SLIPSTREAM POETRY COMPETITION 2009:
First Prize: ‘Going to Colonsay’, by Finola Holiday
Second Prize: ‘GM Dreaming’ by Louisa Tomlinson
Third prize: ‘Two of the loveliest words’, by Richard Halperin
Other commended poems:
‘Evening Walk in Autumn’, by Susan Skinner
‘Strawberry Nets’, by Sharon Black
‘Poem for Celita’, by Margaret Wilmot
‘Treasured Possessions’, by Dill Darling
‘In a Desert Place’, by Gill McEvoy
‘At Hardy’s Cottage’ by Denise Bennett
‘Stones’, by Angela Pickering
‘Entering Venice’, by Gillian Rathbone
‘There is a Field’ by Richard Halperin
Our adjudicator, Paul Matthews, writes:
First, I would like to say how impressed and moved I was by the quality (not to mention the quantity) of the poems submitted for the Slipstream Poetry Competition. The theme of ‘Place’ clearly evoked many touching memories and words which are not easily categorized in the context of a competition such as this. So – thank you for your generous response to the invitation.
You can imagine, perhaps, how difficult it was to select just three from the 400-plus poems spread out before me on my kitchen table. The task of doing so was, among other things, a test of self-knowledge, confronting me with whatever habitual likes and dislikes I had, my prejudices regarding both form and content, and requiring me to transcend them. Probably it is not possible to entirely overcome such personal biases, but I am grateful for the opportunity to try.
A particular wrestling I encountered in myself was between heart and head – whether to go along with my immediate sympathy for the pure, heartfelt lyric, or whether to follow that more modernist side of me which is willing to risk itself with more open, unpredictable form and, perhaps, more extreme content.
This inner dynamic will be apparent to you, no doubt, from my selection. ‘Going to Colonsay’ is a lyric in more traditional form, but with a flow so natural and fitted to its subject that, however much my modernist mind tried to evade the choice, it stayed with me and eventually came out on top of the pile. It is a fine evocation of a natural place which is also experienced as an eternal place in the mind – the one reflecting the other.
My choice for second prize, ‘GM Dreaming’, opens with a similar expectation that in our encounter with nature we can ‘swim in our reflection’ there and trust it. But in this poem the contemporary experience of no longer being able to trust that innocent relationship is painfully and yet beautifully explored – not merely condemning our polluting practices, but seeing it in the imaginative (even religious) context of the split between human image and natural image which these days prevents us from readily ‘falling into place.’
As for my third choice, ‘Two of the loveliest words’, I must confess that I do not entirely understand it, and at first I passed it by. The sprightliness of its language, however, began to persuade me that some true mystery lay behind what I first felt to be an obscurity. It would need the mysterious ‘Constance Garnett’ (named in the poem) to fully ‘open up’ to me the full significance of the poem, but I take it to be an evocation of that constant but often forgotten mystery of our simply being here in this universe, in this country, in this place of our daily life which has been given to us, and which so many of you touched into in the poetry that you sent.
- Paul Matthews (March 6, 2009)
RESULT OF THE JIM JOHNSTON POETRY AWARD
FOR WEST SUSSEX ENTRANTS
'THE CHANCTONBURY CUP'
Our adjudicator Judith Cair writes:-
Reading the West Sussex contributions to this competition has been a fascinating and rewarding task; I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to enjoy the great wealth of writing which has arisen from the theme of 'A Sense of Place'. The theme is a broad one, and what is striking in studying this group of poems is the way in which 'place' is very often inseparable from time and from memory or from a heightened sesnse of perception.
In reading these poems I have been taken vividly to parts on the world which I did not know; I have also been urged to question experiences with which I thought I was familiar. It has also been extremely difficult to select a single winner for this competition! I would first of all like to commend very highly a group of poems which, each in their own way, make a strong impression upon me.
"Dungeness Beach" - Rose Bray
Virtually every word in this poem carries weight; an atmosphere insistent to the point of oppression is skilfully created and the solitary human figure becomes one with the landscape which is so powerfully evoked.
"Gypsy Grass" - Diana Mitchener
This poem strongly conveys authenticity; the rhythms of wondering feet and broken-off thoughts suggest a quiet drama. The ending - so difficult to achieve - is magnificent in its combination of beauty and sadness.
"Playground" - David Slade
This poem evokes a fascinating sense of the layering of time and of the present reality of early sensations. The inventive energy of the children's games described in the poem is reflected in the vigour of the writing.
"A Walk with Gilbert White'' - Elizabeth Hackman
This poem evokes the experience of seeing a garden through the eyes not only of the present but of the past, so that the experience becomes timeless. This impression is achieved in delicate gradations, as the scenery gently reveals itself, mirroring the act of perception itself.
'' The Key'' - Cathy Wright
This is a bold and thought-provoking poem; a characteristically enigmatic voice is established in order to portray a psychic struggle. Each stanza suggests more than is actually described and the writing exerts a powerful pressure.
I now come to three poems in which the strength of the writing creates such a vivid impression that I want to return to them again and again, in order to understand them more deeply.
"Cafe Scene - Picasso" Diana Mitchener
Although this poem presumably started its life in response to a painting, I feel that it now stands satisfyingly alone. The internal balance of the three sections is very interesting, with male and female elements interacting, and then in the final stanza moving towards a place of mutual emptiness. Language is spare and incisive until the final stanza, when the phrasing consciously relaxes. The effect at the end of the poem of discordant noise engulfing individual experience is unsettling and very memorable.
"Aftermath 1917" - Rose Bray
This is a poem in which the subtle orchestration of sound and image induces a state of stillness in the reader - a stillness in which the symbolism of forest and thaw become all the more powerfully present. The heart of the poem,
I could hear the white hare running'
is haunting in its commingling of the senses and its simple - and very skillful - introduction of a human being into the impersonal landscape. This is very impressive writing.
"The Churchyard at Heptonstall" - Juliet West
This is a poem in which each syllable is impacted with significance, where the patterning of sound creates the intensity of the encounter, the anticipation inherent in it, the disappointment and the final suggestion of a turning away. The visual impact is inseparable from the sounds which describe it and I feel as though in reading the poem I am experiencing the shape of a sustained thought. An external space has become internal. A subject which might yield only flat disillusionment here brings to life questions of absence and presence.
In my opinion, each of these three final poems deserves to win this competition. As only one may be selected, I nominate the poem which feels to me to be compeltely alive in every line - "The Churchyard at Heptonstall" by Juliet West