2014 Winner


A huge congratulations to the overall winner of Funeral Services Northern Ireland’s National Poetry Competition 2014, from Belfast, Mark Cooper.

Take another chance to read and appreciate the overall winning poem of Funeral Services Northern Ireland’s 3rd Annual National Poetry Competition.

First Catch

Mark Cooper

I remember my first catch – sticklebacks from under the canal bridge,

and it wasn’t just that I was small, they were big, fat and beautiful.

Emerging from the shaded tunnel in our wooden boat, we held them high

and watched their splintery, metallic forms expertly manoeuvre

within the new confines of a glass jam jar, that slipped in our hands,

and that was only with reluctance tipped back into the flow.


I find myself with you in a long sleek boat, and way out to sea.

Gone is the yellow bamboo net; replaced with a brand new rod and reel.

Black lugworms, dug from smelly sand whilst waiting for the tide,

are expertly threaded onto large wire hooks and lowered into deep blue.

Within no time I’m struggling with something that baptises my rod end,

but, with steadying hands, my shouts of panic are replaced with joy.


Waking to a cool damp morning, I peer out across a narrow stretch of water.

The edge is alive with birds diving and dipping. Unexplained waves of rain

sweep across the glass surface, until with line and hook and broken whelk,

I cast over the weed into the melee and pull out a purple tiger, whose skin

is so soft and body strong, that I struggle to hold its manic flapping form,

before a smack with long dark stone and the proud return home to the caravan.


We drive, it seems, for miles, past great places to fish, but you are adamant,

explaining that the journey right out to the end of the pier will be worthwhile.

We slide the caravan door back, let in the overpowering stench

of fish guts and blood caked on the stone harbour floor, steps, walls.

A hive of casting rods, lines, hooks with feathers or flaps of fresh bait,

whipping out and coming back with the opalescent fish dangling.


Our boat is bigger and yet somehow smaller – we are growing fast into fishermen

and the sea is open to plunder, so woe betide fish when the Cooper Boys are about.

The engine chugs steadily, the heavy hull rides the swells, cuts the waves to reach

the cod banks – a place where only the most experienced boats venture. A place

where strange creatures are lured: octopus, gurnard and wide eyed pouting.

A place where fishermen’s stories are made about huge cod and conger.