprints in sunlight,

and counts the hours until it is his turn to swim.