2017 Open Poetry Competition Results Summary

1st PrizeAphelion by Juliet West of BillingshurstPrize £150Read Judges Report
2nd PrizeThe Southwell Masons by Miriam Patrick of HurstpierpointtPrize £100Read Judges Report
3rd PrizeWhite Lake by Penny Hope of EastbournetPrize £50Read Judges Report

Highly Commended

Knurled by Anne Seagrave. Lewes


Wood by Miriam Patrick, Hurstpierpoint
Evening thoughts by Susan Skinner, Hurstpierpoint
Letterwords by Patricia Childerhouse, Hove
Greenhouse by Lin Lundy, Littlehampton
Catford cycling club race by Jill Munro, Crowborough
Sonnet to Shakespeare by Susan Skinner, Hurstpierpoint
Sliding through glass by Mandy Pannett, Pulborough

Judge Janet Sutherland’s Report and Adjudication.

It was a great pleasure to open the padded envelope when it arrived in the post, of 101 poems and begin to read them. I read each aloud for music and readability, letting them move in the mind, noting technicalities such as lineation, rhythm, natural word order, assonance and alliteration, freshness of image and metaphor, and for the thought that lay behind them. There was a great diversity of subject matter and the poets kept me on my toes with classical, historical and architectural references. I read poems about historic incidents and recent events, about relationships, memories, loss, nature, science and religion. There were many poems about the sea and about Sussex landscapes too. A wide range of traditional and experimental forms were used from sonnets to list poems to ballads and laments. After the first reading I looked more closely at 44 of the poems and read these many times before deciding on my shortlist. Many, many congratulations to the prize winners and sincere thanks to everyone who submitted their poems – it was a joy to read them.

On the whole, the poems which did not make it past that first reading had some issues to do with editing; there was much to recommend in these poems and I always felt regret as I put them into the envelope again for their thought, their flashes of brilliance, their humour or their other qualities too numerous to mention. Tighter editing in these poems could have sorted out some unnecessary last lines which laboured a point, first lines which were preambles, some issues with lineation, generalisations and some slightly odd punctuation which detracted visually. Some poems read as prose cut up into shorter lines, some used slightly tired similes, metaphors and truisms and this was particularly true where poets described nature, the sea, sunsets or weather where it is particularly tricky to avoid a cliché. I was reminded of Alice Oswald in the, now sadly discontinued, BBC Get Writing website where she wrote “If, for example, I want to write a poem about water, I try to listen so hard that my voice disappears and I speak water…then I allow the water to speak its names”. Some had issues to do with narrative, or thought process and some had issues with patterning such as rhyme where the poet had started with a rhyme pattern but abandoned it later or had used unusual sentence structure to force the rhyme. There were poems which had flashes of brilliance where the poet seemed suddenly to have looked at the world and had seen inside it whilst the rest of the poem seemed flat by comparison. There were a few poems where, unfortunately, one word was so out of place it shifted the whole poem out of focus. These I set aside particularly reluctantly. There were poems I loved for parts of the whole and others which sounded beautiful when read aloud but which I felt were not fresh enough in thought or execution.

The poems which made it to the final shortlist of 11 poems all created a spark of delight and had the undertow, the frisson, that all good poems carry within them.

First: Aphelion no 61

Aphelion is the point in the orbit where a celestial body is farthest from its focus, its preposition “apo”, meaning “away, off, apart”. This short poem delighted for its simplicity and elegance of expression describing a young woman about to leave home and the thoughts and feelings of the parent who will be left at home. In three short stanza’s the poem moves through items stored in preparation for departure to thoughts about what will be missed with a lovely homing in to the particularity of last minute revision “test me on Rossetti!/ Come buy, come buy…” and then the imagination of the child at a “faraway desk” with a fig scented candle burning and the “dip of the flame as it bends to her breath.” This poem carries a huge wealth of emotional resonance but carries it so very delicately. The poem speaks of loss without labouring the point. There is definition in detail, the list of things put away ready for departure, marmite rolls, and the candle is “fig scented” and “shaped like an owl”. A simply beautiful and elegant poem which evokes the feeling perfectly.

Second: The Southwell Masons no 18

The Southwell Masons is a poem about the stone work in Southwell Minster. In four regular stanzas, the poet describes the stone masons arriving to begin the work and how the stone lives in “a curious kind of alchemy, /replacing woodland with the stony image of itself”. The poet writes beautifully, lines are enjambed and the reader feels held and supported by the sense that this writer knows what s/he is doing. The writing is solid and well-made and each word is chosen and cherished before it is set down, so that the language exemplifies what the masons do in their craft “a hare grows petrified between the jaws of lurchers”. The writer has called into being a world of its time; the masons are “lithe as coppiced hazel or thick set/as oak”, the “Green man sighs” and the masons are “clad in russet” for which, in this context, the archaic “clad” is exactly right. The poem is simply beautifully expressed beginning as it does with the mason’s arrival and ending with their departure back to “leaf fall and the robin’s melancholy voice.”

Third: White Lake no 98

White Lake has a song like quality and an air of mystery. It is a song of sorrow, a lament, addressed to “Father” who could be a heavenly father, perhaps. The poem uses repetition with a strong visual pattern on the page. I loved it for its mystery and for the few elements it uses; the lake, the wood, the little Milk House, the willow, the birds, the mourning, the tombstone. These elements create a strong feeling seemingly symbolic and the repetitions are extended so that the white lake and the Milk House resonate against each other and these are repeated in “little Milk House” and “the lake/in its milk-white waiting” before the final lines which speak strongly of grief. The particularity of “Milk House” helps to offset the generality of birds, wood and lake.

Highly Commended

Knurled no 55

I loved this poem for its particularity and for its sense of a couple who have been together a long time. A new car with a folding hard top roof reminds the poet of the “Austin Healey Sprite” and of “unpopping the tonneau” (a word I had to look up), of the old coat “billy-goat brown/shedding its hairs on the seat” and that “There’s so much we don’t need to say”. The description of a shared memory is both simple and effective and there’s a real sense of moving into the past and then flipping back out again with the final surprising reference to Ravilious.

Commended (in no particular order):

Wood no 15
Evening Thoughts no 011
Letterwords no 79
Greenhouse 1948
Catford Cycling Club Race Through Ashdown Forest no 81
Sonnet to Shakespeare’s sonnet Eternal Summer no 010
Sliding through glass no 07