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Student’s words take flight to win poetry prize

Published on 05/11/18

A Sir Isaac Newton sixth former has scooped first place in a national competition inspired by the poetry of World War II.

Isaac Silver's powerful poem 'Gomorrah' was crowned the winner of the 2018 Timothy Corsellis Poetry Prize for under-25s, named in honour of a young poet and pilot who was killed in 1941.

Judge Karen Leeder, poet and professor of modern German literature at New College, Oxford, described Isaac’s work as “powerful and focused”.

She added: “This poem keeps to the local and particular in a very effective way; I liked the confidence to be concise and the control of the lines.”

Inspiration for the poem came from Corsellis’ ‘Dawn After The Raid’, based on the poet’s own experiences during the Blitz.

Isaac said: “’Gomorrah’ draws from this sense of disillusionment and futility in depicting the Allied bombing campaign Operation Gomorrah in July 1943, in which the city of Hamburg was virtually destroyed and 42,600 civilians lost their lives.

“The poem explores the moral grey areas of strategic bombing as well as the subjective nature of good and evil intentions and actions.”

Isaac’s prize includes £100 of book tokens, poetry books, and publication in The Poetry Society’s quarterly Poetry News.

Gomorrah - isaac silver

All the trees were on fire.

The asphalt roads bubbled, tarmac quick
sand greedily swallowing
matchstick people. Tumbling they went,
flakes of a city dissolving in a shot glass
of Armageddon.

Horses ran from the Hertz hauling business
with incandescent manes as all the oxygen
vanished and candles in air raid shelters
flickered out.

Firestorm entered the dictionary;
a new and dangerous and enrapturing
word that – if you heard it – would sound
in your head like a church organ playing
all keys at once,
would feel like the sun,
and would taste like pyroclastic flow.

High above the dull red cobblestones
a gunner cheered.

He felt the warm air waft up to the wings,
noticed how the fuselage was speckled
with soot, thought he smelled a barbecue
back home.

Down below, everything sloughed off to
the bone.