Competition Results

Southport Writers’ Circle Open International Annual Poetry Competition 2021

Read winning poems HERE

Organiser’s Report

Poets are able to take incredibly vast concepts like the nature of the universe, or the fine details of the smallest microcosm and express them in a  handful of choice words, evoking the full meaning and understanding to any who experience the lines they set out. It is a talent that is worth being jealous of.

This year, entrants gave us a bewildering array of subjects for their verses, from the coveting of a grandma’s ornaments, to the death of an empire, to bleak/golden/insightful/harsh reminiscences of experiences that this writer has never had. Each gave a facet of our little reality, expressed in stark/oblique/playful/simple stanzas, each one a unique perspective on many esoteria.

There was a good global coverage of entrants this year, with the usual concentration in the North of England, and a general representation from France, Spain, Germany, Italy and others. The US had a few poems in the mix and as well as one hopeful from Nigeria.

As per usual, the standard of entries was ridiculous and most of our shortlisters had trouble with the sift, exacerbated somewhat by the aforementioned topical range of poems. A brief insight into the marking process – we have a set range of criteria by which we gauge poems, involving metre, structure and so on. Quite a lot of the poems were very non-standard and somehow were still very good, making matters more difficult.

The final shortlist was eventually reached and sent to notable poet and artist, Ali Harwood to deliver his final judgement. I hope you will agree that the winners are deserving and intriguing in equal measure.

Chief Judge’s Report – Ali Harwood

We rush to them when emotions run high and when experience cuts deep. We make our own and take what others have given. Poems. They have a lot to answer for. And lots of answers for us. And even more questions…

Judging the dozens of shortlisted poems was an honour and a privilege and I enjoyed returning to all of them many times as they insisted on talking to me. The subjects written about were broad. There was much compassion and empathy in the entries plus more than a little beauty. Encounters with nature and each other were common, alongside the passing of time. Yes, there were also mentions of pandemics and politics: at their best, these were contained in the context of a broader humanity. In the end, what won through were truths that resonated and still do.

1st

The Awakening

by Pauline Hawkesworth

This is a hopeful and organic poem that unwinds and grows throughout its five stanzas. Intimately and delicately, it reveals a bee’s journey observed through glass. The metaphors expand in size and scope – from ‘pear-drop’ to ‘something the earth rolled’ – as the poet’s fancy takes flight towards potential fresh starts. A vast landscape is seen in the size of a bee with the symbiotic dance between the order of mountains and the chaos of ‘honeyed rain’.

Perhaps the embodied wedding rings the bee wears show its promise to the Earth and, in the poet’s observation, also the interdependent relationship between the natural world and us. The closing lines leave things open – we are provided with the space to imagine where this instinctive insect is bound next…

2nd

Snarl up at the cemetery

by Christine Buxton

Death visits and unites us all and this poem shares some diverse responses to the loss of a loved one. Despite the jam of mourners, ‘none of the cars is beeping’. It is a poem that succeeds in showing not telling. Whilst using the broad brushstrokes of associating cars with their drivers, the people grieving do not become caricatures. The ‘one way system’ mentioned could be the inevitable timeline of each of our lives. The congestion takes place on Mother’s Day, when ‘grief takes you in not so unexpected ways’. And every day is in fact a mothers’ day, as from mothers we all are born. At the end, with Mum ‘still going strong’, we are reminded to keep calm and journey on.

3rd

Daffodils

by Jacqueline Woods

What we have here is a poignant poem of pride and pain. An ageing mother recites Wordsworth impeccably in the depths of night whilst her child listens intently outside her bedroom door, reminded of lucid times past that now do not last.

The ‘respite and light’ in this performance could perhaps be for the minds of both generations present.

As the new day starts and the mother’s stem weakens again, we witness her diminished existence yet hope for the next flutter into clarity.

Daffodils points to the importance of appreciating moments of connection – however fleeting – as time tugs the sleeves of those we love and, indeed, also our own.

Catherine Fenerty Humour Prize

A Halloween Love Story

by Stephanie Ward

We are encouraged to gallop through this amusing poem with its lively and consistent rhythm and rhyming couplets. It made me smile throughout. As we in the real world clamber our way somewhat clumsily and inconsistently out of lockdown, it’s refreshing to read a love story about two lost souls who, after many blunders and misfires, somehow find each other in their own fairytale chaos.

Even though the witch’s ‘green skin faintly blushed’ and the ogre finds a trio of rodents in his pants, they eventually unite by the end of the night and have a fruitful relationship, producing enough troll children for a football team plus substitutes. Let’s just hope they all live happily ever after.  

Highly Commended

Pack It In

by Hazel Teare

A series of containers constructed to constrain their contents are explored here. However, these painful reminders of earlier times escape. In this compact poem, each word is thoughtfully curated for maximum impact. Assonance is to the fore with the ‘pain nailed down’ neatly packed with their vowel sounds in parallel. When the lid of the last box with the narrator ‘folded in’ is closed, I for one feel the need to rummage within again.

Commended

Second Husband

by Duncan Fraser

Is this a fable? Is it a warning? Or is it an inevitable premonition of a predator on a mission? An alluring woman full of cutting wit and magnetic malevolence seduces you and attracts you to her side. Just like the last discredited and discarded prize. Unsurprisingly, you will be next on the chopping block: told about, laughed at and despised.  

This is a promise.  

Southport Writers’ Circle International Annual Short Story Competition 2020

Stories Available to Read Here

Organiser’s Report

2020 was a difficult year and it was brilliant to see so many ambitious authors throw themselves into their work and to submit many excellent pieces with themes ranging from the mundane (buying a teddy), to the epic (in the trenches during wartime) to outrightly bizarre (what if you lived on the wrong side of a mirror?).

There were a handful that managed to fall afoul of the rules of the competition, the most common infraction being putting their name on every page, closely followed by not putting a title on it and, amazingly, in some cases simply sending in a story without any author details or an entry fee! The majority did it right though and you all gave us plenty to chew over.

Big thanks go out to this year’s shortlisting team, who had a tough job all round. In some cases, some stories did not make the final cut because of little things, like unoriginal titles or unneeded detail. It was often a hairsbreadth separating the ones that made it through, so anyone who did not make it should not be discouraged from putting their work out there in the future.

Entries came from all over the world, with the usual concentration in North West UK, but also Spain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and various locales in America making an appearance.

In the end though, there can only be a few winners and our chief judge this year, Professor Emerita of Short Fiction, Ailsa Cox, has been extremely valued in her final say.

Judge’s Report – Professor Ailsa Cox

There was a wide variety of stories entered, and I was impressed by the quality of the writing, and the care that had been taken in polishing the style; and by the writers’ willingness to experiment with different kinds of stories and structures, including genre writing. What made the winning stories stand out, for me, was vividness, clarity and originality. By originality, I don’t mean plots or themes that no one else had thought of, but a way of using the form to make us see the content in a new way.

If I had to sum that up in one word, I’d say ‘simplicity’. The best stories kept language, style and structure simple. Others might start well, but were quickly bogged down in too much information, slowing down the pace with explanations of complicated relationships or previous event. Lengthy  exposition, either using description or passages of dialogue, is not the short-story writer’s friend.

It was interesting to see writers turning to horror and the supernatural, great territory for the short story. The writers of ‘In Every Angel’ and ‘The Silent Pool’ root their stories in a banal, everyday world, slowly unleashing the generic elements. There were other stories that were potentially powerful, but signalled their spookinesses from the very beginning, which made them feel predictable despite touches of originality. Another word of advice on beginnings – beware metaphors or turns of phrase in the very first line that you might be very pleased with, but might not work for the reader. Keep the opening line clear and direct, without unnecessary distractions.

Of course none of my advice is infallible. There are no absolute rules; ‘Untroubled Waters’, for instance, contradicts the advice you will sometimes find in books on creative writing that tells you to focus on just one character.  It also breaks the rules by not including a single line of dialogue.

I was expecting to read stories set during the pandemic, or to reflect current circumstances in some way, and was surprised that this didn’t seem to be the case. We’re muddling through a confusing and shapeless narrative right now, and perhaps it will be months, or years, before we’re able to contain those experiences within our fiction without being overwhelmed by them. In the meantime, congratulations to the winners, and to all those who show so much dedication to their writing.

1st – ‘In Every Angel’

by Michael Ranes

 A wonderfully controlled story, that is deeply chilling, a true, and very original, horror story. By making you imagine the ultimate horror, the writer makes you pity, and possibly even empathise, with the abuser turned victim.

2nd – ‘How to Fake a Heart Attack’

by Richard Hooton

A lively and ingenious story, highly original in its structuring of a narrative through thirteen easy phases. The writer has a rare gift for subversive comedy.

3rd – ‘Untroubled Waters’

by Juliet Hill

Water is the main character in this story about a flood in an apartment block in an unspecified European city.  But there are other characters too, from Carmen and her little dog to Rasputin the avocado seller and the Jehovah’s Witnesses round the corner, all of them neighbours who are simultaneously close by and distant from each other.

Highly Commended

 ‘The Artist’s New Beginnings’

by Sue Gerrard

While the identity of the protagonist comes as no surprise, the story is beautifully imagined and structured, and the point of view sustained with subtlety and restraint.

Commended

‘The Silent Pool’

by Ruth Loten

A tale of an abusive relationship slips into the supernatural, building on the imagery of silence and suppression through an uncanny landscape.

Commended

 ‘The Anatomy of a Ticking Clock’

by Ciara Mullaney

With its startling beginning, this story is rather like Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ in that it’s based in a world in which everything is normal except for one very peculiar thing that has happened to the protagonist.

2020 Poetry Results

To read the winning poems, go HERE

Organiser’s Report

It is always a crying shame when entrants do not do the two absolutely fundamental things one must do when entering a writing competition (apart from putting pen to paper):

Follow the rules.

Proof read thoroughly.

There were… a few this year. That said, there were many people who did do those two things and produced excellent work to boot. It was very difficult to pare down the shortlist, with many outstanding entries from worldwide locales, as well as a good selection from the UK and even a handful from Southport itself! The theme this year was ‘City Life’ and entrants took that topic in all kinds of interesting directions, with poems about birds, invading wildlife and other, sadder issues such as what ills might be transpiring behind closed doors which led to some powerful work.

We thank all those who entered and look forward to your future entries and welcome your thoughts on the winners.

Judge’s Report

Tough. That one word describes every aspect of the task of judging this competition, with every nuance it contains. The shortlist included poems about violence, about loneliness and about loss. They also included lighter themes such as the magic of the silver screen and the eccentricity of having a good brew. All had some aspect of the life in the city, whatsoever that happened to be, and it was enlivening to engage vicariously in the little windows of other people’s experiences. With such a high standard of entries the final call had to be partly made on merit, partly on personal preference, as it was especially hard to separate the winners from the other deserving work in the sift.

Humour –

Mothball Express – Tony Oswick

Few people want to get old, but if it ever happens one could do worse than be a bit like the bus clogging, ticket snatching, yakkety-yakking geriatrics featured in this amusing observation from the point of view of the driver. The image of the old folks competing over benches conjures thoughts of squabbling seagulls and overall this well-described poem has excellent economy of language. It could have gone on for longer, following the adventures in town, but wisely does not, focusing on the short scene well.

1st –

Oldies – Alex Hand

This poem, while also about the elderly, draws instead on the intimacies of an obviously long-standing relationship, painting a picture of a couple who have gone through their adult years learning to understand the important things, like still holding hands and having activities in common. It is a tender portrait, using details that the poet found a certain commonality in; full of comfortable silence and affection. It is also a well structured poem with the right beats and gentle expectations, challenging the reader to look differently at their elders, because they clearly are doing something right. The poem does such a fine job that you want to meet the pair featured in it, to listen to their life experiences. Perhaps that is the mark of a good poem; that you forget you are reading it and instead dwell on what it could still show you.

2nd –

The Pearls and the Paste – Linda Ford

Short, to the point and inspired by a photograph of a turn of the century Spanish actress stood on a  balcony much later in her lifetime. The poem, as it stands, is a poignant description, carefully chosen words evoke a sense of grubbiness in what should be glitzy surroundings, echoing the life of its subject. It is a fragment of a what-could-be story, a reminder of the tragedy of looking past the glamour and still finding beauty in something like pigeons coming to eat seeds. Nicely handled.

3rd –

Ballad – Michael Newman

This piece flows through what seems to be an industrial cityscape, taking in the rain, the factories and the lack of sunshine, letting us glimpse the stunning countryside that lies beyond before forcing us to go back to work in the dreary employment once more. It is a threatening piece, full of ill-will and cruel ambition, but at the same time contains enough hope to qualify for an escape from the hardship it depicts. The writer has an almost train of thought method of construction, but this lends itself to the sprawling nature of its subject, the clanking of the factory echoed in the unforgiving rhythms of the lines.

Highly Commended –

White Tea Cups – Steve Singleton

A staple of city life – the cafe, in which the teacups pass observation upon the denizens that choose to enter the threshold. There are signs of good construction here with the matching opening and close, but the perspective wobbles and the rhythm does not seem to be consistent. There are some strong images and archetypes shown (penniless writers is right!) and the overall scene setting has strong merit. Unfortunately it feels like some of the cup’s judgment is missing, some element of their observation withheld, leaving the reader to guess too much. Otherwise a very interesting piece.

Commended –

Siren in a Night Street – Christopher M James

The Forgotten People – Sue Gerrard

To read the winning poems, go HERE