Results 2020

1st PrizePin Head Angels by Miriam PatrickPrize £200Read Judges Report
2nd PrizeMistress Dispelling by Lara FrankenaPrize £100Read Judges Report
3rd PrizeIrene by Denise BennettPrize £50Read Judges Report

West Sussex Winner

Marjorie’s Letters 1916-18 By Camilla Lambert

10 commended West Sussex poems

  • Ionian Cruise 2019 – Diana Mitchener
  • Siesta – Patricia Feinberg Stoner
  • Beach Clean – Miriam Patrick
  • Invasion – Diana Mitchener
  • The Hills of Armonye – Mandy Pannett
  • Small Rain – Mandy Pannett
  • I bring you daffodils – Cherrie Taylor
  • Daedalus and the black sail – Mandy Pannett
  • From Feudalism to Marx/Working in the Fields – Cosmo Goldsmith
  • Ily – Cosmo Goldsmith

Adjudicator’s Report

The two winners stood out on my first read through of the entries because they are both so visceral, they took me immediately to the places where they are set and this is a sure sign of good writing. I put them aside, pulling other poems out as I carried on reading. I found myself with a batch of about 30 poems. I realised both of these winners were historical poems, or rather draw on the past and I was interested in this. I wonder if in tackling what matters in the present it is more effective to look back, to find another moment in history that mirrors what we are living in now. But crucially, also, both these poems are very well put together – they interweave elements of time, place and emotional intensity – and both of them offer the reader a sense of redemption, a bigger view of life that doesn’t shout ‘message’ but shows both poets’ delicacy, their command over and respect for the subjects and images they are working with.

First Prize – Miriam Patrick, Pin Head Angels

Pin Head Angels speaks to me about the terrible working conditions many women still endure globally but it also celebrates their acquired skill, it brings to the reader the intimacy of sewing and then offers us this beautiful affirmation of creativity. It balances the numbing nature of hard work with the result, showing the reader that making lace takes graft and several stages of graft at that. It’s a deft poem, very well paced and satisfying in its leap to Aquinas’ angels at the end.

Second prize – Lara Frankena, Mistress Dispelling

The second prizewinner, Mistress Dispelling, intrigued me. I had no idea that mistress dispelling was a business. In its language, though, the poem reminds me of Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno – the slight archaism of the language helps to delay the reader with the image of cats for a while. The word mistress is therefore at the centre of the poem, deftly altering its meaning until it’s clear this is not about cats at all. It’s a provocative poem about sexual politics and very well done.

Third prize – Denise Bennett, Irene

The third prizewinner, Irene, has enormous emotional power, carefully unfolding this story of war that was never told by the woman of the title. This tension, between the teller and the woman who couldn’t tell it, is what makes the poem so powerful because the reader feels the weight of what Irene carried with her all her life and like Irene, can do nothing to relieve it.

West Sussex Winner – Camilla Lambert, Marjorie’s Letters 1916-18

Marjorie’s Letters 1916-18 layers the concerns of an artist with those of a small community devastated by war. It is so skillful in the way everyday details carry the beauty of this Cornish village as the “terrible ingenious slaughter” carries on elsewhere. In its immediacy and its drive to bear witness, as letters used to, it reminds me of the news we hear of Syria or Palestine. The poet has been careful not to overdo the death and skillfully has allowed descriptions of life to carry the weight of what’s lost.

Within the commended poems there’s a great variety of voice, subjects, atmosphere and tone. I enjoyed the idea of a son moving his fruit machines back home, of siesta with a dog, and Odysseus appearing on a modern cruise ship. The language in one poem is hilarious, in one intensely musical and in another casual and conversational. There are poems about rain and polluted beaches and poems inspired by art. Each of these poems has managed to stand out from the crowd.

As I went through the entries to find all these winning or commended poems I was struck by how many were inspired by music or art. This is fine, but there has to be a balance – I wanted evidence of life as well. It’s not enough for me to read poem after poem that comes from another work of art without much else in between. In poems like this, the emotional heart can be lost, or be perhaps far too personal and not communicated well enough for the reader to get anything from the poem. Some of the other poems read too much like prose, some were closer to private letters and far too abstract and many poems showed little evidence of the poet reading any contemporary writers at all.

I can’t put enough emphasis on the craft of writing, the time a writer needs to spend on reading widely and passionately, on knowing what else is being published and through reading, developing a better sense of how to edit and refine your own work. Supportive critical groups like Slipstream are also really useful in developing your work. Well done Slipstream for keeping going for so long.