Segora Poetry competition 2016 winners

First prize - Ruth Hanchett Endgame

A relative newcomer to writing poetry, I have been doing so for seven years. I am constantly on a learning curve, benefiting greatly from membership of poetry groups such as the Poetry Society Palmers Green Stanza Group, facilitated by Katherine Gallagher, the Second Light Network for women poets, The British Haiku Society, Enfield Poets and also regular classes. I enjoy doing occasional readings, have been published in magazines, for example Artemis and Blithe Spirit, anthologies for example The Book of Love and Loss and on-line; I am beginning to find myself placed in competitions.

I find inspiration particularly in close observation of people and ideas / themes arising. To pare words down to the minimum, getting to the heart of the matter as economically as possible and to experiment with form, sentence structure and creative use of punctuation – or none – are processes I find enormously challenging and absorbing. I am moving towards gathering some of my poems into a pamphlet or short collection and hope it won’t be too long before I achieve this.

Endgame

Walked by your river this morning.
Sunless. Clouds longed to let go
their rain. Boats clung
to their moorings. Cafés closed.

Ward windows struggle to bring in
trees and sky – your river
too far away.
You lie in bed, soft-skinned
downy arms by your sides,
hair wispy as a dandelion clock,
whitely transparent, face bone-cheeked.

Your ‘yeses’ are baby birds,
tiny attempts to fly out
of your mind into mine. Your eyes
speak. You open your mouth
to be fed. Wait. Clamp it shut.

Judge's comments:

Of the many poems centring on ageing, old age, looking after elderly family members including parents, and hospitalisation this poem stood out right from an initial reading. The directness of the single word title is complemented by the sentence brevity, which works incrementally to create the fragile world of close relationships at time of crisis. Of particular note in this 16-lined poem is the skilful use of the objective correlative pivoting on the exact use of precise diction mimetic of the ambiguities inherent in the position of hanging on to the possibilities of life while simultaneously being aware of the finality of the welcome release of death. There is hope and hopelessness; help and helplessness here. There is also a sense of numbness. Notice how the verbs, adjectives and adverbs in the first seven lines underpin the conflict between positive openings - "Walked by", "clung", "bring in" - and negative states - "Sunless", "longed to let go", "closed", "struggle", "too far away". Similarly, the portrayal of the two worlds - the external countryside of “your” river, trees, clouds, café / the internal world of hospital ward, windows, bed - is economically used to point the emotional tensions behind the event. The description of the hospitalised patient is sensitively drawn, full of feeling but without over-sentimentality. And the exploration of the attempts to communicate are movingly delineated in the image of ‘yeses’ as "baby birds", an image which, despite the presence of adjectives, colours the concluding lines with the suggestion of a return to caring dependency at a determined stage of the endgame:

You open your mouth
to be fed. Wait. Clamp it shut.

How final are those last two short sentences: the poem closes in on itself, and the worlds it describes. This is writing of the first order, enviable in its directness, its graphic clarity, and its economy. Many congratulations.

 

Second prize - Carolyn King FALL AND RISE

CAROLYN KING lives on the Isle of Wight, where two of her poems are cast in bronze. She has read winning poetry at venues from Edinburgh to Cornwall and as 1st-prize winner in the 2016 formal category of “Poetry on the Lake” is invited to Italy this autumn. She has had success in many competitions, with several 1st-prizes, and has two published collections. She was on the short-list of six for 2013’s Manchester Poetry Prize.

Fall and rise
(October 1944)

 

  A tin bath sparingly filled for the toddler,
bare feet blue on scullery stones, she shivers
when the telegram comes:

bleak words typed on slivers of paper
stuck to the page – tragic reminders
of her grandfather staggering home,
mud-caked puttees stuck fast
to his blood-caked shins;
war-torn: a collage of pain.

For this slip of a girl, the slip of paper
fluttering leaf-like from her shaking hands
is make-believe: a slip of the pen.
Can they be sure? – No where or when.
“ . . . regret to inform you . . . “ Just another
fallen flag this piteous autumn.

When the child is grown she’ll tell him his father
was true to the family tree: a fledgling soldier
(like those before him) - barely out of the nest.

On peace-filled harvest evenings we see them still:
rising above some Flanders field
like a murmuration of starlings.

Judge's comments:

As anticipated, the centenary of the Battle of the Somme has produced many poems touching on the horrific events and far-reaching consequences of that conflict. This particular poem, albeit located during the Second World War (in October 1944), records how the lessons of the "war to end all wars" have not be learned. The writing is visually focused, and successfully recreates both the world of the "war torn" "grandfather staggering home" from the First World War and that of his great grandson with his mother and the receipt of the letter informing of her husband's war-death. Throughout the description is finely honed - full of feeling without being overwritten. Notice for example in stanza 3 the verbal play through repetition on the word "slip"; and in the closing lines the way in which the image of the "fledgling soldier", "barely out of the nest" is skilfully worked into the poem's haunting simile used to depict the waves of young soldiers going over the top of the trenches:

On peace-filled harvest evenings we see them still:
rising above some Flanders field
like a murmuration of starlings.

The use of "rising" intuits that all is not lost, that the "Fall" of the soldier(s) is more than compensated for by memory and these "peace-filled harvest evenings". This is mature writing - moving and heartfelt.

 

Third prize - Jane Lovell Blackbird

Jane Lovell is the Poetry Society Stanza Rep for Warwickshire. She has had work published in a number of anthologies and journals including Agenda, Earthlines, Poetry Wales, Envoi, the North, Dark Mountain, Zoomorphic, Mslexia, New Welsh Review and Ink, Sweat and Tears. She won the Flambard Prize in 2015, and was recently shortlisted for the Basil Bunting Prize and the Wisehouse Poetry Award.

Blackbird

A conduit from sky to earth
he holds the perfect angle,

steals into his keyhole portal
bird-shaped pieces of anti-matter.

Planets course through,
constellations, that black stuff
that surrounds stars and goes on forever.

He tilts his beak - a final swish of laurel,
softwood echoes for his evening song -

then trucks along on twiggy legs
delicate and tough as hazel.

He owns this:
day, space, runway of path and lawn.

He is his own person:
dark thief, shaman practising the old ways
of the ouzel,

seduces worms with his rain dance,
stamps them up from secret crumbling halls,

holds them twisting and curling
in his tight yellow beak,

stores storm and midnight in his feathers,
hops them into drifts of dry leaves,

the globe of his eye capturing the whole world
and you
in a quiet blink.

Judge's comments:

The natural world of flora and fauna was much in evidence, but nowhere caught so wonderfully and wittily as in this heart-warming poem. Written in a mixture of unrhymed couplets and tercets, every verse contains masterly insights into the blackbird and his world. He is in turn, "A conduit from sky to earth", "his own person”, “dark thief”, and “shaman practising the old ways". Similar wealths are used to describe his behaviour: "he holds the perfect angle", "steals into his keyhole portal", and "trucks along on twiggy legs". Consider the acute observation and the ingenious choice of verbs, and the line- and stanza-breaks employed to build the expansive imaginative power of these lines:

seduces worms with his rain dance,
stamps them up from secret crumbling halls,

holds them twisting and curling
in his tight yellow beak,

stores storm and midnight in his feathers,
hops them into drifts of dry leaves.

I smiled time and time again at the poem's humour and skilful poetic insights. This is a marvellous achievement. Well done!

 

 



Judge: Roger Elkin

Adjudication

This year saw a record entry for the poetry competition. There was a very high standard of poems submitted covering a wide range of subject matter as can be seen from the titles of the selected poems and the contents of the three very different prize-winning entries. Hopefully the adjudication report (if read with the accompanying poems) will give some guidance as to why and how these particular poems were successful. Remember, this is my choice, so don’t be unduly disheartened if your name does not appear in the list: other adjudicators might well have come up with a different result. At the last resort, poetry is very subjective: thankfully, unless the competition is for a chosen form, there are no set criteria – say, 3 metaphors, 22 lines, a set rhyme pattern with an echoing chorus in iambic pentameters - which when applied result in a “good” poem. Neither is there such a thing as a “competition poem”. As to entry into other competitions – and there are well over 150 annual open poetry competitions in the UK alone – my advice would be to read poetry from a wide range of practising poets (including that of the adjudicator if/when available). Read, read, read – and then try to apply what you have discovered in terms of fresh imagery, the choice of finely-tuned diction, and the avoidance of over-writing. Keep the poem clear, direct and honest. Make it move; make it grow.

Finally, to all competitors, many sincere thanks for letting me loose in your amazing worlds, your moving and spirit-lifting thoughts, your shared emotions. And sincere thanks to Gordon and Jocelyn Simms for their efficient and sensitive organisation, and their championship of the written word! Long may it continue.

Return to Top of Page