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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.