City of forbidden shrines

I was almost born in the lunar month of padded clothing
             in the solar term of almost summer
in the season of ringing cicadas
             in the city of forbidden shrines

almost spent a girlhood watching sandstorms
             tearing through the almost golden sunlight
I almost scraped dust off my knees each day for fifteen years
             almost painted paper tigers each year to burn

I could almost hold all the meanings of 家 in my mouth
             without swallowing: [homefamilydomestic
measure word for every almost-place I’ve ever been]
             like the swimming pool turning almost blue
or the mausoleum of almost ten thousand oranges 

here I would have never breathed an ocean
             never held mountains in my hands
                         except in almost-dreams
in which long white clouds drift
                         almost close enough to touch

by Nina Mingya Powles

The Poetry Centre’s International Poetry Competition for 2020 is closing for entries soon! Our judge this year is the Forward Prize-winning poet Fiona Benson, and as always, we have two categories: Open and English as an Additional Language. The winners receive £1000, with £200 for the runners up. The deadline for entries is 14 September. For more details and to enter, visitour website.

‘City of forbidden shrines’ is copyright © Nina Mingya Powles, 2020. It was originally published (in a slightly different form) in Literary Shanghai, and is reprinted here from Magnolia, 木蘭(Nine Arches Press, 2020) by permission of Nine Arches Press. Read more about the book here, and watch the book launch on the Nine Arches YouTube channel.

Notes from Nine Arches Press:

木蘭, Nina Mingya Powles’ first full collection, dwells within the tender, shifting borderland between languages, and between poetic forms, to examine the shape and texture of memories, of myths, and of a mixed-race girlhood. Abundant with multiplicities, these poems find profound, distinctive joy in sensory nourishment – in the sharing of food, in the recounting of memoirs, or vividly within nature. This is a poetry deeply attuned to the possibilities within layers of written, spoken and inherited words. A journal of sound, colour, rain and light, these poems also wield their own precise and radical power to name and reclaim, draw afresh their own bold lines. Learn more about the book and buy a copy here.

Nina Mingya Powles is a poet and zinemaker from Aotearoa New Zealand, currently living in London. She is the author of a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai (The Emma Press, 2020), and several poetry pamphlet collections including Luminescent (Seraph Press, 2017) and Girls of the Drift (Seraph Press, 2014). In 2018 she was one of three winners of the inaugural Women Poets’ Prize, and in 2019 won the Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing. She is the founding editor of Bitter Melon苦瓜, a risograph press that publishes limited-edition poetry pamphlets by Asian writers. Find out more about Nina’s work on  her website and follow her  on Twitter.

Since its founding in 2008, Nine Arches Press has published poetry and short story collections (under the Hotwire imprint), as well as Under the Radar magazine. In 2010, two of our pamphlets were shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlet prize and Mark Goodwin’s book Shod won the 2011 East Midlands Book Award. In 2017, All My Mad Mothers by Jacqueline Saphra was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize. Our titles have also been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Prize, and in 2016 David Clarke’s debut poems, Arc, was longlisted for the Polari Prize. To date we have published over ninety poetry publications. Read more about the press here and follow Nine Arches on  FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.