Slipstream Competition: Report on Poems by Fay Marshal
General It was very pleasnat to have the chnace to read so many good and interesting poems in the 300 plus entries to this competition; it was correspondingly painful to have to discard most of them in the difficult process of choosing winners.
Nearly all the entrants had a good grasp of competition requirements - good presentation, adherence to theme, etc. - with one exception that goes back to the most basic reuiement of all; read the rules. This sounds so elementary, but one poem entered was in line to win a prize until I spotted that it was well over the 60-line limit, and all that poet's effort was wasted.
A good poem can work in many ways, and the winners and commendeds all have different kinds of strengths and a variety of style and subject. There is narrative and descriptive verse, poems that are sad or funny, plain or poetic, dreamlike or nightmarish, depictions of nature or social comment - what is important is that they should all work well in their own way, and the poet is always in command of their material.
'The Encounter' is a wide ranging theme, and there were a lot of interesting interpretations, while several poets were able to convey meaning at a deep level from seemingly small and trivial incidents.
Once a given level of competence has been reached, the remaining choices are almost inevitably subjective. Judging verse is not an exact science! However, perhaps it's part of the appeal of poetry that it can't be measured in the same way as a mathematical equation. Poets are free spirits, and long may they remain so.
The Ice Storm (1st Prize)
A vivid and well written account of a mountain rescue mission. Here, description is not static, but an integral part of the story, geared to the progressive stages of the narrative. It takes you from the rime and mist at the start to the “needle snow” stabbing the eyes at the scene of the tragedy.
A series of strong visual images throughout contribute to the overall effect: a ‘salt-print photo on a zinc plate’, ‘stone walls and paths cut scars into the mountain’s hide’, ‘ a stain of disturbed scree / points arrow-like at the cliff’s roots’ , the ‘tumuli of bodies, the ‘duvet’ of snow, the ‘apostrophe ‘of their ‘petrified ‘ sprawl.
On one level the encounter is the rescue team’s discovery of the bodies, but is also a powerful portrayal of an encounter between man and the elements, a conflict that goes back to the roots of history.
Watching Flamingos with Morgan (2nd Prize)
Deceptively simple, this was the only poem of the over three hundred judge that brought me close to tears. The analogy between the birds’ captivity and the hopeless outlook from the child of the ‘sink estate’ is well observed, bringing an indirect approach to the issue of social deprivation. The poem is moving and compassionate as it depicts Morgan – ‘intently crouched in awe’, and addresses contemporary issues. It is well written, with a flair for key words such as ‘redundant’ and ‘familial’. NB According to my dictionary, the plural of flamingo is ‘flamingoes’, but even if correct’ poets is above grammar’ every time.
Harbingers and Rebirth (3rd Prize)
This is a poem with a dream-like and mysterious quality, ‘poetic’ in the best sense of the word. The flow of the verse, with its various enjambments, is well handled and accomplished. The arresting first two lines become particularly successful with the placing of ‘she walks at the end, rather than the start. The last lines of the poem are also very effective.
This is the ultimate encounter and the poem cleverly uses the sometimes sinister accoutrements of death such as ‘black sentinels’, ‘candles’, ‘embers’, ‘crows’ in a benign and comforting way.
Messages For My Father Highly Commended)
This is a confident poem with thoughtful observations and a touch of the surreal. The perceived theme of ‘the absence of encounter’ is quite acceptable, and the poem finishes very strongly, with ‘Nothing is impossible’.
This poet has another high-quality entry- The blind grandmother at the Christmas table dreams of Troy’.
The Encounter (Highly Commended)
There is not a word wasted in this evocative poem, with all the words expertly
chosen;: ‘light sags / in a pool at his feet’, the ‘shadow-soaked leaves’, ‘I harry the velvet camellia with my hands’. Almost every line is quotable, from ‘evening falls on my shoulder like a cloak, to ’night steals the garden’.
The poem concludes with a resounding last line that opens up the whole theme and gives an extra dimension to the encounter.