2013 Competition Results
The Open Competition Results.
1st Prize £250:- John Gallas – ‘Driving behind the chaff tractor’
2nd Prize £100:- Valerie Bridge – ‘Trespassing in the Secret Wood’
3rd Prize £75:- Al McGivens – ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholas Tulp’
Highly Commended £10:- Mark Totterdell – ‘Ice Cream’
Highly Commended £10:- Charles Evans – ‘The Ohter Eden’
Click on highlighted area to go to the poem.
See bottom of page for link to West Sussex TBA
2013 SLIPSTREAM OPEN POETRY COMPETITION – JUDGE’S REPORT
Judge’s General Report
This was so difficult! The first phase of elimination is relatively easy. Many poems are heartfelt; few are both heartful and skilfully crafted. (As I say to my students: ‘Raw emotion poured upon the page / does not a poem make.’) The second phase consisted of separating the possible ‘yesses’ from the ‘maybes’. This was tough; and I ended up with about 25 yesses.
What I was looking for throughout were poems that spoke to both my heart and my head; that were carefully but unobtrusively drafted and shaped so that form and content worked together, in synergy; that spoke to something of what might be called ‘the human dilemma’ – by which I mean poems that in some way crossed the threshold between the solely personal and the more truly collective or transpersonal. I like a poem to open out towards the universal in some way at the end, and avoiding tight closure or the ‘punchline’ ending. I like to know a poet knows his or her craft, so I notice things like line breaks, assonance and consonance, imagery, use of sound, and so forth. I want a poem to be intelligent but not in-your-face clever.
I noticed how many poems there were written about specific painters or paintings (from a workshop, perhaps?). Many were good; one in particular broke ‘out of the box’. I also noticed how many used formal metre and rhyme. Although I myself am not terribly keen on formal verse (apart from the sonnet), I enjoy it when it’s well-handled and not archaic in ‘feel’. It certainly adds a dimension to a poem, and requires an extra level of skill.
From the very beginning, I thought I had my winner. At the last minute, though, another quiet little poem slipped in as an outsider challenger. This latter has stayed with me in a way that none of the others has.
‘Driving behind the chaff tractor’ (54)
A confession: it is hard for me to articulate why this poem so spoke to me. All I know is that it quietly wormed its way to the top of the ‘yes’ pile. One night, I went to bed thinking about the longlist I’d been rereading, and fairly sure of my first-prize winner, and the second. This poem wasn’t either of those two. When I woke up the next morning I knew for certain, however, that this one was, in fact, the winner.
It’s rooted in the sensory world. It speaks directly to my heart without being sentimental, overblown, or clumsy. It doesn’t push itself at me. Its intelligence gives it a quality of inner light (in fact the whole poem has a sort of dusky glow to it). It’s quirky; original in its subject matter and metaphor (chaff of course being what’s left after the fertile grain has been winnowed off). It’s handled with quiet insight, restraint, subtlety. The poem’s (author’s) intelligence is never thrust at us, and yet it reveals a great deal of sensitive insight. It’s beautiful to read aloud. I notice the chiming sounds throughout, and the non-intrusive end-rhymes on lines 4 and 5. The diction is careful and lovely (and even though the beginning has a formality to it, it avoids being stilted). I notice the choice of line-breaks. I enjoy very much ‘minor awe’, and the ‘pattered storm of useless chaff’ with the careful quiet line-break there leading to ‘and blink’. (I don’t know why this should be but that ‘blink’ conveys a kind of vulnerability alongside the more obvious connotations.)
The poem is both deeply sad, and yet not at all. There is a lot of resonance in this poem; many layers of possible meaning. I’d say there is an awareness throughout of how harvest and fallow times, past and future, joy and sorrow can and have to co-exist. There’s an awareness of what has been lost, both personal and collective; of what might be and what can never be; of feeling grateful for what you have even while others have what you might perhaps have liked for yourself – a great span to this poem. While I find the poem very moving, it never descends into self-pity, and the ending exhibits an emotional generosity and serenity, or at least acceptance, that makes it the more intense and moving, for me
‘Trespassing in the Secret Wood’ (91)
This was the poem that I imagined would be the final winner. It caught me immediately, and stayed with me as I read the rest. What I particularly like about it (apart from my own personal engagement, as a pro-vaccinator, with the proposed badger cull) was its ability to take me right into the scene, alongside the women. (I’m intrigued by what they’re actually doing, presumably illicitly, in the woodland with clipboards: I like to think they’re sett-surveying for the anti-cull National Trust, or something similar, in the badgers’ cause.) The use of sensory detail is exemplary and sustained, and the sense of movement, too. The three-line stanza form drew me on through the poem. I particularly enjoyed ‘an appearance of avuncular generosity’, and the specificity of all the detail.
What makes it, of course, is the shock in the last stanza, handled without sensationalism. If there’s one thing I wasn’t so sure about it was a slightly whimsical anthropomorphism; in the end, I think it was this that demoted it to second. But a fine poem, nonetheless.
‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicholas Tulp’ (205)
This poem is a truly extraordinary achievement, and someone else might well have placed this first. It deserves it, in many ways; but ultimately a choice is subjective, no matter how well we recognise exemplary poetic qualities.
The poem is laid out in 7 stanzas of diminishing line-count (7,6,5,4,3,2,1) with each stanza closing each line with its own set rhyme and yet managing to avoid the rhyme taking taking over, and all this leads to a) a cohesion throughout the disparate aspects of this poem, and b) the final inevitable isolated closing line. I am amazed at how the poet handles the breathtaking elision, via a shared experience of mutilation, of a Rembrandt painting of an autopsy with a Holbein painting of Christ and then the death of Che Guevara.
I also admire poems titled to take us in a particular direction that draw us off the scent, so to speak, and then lay out for us the real matter. I also think poetry has a useful role in political and/or philosophical commentary, especially if it manages to avoid polemic.
The one thing that didn’t convince me (though necessary perhaps to the form and message) was ‘Hasta La Revolucion Siempre’. I realise it couldn’t easily have been placed elsewhere, but it seemed too obvious an ending.
1 ‘Ice Cream’ (234)
For its simplicity. For its lack of sentimentality. For squeezing my heart, and then doing it again.
2 ‘The Other Eden’ (182)
Because this needs saying, and poetry too can speak out – and is often very effective at challenging the ‘established order’. Because it’s impassioned but not just a rant.
‘Henry’s Girl’ (311) – a very good first-person narrative account of QE1: credible, rich, and filled with vengeful vitality.
‘An Insufficient Ode’ (312) – another very effective narrative of, I imagine, Pasiphae, whom, I believe, gave birth to the Minotaur(?). The perspective on this story from her point of view seems to challenge the established notion that she was craving this lustful encounter, and is moving and forthright, not dodging the pain and brutality, not dressing anything up. Excellent poem; let down a little by the last two lines.
In this section I want to mention, in no particular order, a few other poems that made the final shortlist:
‘High School’ (314)
‘Map-Reading for Beginners’ (325)
‘Big Heat’ (313)