|1st Prize||McGredy’s Roses 1972 by Glen Wilson||Prize £200||Read Judges Report|
|2nd Prize||Uninvited Guest by Caroline Bracken||Prize £100||Read Judges Report|
|3rd Prize||I Told You There was a Wolf by Dave Kurley||Prize £50||Read Judges Report|
Chanctonbury Cup Winner
Highly commended poems
- Isabella Mead, Bucks
- Diane Jackman, Norfolk
- John Foggin, Yorkshire
- Caroline Bracken, Dublin
- Anne Clarke, Glasgow
- Maeve Henry, Oxfordshire
Highly commended West Sussex poems
- Rose Bray
- Mandy Pannett
Commended West Sussex poems
- Jane Joseph
- Barbara Meredith
- Mandy Pannett
There were 468 entries to this year’s competition, a hefty-looking parcel when it was delivered to me a few weeks ago. The task of a sole adjudicator is to read every single entry, gradually narrowing down the number to three prize winners and a few highly commended and commended poems. The first sift can be quite swift eliminating poems with easily spotted flaws. Early discards included poems where the poet had used fancy fonts of different sizes and colours to illustrate their material, which simply drew attention to weak verse. There is an argument here for prescribing a uniform font size and style to create an equal playing field. Some poets used rhyme clumsily, compromising the text to make rhymes work, a common fault with less-experienced poets. I did read poems which showed signs of using language and rhythm well, along with material that showed promise of future development. I was left with a potential long list of about 150 poems. I was sad to find many poems that had much to recommend them which I had to reject at this early stage.
The next stage of elimination becomes even more exacting. This competition had a generous line allowance of 60 lines. This seemed to invite over-indulgence and a sense of not knowing when and where and why to stop, to trailing off at the end. As is often the case, some poems were uneven – strong in some parts, but weak at the end or elsewhere. A touching narrative may be only that and not a functioning poem. There were poems that offered just enough information to confuse rather than intrigue this reader. To be intrigued is not enough on its own. Poets need to ask themselves how hard they can afford to make a reader work, particularly a reader/adjudicator with a deadline. A parody or ‘version’ of a recognised famous poem must be very clever to pass muster. A political diatribe does not become an effective poem by super-imposing archaic language and legend. Revelatory moments are not enough on their own.
By the next stage, I am getting down to the nitty gritty. There are about 50 poems left, and I am hot on the heels of a powerful impact: a prickle of admiration or a rush of emotion – not sure which is most important, but both are necessary: craft and heart. Here the choices become painful. I can see the care and craft that has been expended in writing the final 50 poems. It is difficult to reject some of them, but that’s the job at hand, though I cannot do so without saying these were all promising poems which might have won prizes.
First Prize – McGredy’s Roses 1972 by Glen Wilson, Portadown
My first prize choice, ‘McGredy’s Roses 1972’, grabbed my heart from the opening lines: ‘They keen to me when I tickle / the silk chin of their petals,’ — roses that ‘keen’ – roses that seem to make a sad sound as if someone has died. I am intrigued and moved at once, so I research McGredy’s Roses, and the story of generations of a rose breeding family who are forced to leave Northern Ireland because of the troubles, falls into place and roses become the perfect vehicle to tell the story. Subtle hints of the conflict are dropped in ‘outgrowths / of a fallen Eden’, and of ‘…Mid-Ulster, the air //here poisoned by a war of colours / that will kill all colour.’. It takes only 34 lines for this poet to tell a story of turmoil, escape and renewal elsewhere, in New Zealand as it happens, where ‘beauty is not a luxury’ and where ‘the good soil runs through all our fingers’
Second prize – Uninvited Guest by Caroline Bracken, Dublin
My second prize selection, ‘Uninvited Guest’, is an equally well-made poem, and I dithered endlessly about which of these should be my first. The lead-in was just a tad slower, but when ‘Psychiatry moved into our box room’ I was ready to be hooked. This poem unfolded marvellously in elegantly constructed six-line stanzas, illustrating the way the uninvited guest, mental illness takes over, that ‘he ‘reeked of bleach, didn’t care for the view’, that ‘His DSM ((Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), fettish was embarrassing,’ . The poet illustrates skilfully the way ‘the diagnosis’ of mental illness moves in and takes over so that everything is seen through the lens of the illness. ‘He dumped my muesli, burned every book // which didn’t reference him’ and eventually, of course: ‘He issued me with an ultimatum — / it was you or him. He won.’ Powerful stuff.
Third prize – I Told You There was a Wolf by Dave Kurley, Leira District, Portugal
My third prize choice, written in an unbroken sprawl of long and short lines, was a bit of a wild card. There have been so many poems and stories based on the allegorical/metaphorical wolf and red riding hood, or the boy who cried ‘wolf.’ Could this one stand up to the challenge? With every reading I became more convinced that through an ingenious combination of humour and threat, it could and did. The voice of the narrator was convincing from the first line: ‘I told you there was a wolf’, then moving into demands for contemporary evidence of his existence: ‘pictures from the cameras that never lie.’ I loved the way the wolf was ‘forensically careful’ to avoid detection, the response of authority (the mayor) to providing protection from him for the townspeople: ‘what will happen to the town with no picnic money?’ There were powerful suggestions of the law and the pandemic, the people who ‘picnicked in the woods / And the wolf that picnicked on the people’, until there were no people left except the nervous narrator. Brilliant!
West Sussex Winner – Ionian Cruise by Diana Mitchener
This special prize awarded to a West Sussex poet, was won, hands down by ‘Ionian Cruise’, a contemporary take on Odysseus who fetches up in the ballroom of a cruise liner, ‘his hair swarming with lice, tunic and cloak ragged’. I loved the detail: ‘the ladies in floaty garments’, the ‘vastness of this vessel / humming at speed without visible crew, without mast or sail.’ As with ‘I Told You There Was a Wolf’, there was a tantalising tragi-comedy within the depiction of a wrecked and desperate Odysseus turning up in a contemporary setting calling to Penelope, screaming for Zeus.
The two highly commended poems also came up for me many times as possible contenders for the top three in the main competition. The three commended poems were also in my long and shorter long list.
Many thanks to the organisers of the Slipstream Competition for asking me to adjudicate. It has been an honour, and a pleasure. Also, I have learned so much through the process about the strengths and mainly the weaknesses of my own work!