Water-wheels, Avignon

Straddling the entire breadth
of the stream, we turn

powering no machinery now –
no cloth for fulling,

no dyeing-vats to stir
(that tainted the brook

where now its pebbles shine) –
but letting the clear-eyed Sorgue

push down each paddle
to send the great wheel

clattering round for nothing
but the sheer pleasure

of moving to water’s rhythm.
We are like women

whose children have left home:
skirts kilted, paddling

we’re in our element, laughing,
tasting our mother-tongue.


This deceptively simple, quiet poem grew on me over the weeks. It doesn't put a foot wrong. In my advice before the competition I said that good poems 'strike the reader as being exactly right'. The huge waterwheels, the setting, are evoked with economy and precision and the poem moves as effortlessly as the wheels themselves from description to a simile which opens it out: the wheels become women whose children have left home, 'skirts kilted, paddling … tasting our mother tongue'. All done with admirable lightness of touch.

Anna Crowe is co-founder and former Artistic Director of StAnza, Scotland's Poetry Festival. Her work has been recorded for the Poetry Archive, translated into several languages, and includes Skating Out of the House and Punk with Dulcimer (both Peterloo); and three Mariscat chapbooks, of which Figure in a Landscape, the elegiac sequence written in memory of her sister, received the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award and was a PBS Choice. Awarded a Travelling Scholarship by the Society of Authors, she has translated three books by Catalan poet, Joan Margarit, for Bloodaxe, and the work of Catalan poets, Josep Lluís Aguiló and Manuel Forcano, and Mexican poet, Pedro Serrano, for Arc. Her third collection, Not on the Side of the Gods, is forthcoming from Arc.