Poetry Prize 2016 judges Andrew McMillan and Rebecca Perry on ‘They Don’t Make Gods For Non-Believers’:

We were instantly drawn in by the voice of this poem – its strangeness, its ease with itself even in the face of such an uneasy subject, such a disquieting unfolding of events. With its masterful, regular couplets, this poem pulls itself into control; a control we secretly fear will dissolve like the ‘light/with all its grit and soft sine’ that ‘comes apart/into colour’. But right up to the final, shattering line, we are completely held. In reading this poem, we too are exposed to the ‘too white light’ – forced to confront our relationship to illness, health, belief, death, what we rely on.


When I tell him I’m dying, my doctor says I’ll die
years and years from now if I’m careful, so I will

die, then, I say, but carefully. After all, if it’s worth
doing then it’s got to be worth doing carefully

and my doctor agrees (he should). All the same
you can be too careful, which is why I see him far less

than is, quote-unquote, prudent. My doctor, I mean, not
God. Him, I see so much more than should a devout

non-believer. But never where I expect to – great
storms, great losses and the like. Rather in the pale

residues left behind latex gloves, or the soft patience
of a painkiller. Maybe it’s a sign I’m approaching

the end. Or it may just be the perfunctory depression
of my tongue again, the requisite ah. Ah, as though

comprehending. But let’s face it, comprehension’s
not the issue. I mean, I can comprehend, like glass,

that light, with all its grit and soft sine, comes apart
into colour, but that hardly helps the halogen, hardly

amounts to understanding. My doctor thinks his is
a look of understanding, with all that plastic wisdom

of sign and symptom, but understanding nothing
of mine. Between you, me, and my god, my God

I’ve got a lot to cower from. Which, I guess, means
I should put faith in one of us. But Him I don’t trust

any more than my doctor, or me, or any more
than anyone else so reliant on terror in their acolytes,

shivering and braille-skinned, deaths confessed to
and calendared. He laughs at my swithering, hands

swaddled in the too-white light, reading my body,
asking who I’m speaking to as I write this, kneeling,

pages closing more quietly than hands on the bed.


Poetry Competition Winner 2016

Patrick James Errington is a poet and translator from the prairies of Alberta, Canada. His poems have appeared in magazines and journals including The Iowa Review, The American Literary Review, The Adroit Journal, Horsethief, DIAGRAM, and others. A graduate of Columbia University’s MFA programme, Patrick now lives in Edinburgh, where he is a doctoral candidate and Buchanan scholar at the University of St Andrews.

Dearest reader! Our newsletter!

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest content, freebies, news and competition updates, right to your inbox. From the oldest literary periodical in the UK.

You can unsubscribe any time by clicking the link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or directly on info@thelondonmagazine.org. Find our privacy policies and terms of use at the bottom of our website.