Results 2023

1st PrizeElizabeth Fortescue provides her numbers for the Factory Inspector’s Report, 1834 by Di SlaneyPrize £300Read Judges Report
2nd PrizeOver you by Mike Mackillop-HallPrize £150Read Judges Report
3rd PrizeRemedies by Camilla LambertPrize £75Read Judges Report

Chanctonbury Cup Winner

How to sketch a beach scene (after Jacques Prevert) by Diana Mitchener

Highly commended poems

  • Claire Pankhurst
  • Jenny Mitchell

Commended poems

  • Daphne Larner
  • Eve Jackson
  • Diana Beharrell
  • Claudia Court
  • Judith Wozniak

Highly commended West Sussex poems

  • Pratibha Castle (2 poems)
  • Rose Bray

Commended West Sussex poems

  • Ted Gooda
  • Jane Thorp
  • Mandy Pannett
  • Michael Sherman
  • Lin Lundie
  • Pratibha Castle
  • Camilla Lambert
  • Cherrie Taylor
  • Barry Smith
  • Ann Seward

Adjudicator’s Report – Chris Hardy

General comments on the entries, and what I look for when reading poems:

‘The best words in the best order’ Samuel Coleridge 1827
‘No ideas but in things’ William Carlos Williams 1927

Have something to say along with the skill to reveal it.
A poem should feel to the reader as if it was essential and necessary for the writer; have a start, a finish, and hopefully a helpful, and if possible striking, title; at some point display a sudden, or steady, focused, awareness of how strange the ordinary and every-day is.
Close attention is essential when describing things – make us see them new.
Cut and fit the words to meaning and emotion – be accurate, precise, concise.
Be aware of repeating the same thing in different ways. Only say it once – control, trim, compress language.

If cliché’s and archaisms are deployed they must be there for a purpose, not because the writer has failed to find another way of saying something.
Be difficult if you have to be, but don’t try to be. Don’t make that your purpose.
Use the world, which might include yourself: show, discover, discover, show.
Saying, ‘This happened and I feel anguished or ecstatic about it’, isn’t interesting or informative, in poetry at least – a speech in a drama, or novel, is different. Avoid a word like ‘melancholy’ – use words to evoke it.

No matter how urgent, desperate, tragic, joyful the subject of your poem is you must make a poem, not a statement, essay or polemic. All emotions, from adoration to hate, are acceptable in poetry but they must be used by and not have control over, the poet.
Saying overtly what you think or feel rather than suggesting it through imagery forces the reader to only see what you see. Poems should be open to the reader’s imagination, experience and interpretation.

A poem must insist it is finished even if the reader has not come to a conclusion.
A long poem is harder to get right – sustain and conclude – than a carefully framed lyric. When a competition has a long line limit there is a temptation to include more details, ideas, images, phrases than the poem’s reality requires.

When submitting to competitions, (also to magazines) avoid large sized fonts, double line spacing, typos, spelling and punctuation mistakes and hand-written amendments.

Main themes in the poems submitted:

Being older
Reflecting on time and life
Wistful recollections of a lost past
Rueful attempts at wisdom
Regret without bitterness
Family memories – sisters, mothers, fathers
Responses to photographs
Poems about poems

A few remarks on form in the entries:

Alliteration needs to be handled with taste and discretion.
Rhyme and regular stanzas were not generally employed.
Many poems appeared to be written in free, not blank verse. (Shakespeare found blank verse suited him! To get free verse right you need to take care not to veer into prose – remembering that Robert Frost asserted free verse was like, ‘Playing tennis without a net’.)

There were a few shaped, centered, poems (hour glass, guitar etc) where this device was unrelated to the content, though it did sometimes seem to be used to manage line endings and phrasing.

Several attempts at Villanelle – one of the most difficult forms with which to make a relaxed and lively lyric.

The prizewinning and commended poems

It was fairly straightforward to find 30 or 40 good poems in the 350 submitted. Selecting the winners and highly commended poems in each section was more difficult.
The highly commended poems in both sections of the competition could have won their sections and been highly commended in either.
The first, second and third poems in the main part of the competition are, in their own ways, as ‘good’ as each other and could each have been placed differently in those positions. But as in a race or a cup final someone has to win, even if the teams are equa

First Prize – ‘Elizabeth Fortescue provides her numbers for the factory Inspector’s Report, 1834.’ by Di Slaney

A whole life told and a long forgotten character remembered, not in a book but in 32 lines of carefully laid out poetry. The mysterious but precise title prompts the reader to want to continue. With the ‘Yes sir’ at the start we immediately know a lot about Elizabeth’s life and place. ‘Sir’ returns at the end, twice, as she tries to show the inspector that she knows her place and also to find out from him anything that might help her. The voice is consistent – intelligent and self-aware: Elizabeth knows she is brave and has endured, is proud to have done so, but is unmistakably unhappy and worried too. All this is shown in what she says, the writer says nothing. Technical phrases about mill work unobtrusively validate Elizabeth’s testimony, and also serve the purpose of strengthening the sound and language of the poem. This a historical document but only in that a whole history of class, poverty, suffering and endurance is presented in a few lines and words – a poem.
The poet has employed line endings, enjambment, scattered rhyme and half rhyme to skillfully tighten the poem’s impact, ensuring we know and feel Elizabeth’s life.

Second prize – Over You by Mike Mackillop-Hall

A villanelle that succeeds in making use of the strengths of this form and avoiding its pitfalls. The strengths are repetition, which can also be a big difficulty. The recurring lines must not be forced and must be necessary to the meaning and feeling of the poem. In this case the first line, ‘I am absolutely certain that I’m over you’, repeated four times over the six stanzas, also concludes the poem and by then the reader knows for sure that the narrator is not certain about anything at all. This is cleverly suggested by the other repeated line that is repeated four times, ‘it’s not entirely clear to me what I should do’. These two structural phrases chime through the poem, contradicting each other, but you don’t notice that until you’ve read this finely structured and properly finished poem a few times, which one is happy to do as it is a gentle mixture of humour, wit and regret.

Third prize – Remedies by Camilla Lambert

Three stanzas, of 9, 10 and 9 lines. The poem starts with a confident statement telling the reader about an older lady, a herbalist, who’d might once have been called a witch or spell-picker:
‘Grandma Thomas still gets out, leaning
on a stick, though she no longer relies
on tincture of nettle.’
We are then introduced to young Esther and Ned, his grandfather and Aunt Hannah. All the women know country pagan lore. Grandma Thomas uses herbs for healing bruises, Hannah for sadness, and Esther tries a spell to entice Ned who doesn’t, I think, need much enticing. We are in the world of Trollope, Elizabeth Gaskell, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Hamnet and Wuthering Heights. But this is a poem, not just a sequence of tales and characters that begins and ends with tinctures of nettles, Solomon’s Seal and Rosemary: the first stanza is written in a clear, traditional iambic and trochaic meter. The lines run on or stop and there is a subtle pattern of end rhymes and near rhymes. Over the 29 lines of the poem we indirectly encounter an ancient village world, that is not idyllic but powerfully present. Domestic violence, sex, a dazed old man, and loss are all suggested with deftly selected imagery, conversation and chants. There’s a firm ending – nothing else need be said – which is also open: it frees the reader to imagine the future of these people and the village: a Rosemary ‘bush by the forge, in full flower this week’. Rosemary flowers in Spring.

West Sussex Winner – How to sketch a beach scene (after Jacques Prevert) by Diana Mitchener

The first thing to say is that you do not have to know or look up Jacques Prevert to enjoy this poem. That is important in a competition entry where the poem and nothing else is being assessed.

This poem is about how to prepare and make a sketch. But it is really about the importance of paying attention and being still – what it takes to make a poem. There are firm instructions and admonitions throughout, intermixed with closely observed and described elements of the scene including the artist’s equipment: ‘Take your time’, ‘Now lift sticks of pastels from their black box’, ‘Enjoy, but keep an eye on the tide’, ‘Finish today, for sky and sea will not wait for you’, ‘. The advice is unambiguous and structured: ‘draw the curve of the distant hillside to meet the flat line of the sea. Mark out the bay ..’

But this is about more than making a picture. It is also about how to be mindful of the moment, aware of the world that is right here but ungraspable and strange. The poet tries to suggest this with small, clever touches, ‘People can be added later’, ‘Not even the clouds are in a hurry today’. A poem that resembles a painting, made with concentrated skill and concentration, that is also about making art – a picture and a poem. Each line and word is as necessary and intrinsic as the strokes of a pencil in a drawing.

It benefits from the tone of the guidance given – firm and helpful. This also affects how the reader responds: we are being spoken to directly by someone who knows what they are saying and what they require. So we have an assertive beginning, ‘First choose a viewpoint’ and an equally unequivocal ending, ‘Add the date in the bottom right-hand corner’. The reader quickly accepts a teacher who speaks with such clarity.