The Open Competition Results.
1st Prize:- Pat Borthwick from Kirby Underdale
2nd Prize:- Jennifer Copley from Barrow in Furness
3rd Prize:- Nick Sargeant from Grantham
Click on highlighted area to go to the poem.
Gill McEvoy - Chester - 'Hands-On'
Caroline M Davies - Wing - The Ear of a Raindrop'
Katrina Naomi -London - 'The Wurlitzer (Dreamland 1980)'
Pat Jourdan - Saxmundham - 'Gold-Beater's Skin'
Derek Adams - Hullbridge - The Devil Makes Work'
Sharon Black Gardoussel - At Andre de Valborgne, France
'Walking on Eggshells'
See bottom of page for link to West Sussex and Children's Competition or use the link in the left hand column.
2010 SLIPSTREAM OPEN POETRY COMPETITION - JUDGE’S REPORT (CATHERINE SMITH)
For a poet, judging a poetry competition is always a strange experience - being asked to pass judgement on the work of fellow writers; to assess the relative merits of different sorts of poems and, ultimately, to say - as far as I’m concerned, these are the ones I liked best.
The competition attracted over 400 entries and the standard was varied, though good overall. Some poems, disappointingly, although showing promise in terms of ideas and subject matter, displayed very little appreciation of the craft of poetry writing - and I suspect this is to do with the writers in question just not reading enough poetry, contemporary or otherwise. Rhyme is great when it works, and really painful when it doesn’t - particularly forced rhymes which bully the poem into saying things it really doesn’t want to say. Reading a poem out loud is always an essential part of the editing process - at this point, we hear the clunky, jarring rhymes; we flinch and do something about them.
There were numerous ‘nature’ poems, which reflected on the glories of the natural world, generally using rather tired and well-worn imagery; the best ones tried new angles, fresh ways of looking at the world. Childhood memories were also a rich source of inspiration for many poets; nothing wrong with using memories, of course, but sentimentality and a saccharine insistence that everything was ‘just perfect’ doesn’t make a good poem - there’s a fundamental denial of life’s complexities which is frustrating for the reader. There were also many poems about parents and grand-parents, and I found many of these extremely moving, particularly those poems dealing with difficult and unresolved issues; the problem is that there are so many ‘family‘ and ‘personal’ poems now being written - and many of them are good, sincere poems - to ‘stand out from the crowd’, the poet must take real risks and be prepared to explore their idea with absolute freshness and conviction.
In the end, I long-listed about forty poems, all of which had real merit. Then came the agonising business of eliminating poems I’d grown fond of. I felt like a mean hostess, declining to send party invitations to interesting, sincere, kind and amusing people. I’m glad I was able to award some Highly Commendeds and Commendeds, and sorry that, in this filtering process, many strong poems didn‘t make the final shortlist. In the end, though, the three poems which drew me back, time and again and which, when I read them aloud, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, became the three main winners.
The Current is a deceptively simple poem, a monologue narrated by an oddball, a misfit, who describes his face as ‘an aching sack on a maypole/in the dervish.’ There were echoes of TS Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in this poem for me - the narrator asks unanswerable questions of the Universe; he knows he is hopeless, but the language remains spare, clipped, utterly unsentimental. The final stanza - a mere nine words in total - is devastating in its simplicity; Thousands, my shrinking father says,/ thousands/ on his education. What I admired about this poem was its ability to suggest much more than it said; the imagery is quite slippery and ambivalent, it invites the reader to ask questions, to probe, to wonder what on earth is going on. For me, it’s about loneliness and existential angst, but it’s also cheeky and irreverent in places, and it seems to me greater than the sum of its parts.
The second poem, Charity Walker, is an observational piece and I was immediately struck by its clarity and sense of purpose. The poet claims she does not ‘know’ the woman who ‘is walking’ - and yet, she describes the contents of her bag - ‘a picture of God,/a piano, hypothermia, her mother’s goulash,/eternity in a five strand necklace,/a foxhole, an eclipse, her duty,/her concentration, a pool of brackish water,/her heartbeat and his heartache/and an envelope addressed to the next place.’ This piling up of precise detail - all very surreal and magical - works so well because we form a picture of the woman without being told what she looks like; we know, instead, that she’s had a life of complexity, joy, pain, guilt, obligation and hope. The second stanza deals with the woman ‘walking until she has visited/every house where a woman lives.’ So this is about universal, as well as highly personal, experience. I loved its quietly confident tone, its assurance that the poet knew what the poem needed to do, and yet didn’t ‘spell it out’ for the reader - it trusted the reader’s intelligence and intuition.
The winning poem, Scene From My Hospital Bed, intrigued me very much at my first reading, although I must admit I wasn’t, at first, attracted by the title; there are so many poems written by hospital beds. However, this poem is narrated by the patient, not some observing lover, spouse or other relative, and it’s an amazing poem from the outset. ‘The world enters me through a straw,/sometimes a lavender kiss.’ Gorgeously sensuous, but what’s apparent at once is that one of the senses - sight - isn’t functioning. And then we enter the terrifying world of a narrator who is told if s/he wants to see anything again, s/he ‘must lie flatter than horizontal. And not move.’ This reminded me of the cruel, often impossible instructions issued to children in fairy stories. The narrator is trapped in a surreal limbo, increasingly sure she won’t escape; ‘Alone, memory is a room full of drawers./ I dream all their keys are kept locked/in one I’ll never be tall enough to reach.’ This is a poem about powerlessness, about the ultimate isolation, but it’s so sparingly, brilliantly written it never slips into self-pity; it speaks to anyone whose life has ever been ‘reduced to the tick of a clock,/the tinkle and swish of a nurse.’ I admired all three winning poems tremendously and congratulate their writers.
Many thanks to everyone who entered; it takes hope and courage to write and even more hope and courage to share your work with others, and I hope you’ll continue to do so.
Slipstream Poets would like to thank Catherine most sincerely for all the hard work put into judging this years competition and for kindly supplying a detailed analysis of her thoughts on the submissions. and in particular the successful ones.