2010 West Sussex Competition
Winner & recipient of the Chanctonbury Cup
Jean Harvey - Horsham - 'Night Crossing'
Violet Dench - Worthing - 'Death of a Russian Emigre'
Shirley Elmokadem - Horsham - 'Hard to Swallow'
Juliet West - Billingshurst - 'Architectural Beauty'
Juliet West - Billingshurst - 'Custard'
Juliet West - Billingshurst - 'Wasps'
Jean Harvey - Horsham - 'Buttons and Bows'
Leonie Mansell - Horsham - 'The Shoes'
Krystina Hollis - Horsham - 'Gorilla'
David Slade - Littlehampton - 'Another Sigh'
The winning poem
by Jean Harvey
when the moon and stars were set
in a black glass sea becalmed
and the cold hung wide
to curtain off our corner of the world
no wind no rain no cloud
and wakeful in my bunk
a child-size matchbox in the darkness below decks
I listened listened listened out
for the crack of frost tormenting an old tree
its naked mast and random rigging stiff
crusted hard with ice.
Uncounted phantoms walked a diamond plank
I mapped their shadows plotted other dreams
but sleep remained an island too far off
the waters inbetween deep-frozen
and I could not thaw their grip.
Each breath expanded sharp inside my lungs
drained heat away and left an ache
I shivered shuddered shrank beneath
the weight of Mothers best brown fur
the coat shed thrown across me for more warmth
thick beaver lamb grown heavy as a coffin lid
it anchored crushed me still as stone.
A wall away I heard staid timbers move
a creak a silence followed by a groan
and then the sound repeated seeming more
deliberate gained momentum its knocking grew
becoming rhythmic rowers keeping time
their oars more urgent as the seconds passed
I heard the current slap the plunge the rasp
of breath the stifled yells not quite suppressed
from under starchy sheets before the thud
a hull hauled up a long-complaining beach.
In the lull recovery was shushed
to waves withdrawing smoothing turning round
leaving rocks to dry alone untouched
I heard that silence lengthen felt it stretch
until their snores rose up like wheeling gulls
throats hoarse as mourners at a private wake.
These nights I drift and trawl a mill pond calm
where older skies allow each breath to leave
a blameless vapour trail
some vague regret one late unravelling of sympathy
for those short crossings made in dead of night
and me the stowaway not meant to hear such things
too young for pity then no sense of sacrifice
or peace uneasy made at any price.
For now when darkness brings a bitter chill
that infiltrates slowly seeps aboard
through every crack I listen half afraid
Ive brought those echoes with me packed the past
in some salt-battered trunk stowed tight beneath
whatever bed the weather finds me in
the fur skin tight across me with its smell
that fusty reek of Guards cheap filter tips
until the beat begins the rock and roll
of headboard against wall and grinding springs
the rub of wood and metal harsh with noise
the creak of oars across that sea again.
Judith Cair has kindly provided the following comments on each of the poems listed above. Our sincere thanks to Judith for both judging and providing an insight into her thoughts about each of the successful submissions.
Slipstream Poets Competition: the Chanctonbury Cup
I was delighted to be invited to judge the entries for the Chanctonbury Cup this year; I have been greatly impressed by the standard of the poems which have been submitted and by the evident importance to so many writers of the medium of poetry, enabling them to explore their experience in depth and with imagination.
From such a strong field it has been only with difficulty that I have made my final selection. However, I have chosen a group of poems to commend for their combination of vigour and artistry.
For the vividness of the sensory experience contained within the poem and for the way in which a kind of folk rhythm is so naturally called upon to lead us to a startling conclusion.
Buttons and Bows
For the powerful act of imagination which presses imagery and syntax into its service, allowing a highly distinctive tone to emerge.
For the narrative impetus which never loses its focus, so that the subject is ever more vividly present as the poem develops. (This piece, I feel, contains the elements of a fine prose poem.)
For the elegance of the writing in which two parallel tempos are suggested, one playing off against the other, to be resolved in the dreamtime of the final stanza.
For the empathic weight of the writing, particularly in the first stanza, where the reader is magnetically drawn towards a troubling encounter.
For the delicacy of the writing which lead subtly into the central section, where the visual and the tactile combine so evocatively.
The next group of poems I would like to commend highly. I have selected these three poems because in each one I feel that the emotion expressed is finding its real, inevitable and memorable form.
Death of a Russian Emigree
This poem is alive with intelligence: it operates like an internalised dialogue arguing over presence and absence. Although I feel that the poets courage to experiment wanes somewhat in the last few lines, the main body of the poem, with its economy of counter-pointed form, is extremely suggestive.
Hard to Swallow
This poem is as cleanly formed and leaves as distinct an imprint as its subject. There is an unforced naturalness of touch in the association of intense emotion with particular textures and tastes. The dramatic words which are spoken out loud, with their characteristically threatening rhythm, intensify the act of memory.
This is an ambitious poem, not content to remain in the elegaic mood which it so skilfully evokes in the first three stanzas. The movement of the verse is extremely musical, especially when a single sensibility is being expressed. The writing loses its rhythm slightly as the poem attempts to introduce a further element; nevertheless, there is a hint of intractable authenticity about the ending. This is moving poetry.
Each of this final group of poems will remain with me as highly distinctive pieces of work, inviting me to return to them again and again.
However, I have to select a winner of this years competition; because of the excitement of
encountering both its power and its originality of imagination, I have chosen the following poem:
This is an extremely powerful poem which impels the reader to join the poet in significant exploration. The energy of the poem is sustained throughout, with rhythm, syntax and imagery all working together to mine experience, in order to reach some level of understanding.
The guiding metaphor of the poem, which is first signalled in the title and is then vividly maintained in each section, acts as a container for volatile material but more, it points towards imaginative depths in which experience may be transfigured.
This is poetry which feels as though it had to be written and which as a consequence lingers long after the page is set down.