Results 2024

1st PrizeDream of the Hexagonal House by Laura JennerPrize £300Read Judges Report
2nd PrizeFox by Paul McDonaldPrize £150Read Judges Report
3rd PrizeGrinding the Lens by Pauline MayPrize £75Read Judges Report

Chanctonbury Cup Winner

Hunters by Night by Mandy Pannett Read the Judges Report

Highly commended poems

  • Nigel King
  • Mandy Pannett (2 poems)
  • Laura Jenner
  • Terry Jones
  • Deborah Harvey
  • Miriam Patrick
  • Valerie Bridge (2 poems)
  • Rachel Hill
  • Louise Greig
  • Samuel Prince
  • Mark Totterdell
  • Aiden Michael Casey
  • Bex Hainsworth
  • Celia Moon
  • Christian Ward
  • Jenny Mitchell

Commended poems

  • Miriam Patrick
  • Gary Bills
  • Rose Bray
  • Nigel King
  • Stuart Handysides (2 poems)
  • Cherrie Taylor (2 poems)
  • Diana Mitchener (2 poems)
  • Charles Evans
  • Mandy Pannett (3 poems)
  • Philip Burton
  • Helen Overell
  • Camilla Lambert (2 poems)
  • Stephen Littlejohn
  • Val Whitlock
  • Theresa Gooda (2 poems)
  • Amanda Walsh (3 poems)
  • Yvonne Green (2 poems)
  • Lara Frankena
  • Korrin Smith-Whitehouse
  • Anthony Scott
  • Martin Rieser
  • John Baylis Post
  • Tim Shore
  • Pauline May
  • Adrian Buckner
  • Bex Hainsworth
  • Joan Baxter

Adjudicator’s Report – Catherine Smith

Judge’s report

Poetry: This is one sense of poetry. A little concoction of words against death. It’s almost the instinct against death cyrstallized.’ Miroslaw Holub

What I was looking for:

Confidence and delight in language, especially in figurative language (e.g. imagery and symbolism). Selection of an apt ‘controlling’ image/set of images; an understanding of how imagery can be trusted to convey  the poem’s key message, and to ‘show’ rather than to explain.

Evidence that the poet had an understanding of rhythm; not necessarily a ‘set’ meter, but, when read out loud, the musicality and cadences of the poem needed to ‘work.’

A strong sense that this poem needed to be written, because the poet had something they needed to explore; but that the poet was doing more than delivering a strongly held opinion/conviction.

Subject matter suited to the form of the poem. I wanted to believe that thought had been given to form, shape or structure.

A fresh perspective/angle on a situation, place, object or memory, avoiding, as far as possible, cliché and predictability. Some of the best poems describe an action or event that isn’t particularly unusual or dramatic, but do so in such a way as to make the reader feel as though they’re right there, in the poem’s reality.

Some space for my own imagination. Some ambiguity – if it’s handled confidently – is so interesting. I don’t want to be told what I should think. A reader might interpret an image in the poem in a way the poet hadn’t intended.

I always look for a successful relationship between the poem’s beginning (where it makes the reader a promise or a set of promises – in terms of subject matter, form, tone, engagement with/control of language, etc) – and its ending; how does the final image/statement/line ‘deliver’ on these promises? The ending might subvert the beginning, or endorse it in a fresh/surprising way, or repeat it, or end the poem’s ‘narrative’ without any conventional sense of resolution. Whatever it does, it has to deliver a final gift to the reader, so that the reader feels the poem is sure of its purpose. Several submitted poems were confidently realised until the final lines – when the poem seemed to lose its purpose/conviction.

General comments on the entries:

The standard was generally high, and it was a pleasure to read through the pile.  I felt that the poets who had entered their poems into this competition were, in the main, people who had read poetry, especially ‘contemporary’ poetry, and thus had an understanding of technical aspects such as craft and form; but who also understood that writing a poem is a way of understanding the world – and ourselves, as writers – in a new way. I assume many of the competition entries had been ‘workshopped’ by groups – which is a good thing, because the poems have been through several ‘drafts’ and are therefore more likely to catch a judge’s eye.

Most of the poems were written in ‘free verse’ rather than in a particular form. Often that’s the right choice for a poem’s subject matter, tone, image pattern, etc – but sometimes, a particular form’s ‘rules and restrictions’ – e.g. to confine the poem to a particular number of lines, or to use particular strategies of repetition or a  particular rhyme scheme or set meter – can give the poem a sense of propulsion, and an authority, it might otherwise lack. Rhyme doesn’t have to be ‘exact’ to work well – it can be slant/near, and that’s often more subtle and effective.

Archaic inversion – often used to force a rhyme – is off-putting.

Some of the poems were so definitely ‘narrative poems’ that they could also be adapted/used as the basis for prose fiction (short stories).

Recurring themes:

Becoming older/becoming ill/weak



Dementia, especially in a parent/loved one
Nature and landscape/ecological breakdown
Reflecting on the passage of time, and wisdom gained


Memories, especially childhood/school life
Family – especially dead family members


The prize winning and commended poems:

The first, second and third prize winners  ‘leaped out’ at me on first reading. Experiencing goose bumps is usually an accurate indicator that a reader loves a poem, in my experience – and so were always going to be very strong contenders. But I also set aside another 18 poems, all of which I felt had real ‘technical merit’, originality and a strong sense of purpose. These became my ‘Highly Commended’ batch and I feel strongly that any of these poems could have been prize winners in a competition where the field wasn’t as strong.  I also set aside another batch of poems for ‘Commendation’ which I felt had merit and, sometimes, that difficult-to-define quality – ‘charm.’ A few were humorous (humour is so personal that it’s brave to submit a humorous poem to a competition), or quirky. Some were particularly raw/heartfelt/courageous.  All resonated with me, for different reasons.

First Prize – Dream of the Hexagonal House by Laura Jenner

I was intrigued by the title; dreams aren’t unusual in poems, but this was specific – and odd. I didn’t think I’d ever seen, let alone entered, a hexagonal house, but the hexagon is a lovely shape, so I was looking forward to ‘entering.’ From the layout of the text on the page, I realised I was about to read a sestina –  six stanzas of six lines (sestets) each, followed by a three-line envoi.  And within the first sestet – I realised this was going to be something special. The first line states – ‘I dream that I phone you, once last time’ – and I’ve no idea of the identity of ‘you’ – but whoever ‘you’ are, ‘one last time’ suggests a relationship that’s ended; and ‘you’ are to be told about the narrator’s unorthodox decision. The end words on each line – which have to be repeated in a particular pattern throughout the poem – were cleverly chosen: concrete, but adaptable. (This poet cleverly alters/subverts them where necessary, which shows a deep understanding of the form, and enough confidence to ‘subvert’ where necessary.) The details within those opening lines were so striking; not just windows, but ‘small mullioned windows fire-washed by light.’ And then each sestet revealed itself – and each did something different, despite the recurrent end-words, and never straying far ‘off topic’ – the hexagon – the number six, which is explored in terms of the natural world – ‘the bee and the snowflake are familiars of six’ – into mythology, Time, Natural Science, Jungian psychology, geometry (Euclid)…and dreams. The poem returns to the house, and returns to the idea of dreams; ‘The dispossessed self will dream of a house’.  The poem’s details build, intellectually correct and yet dream-like and instinctive, to the final, stunning ending/resolution: the tone is passionate and affirmative and the imagery transcendent – ‘to turn, they said turn, to the garden of light/and six sides around me for now and all time.’  

I admired the poem’s ambition, subject matter, and at times, ambivalence. Where does the dream end and conscious life begin? There are different ways, I think, of interpreting this. But it’s a poem I could read every day and each time, feel it had revealed another ‘angle’ (or angel). It should become a poem every would-be sestina writer reads, for pleasure but also as a masterclass in the form.

Second prize – Fox by Paul McDonald

The title isn’t particularly unusual or striking – this, I thought, will be a poem about a fox, and I very much like foxes, so -good. But from the first line, I realised that this was a poem about a particular fox – who ‘crawled inside my shed to die’ – but also about foxes as a species – their physical beauty, and their ‘mythological’ attributes. The narrator has sympathy, feels sadness for,  this particular beautiful, dead creature – but also imagines the fox’s final journey: shunning ‘the nosy stars’ and visualising its ‘russet withers.’ The narrator understands this fox, and all foxes, at the moment of its death – ‘too ashamed of death to/let the world see: anyone but me…’ Fox’s death echoes other deaths – ‘the chest of unused tools/my dad bequeathed.’ And then I realised I was reading about a fox, but also a father-child relationship, a father who’d have ‘sympathised/with Fox, fled a ward himself to die at home’…the idea of fleeing, when dying, is so poignant; as animals hide themselves as death approaches humans also seek that privacy.  The images throughout this poem are stunning – ‘Deflating Fox collapsed like a parachute/of fur on bones…’ and Fox has ‘peeled lips, strips of khaki teeth…’ I’ve read descriptions of dead foxes before, but nothing as original, as keenly observed, as this. The final stanza is also extraordinary; demotic and direct in tone, the narrator has the confidence, and compassion, to share with the reader what the reader what they have learned from this death  – ‘the lovely lives we miss.’ It’s another poem that can be ‘read’ through different lenses: is it a Nature poem, a meditation on grief, a critique of our throwaway society, a Love poem?…in the end, I decided it was all of these, and more. And the title was perfect.

Third prize – Grinding the Lens by Pauline May

I was intrigued by this poem’s title – I usually think of lenses being cleaned, or polished, rather than ‘ground’ so I looked forward to learning more. I could see that this was a poem in 14 lines, with four tercets and a final couplet – but not a conventional sonnet, as the meter was not written in iambic pentameter. From the first line, I was so drawn into the immediacy of the physical experience – ‘What I remember is sliding my fingertips over the glass’ – so sensuous, but pared back, trusting the image to do its work. In the second stanza, the reader meets ‘him’ – we don’t, at this stage, know who he is, or his relationship to the narrator – and the tone is full of wonder – ‘…I’d witnessed the magicking of glass/to gather greater light than the human eye.’ The poem’s subject had worked ‘wet for a hundred hours’ and ‘…in a weeping of milkiness, the grit ground out the curve.’ Terrific interior rhyme, which can feel forced, but here, feels absolutely right. In 14 lines, the poem gifts the reader some stunning imagery – ‘figured it smooth as an eyeball.’ ‘He’ tells the narrator ‘Galileo made his own lenses from old eyeglasses’ (I loved learning this) and was ‘the first to see the nuances of Jupiter and Moon). So the poem’s subject matter includes quirks of scientific history, and encourages the reader to -look up’ – and imagine astral bodies. The final couplet really packs a punch: the reader learns that ‘he’ was ‘my father’ – with a ‘cancerous eye’ ground ‘deep into the night sky’ – and ‘gave me Saturn to hold in my hand.’ Which made me think – this is really a love poem; the subject matter is about ‘seeing through a lens’ – but what is ‘seen’ ultimately, in retrospect, is the ‘magical’ gift of knowledge, and how much the narrator was loved by a man who ‘rubbed back and forth, round and round.’

I thought this poem achieved so much in a compressed space: stunning imagery, musicality of tone and cadence, and a bold, emotionally celebratory ending.

West Sussex Winner – Hunters by Night by Mandy Pannett

This is a relatively short poem which, through its delicate and apt imagery, travels great distances – into the mind of the artist Uccello, who changed his name to reflect his love of birds, and into his ‘obsession with perspective, the search for depth.’ The reader is invited into the dark, starless woods, to hear ‘only an owl hooting, only the sound/of the hot-breath panting of hounds.’ The final images ‘converge’ on the vanishing point. It’s a wonderful image, which both clarifies and opens up more questions.