Places of Poetry: Oval Time by Zaffar Kunial

Places of Poetry is a project which aims to use creative writing to prompt reflection about national and cultural identities by inviting contributions to the website, until 31st October. The project is open to all writers. This year Places of Poetry is holding events across England and Wales, each site hosting a poet-in-residence with each poet contributing a poem from their residency to The Clearing. Zaffar Kunial’s poem, Oval Time, was inspired by the Oval Cricket Ground.





I forget that cricket grounds exist in winter

seeing out snow and floating in fog.

I forget that the ground’s been there almost forever

and curling around it like a finger

pointing at the wrought-iron gasholder, a buried river

leaving a curve, the Effra.

A road like a brooch around an opal.

The Kennington Oval.


The O of a cambered surface that drains the water

like an upturned saucer, keeping the clay dry

in the middle. The filled O of the rolled field, its subtle

four-tone tartan. Green. Green. Green. And green.

The O of a crowd in the shade. The eternal

O of a roped boundary. The O


of a century. A double century. Bradman’s duck.

The O of their open mouths watching

a last innings. A last Test. Of not knowing

how many summers you’ll have left.

Of the tilted earth, of an arc, of orbiting the sun

around an invisible seam. The long-repeating


wide-brimmed O, as a river of white sunhats streams

in summer from the Vauxhall tube. The shaken

O of an unstopped urn, as a life’s dust is tipped over

the stumpless wicket, in winter, and atoms drift and turn

up towards the gods, towards the favourite seats

where days happened and stuck.


Time unfolds again and again from the crease. Fielders

stand with their well-ironed shadows. Grace

takes guard, where a bearded man he can’t see called Ali

takes a hat-trick. An event horizon where Richards

has more time at the crease, sees the ball a nano-

second sooner. Where twitchy Smith stares into history


and bobs like a bird, a wagtail or a dipper

half-sitting, half-standing as if stubbornly over

an egg. Sure as an egg timer. Over and over. The O

of a decommissioned gasholder, of a crowd’s open silence,

of a NO shouted at the non-striker’s end. The O

behind that held-up, white, skeletal glove.


The O of that palm, creased like a river.






Zaffar Kunial was born in Birmingham and lives in Hebden Bridge. He published a pamphlet in the Faber New Poets series in 2014 and spent that year as the Wordsworth Trust’s Poet-in-Residence. Since his first public reading at the 2011 National Poetry Competition awards, he has appeared at various literature festivals and in programmes for BBC Radio, and won the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize for his poem The Word. His collection Us was published by Faber & Faber in 2018. He contributed an essay to the anthology Arboreal, for Little Toller Books and Common Ground.


The illustration is by Benjamin Bowen of Union Studio.


Places of Poetry is led by the poet Paul Farley and the academic Andrew McRae. It is based at the universities of Exeter and Lancaster, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England. It is underpinned by national partnerships with the Ordnance Survey, The Poetry Society, and National Poetry Day.



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